Building A Successful Mentoring Program For African American Males Is A Win-Win For HBCUs

09/13/2016 03:20 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2017

Blog by Errick D. Farmer, PhD - Florida A&M University, Jamal E. Mazyck, M.A. - San Diego State University, and Adriel A. Hilton, PhD

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) must establish successful and sustainable mentor programs to ensure college completion for African American males. In addition to fostering the success of their students, HBCUs must take on the responsibility of mentoring, to maintain their viability. While many HBCUs are experiencing financial instability and academic credibility concerns, retention and graduation rates are major factors contributing to their institutional success.

African American males face significant challenges in retention and graduation from college. Within six years at four-year public and private non-profit institutions, African American males are completing at less than 40%. Researchers have indicated that students who interact and engage in a mentor relationship, found greater satisfaction in their collegiate experiences than students who did not have a mentor. The aim of a mentoring relationship is to develop and refine a young person's skills, abilities, and understanding (Lavant, Anderson, & Tiggs, 1997). Mentors are important in various stages of development in the lives of students, particularly African American males (Brown, 2008). Given the problems facing the African American community, African American boys require communities of men who can ensure their safe passage and celebrate through ritual and ceremony, fellowship and membership, their ascension to manhood (Brown, 2009).

That said, HBCUs must first understand the necessity of mentorship beyond the freshman year for African American male students and should be a continuous process over their entire academic career. Most HBCUs pair students with mentors at freshman orientation but once completed, the mentor relationship disappears. Second, an effective mentoring program should align their goals with institutional goals and performance metrics, and should be clearly articulated from the onset. Finally, a sustainable mentoring program requires the commitment and involvement of all university stakeholders--faculty, staff and administrators. If there is no buy-in from everyone at the HBCU, the program will most likely fail.

Laying the groundwork for a successful mentoring program begins with recognizing the need for such a program. Successful mentoring programs typically are designed to address organizational needs, usually identified through a needs assessment. This assessment can be tied to student retention and graduation rates for a particular institution. Only then can a college determine the mentoring program structure, objectives, and the specific individuals needed for implementation to achieve these objectives. Also, since many of our African American males require more attention, it is important to build a program that understands those needs. Establishing a mentoring program that spans from freshman year, all the way through graduation will help both the mentors and mentees maintain a long-term, result-driven focus.

Lastly, as with any effective program, an evaluation should be conducted to determine if objectives are being met. This can be done with surveys or interviews during and at the end of the program to obtain quantitative and/or qualitative data. Once collected, data can then be used in conjunction with year-to-year retention and graduation data to assess overall effectiveness. The information gathered can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses of the mentor program and make any necessary adjustments to better serve students.

An invaluable benefit to collecting data on mentoring programs at HBCUs is the much-needed contribution to the extremely limited research available on the experiences of African American men attending HBCUs. This in turn, will help build stronger mentor program models and identify measurable goals. Effective mentoring programs for African American males would close the graduation gap and HBCUs would see an increase in financial resources, institutional performance measures and outcomes.

"It takes a village to raise a child" is a wise old African proverb and one all HBCUs could emulate by developing a sustainable long-term mentoring program for the success of their African American male students.

Errick D. Farmer, Ph.D. currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Professional Leadership Development at Florida A&M University, School of Business and Industry. Dr. Farmer holds a bachelor's degree in communication business from Florida State University; a master's of applied social science (public administration emphasis) from Florida A&M University and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Florida A&M University.

Jamal E. Mazyck is an educational leadership doctoral candidate and research associate at the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3) at San Diego State University. He completed his B.A. in communication studies from San Francisco State University and his M.A. in organizational communications at Bowie State University.

Recently, Dr. Adriel A. Hilton served as Chief of Staff and executive assistant to the President at Grambling State University. He previously worked as an assistant professor and director of the Higher Education Student Affairs program at Western Carolina University. In addition, he served as the inaugural assistant vice president for inclusion initiatives at Grand Valley State University (GVSU).