Black doctorate completion rises, barriers remain

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Feb. 27, 2012 at 4:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 27, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.

For many doctoral students, the road toward degree completion is flooded with obstacles.

Without vital support from family, mentors and the school, the constant sacrifices of time, money and energy can quickly turn daunting. It is the reason why so many become "A.B.D." - All But Dissertation.

Although degree completion has increased nationally for black students, those doctorate candidates are believed to have additional stumbling blocks.

For black doctorate students, degree completion is complicated by students' perceptions of faculty advising, faculty behavior and the lack of diverse faculty leadership, according to a 2010 study on doctoral student development.

Anitra Shelton-Quinn, director of the School of Psychology at the University of Houston-Victoria, said although recruitment is increasing toward minority students, completion rates remain low.

Shelton-Quinn, who has a doctorate, said she sees herself in a position to encourage, support and advise students to attain their education goals.

"It's easier for minority students to feel disconnected," she said. "It's important to have different venues and mediums to connect and feel a part."

Shelton-Quinn grew up in rural Northeast Mississippi. As the daughter of an educator, college was never optional.

"I think some of us have internal motivators, and with that, we tend to seek out whatever options are available to us," she said.

She funded her education through scholarships with her local Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and summer grants, and earned a bachelor's and two master's degrees without taking a break.

While her high-level of perseverance and her family support system kept her on track, outside pressures took their toll.

"I know for me, I was the only minority student" in my program, Shelton-Quinn said. "In my master's program, I think there were two of us."

Throughout her undergraduate work, she had one minority professor, and not all her professors encouraged her to stay in the program.

"There's a huge shortage of African-Americans attaining Ph.Ds in psychology, and so I think a lot of the discouragement aimed toward me was that it had not been the norm," she said. "At any rate, I was very grateful for the people who urged me to go forward. I was going to go anyway, but it helped to have someone to say, 'You can do this.'"

According to U.S. Census data, black, non-Hispanic doctorate holders doubled from 1990 to make up 4,434, or 6.5 percent, in 2009.

White, non-Hispanic doctorate holders made up, 39,648, or 58.6 percent in 2009, while Hispanics accounted for, 2,540, or 3.8 percent and Asian or Pacific Islanders counted for, 3,875, or 5.7 percent.

Victoria school district board member the Rev. Kevin VanHook, an advocate of higher education, said his focus is on encouraging middle school students to stay excited about and focused on school.

"Those are the crucial development stages for our youth to mold and shape their desires, and opportunities to give them some direction," VanHook said.

By keeping eighth-graders interested in education as they enter high school, there is more success in graduating and enrolling in higher education, he said.

VanHook grew up in a low-income family during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Although his parents did not have the resources to send him to college, earning a degree was a major goal. He saw the Marines as a gateway to make it happen.

"I knew education would open doors of opportunity for income and an opportunity to eliminate poverty," he said.

Since then, he has encouraged his own children, a 23-year-old son and a 27-year-old daughter, to continue their education.

His son graduated from the Air Force Academy and is enrolled in pilot training in Oklahoma, while his daughter recently applied for a doctorate program at University of Houston.

As degree completion rates rise for minorities, VanHook said he sees more black degree-holders giving back in the classroom.

"It's preparing the next generation through education," he said. "Identifying with a minority in the classroom is essential to the development of youth."

He said Victoria school district's dual-credit programs that allow high school students to earn college credits will open the doors for more students to finish their bachelor's degrees and pursue master's.

While black doctorate degree holders accounted for 6.5 percent of total doctorate degrees in 2009, VanHook said it's a strong population.

"That's a good number when you only make up 12.6 percent of the population," he said.



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