• CPS - Stacie Haen Darden

    Reducing the Graduation Gap of African American Students

    By Stacie Haen-Darden, Kaplan University Adjunct Faculty for Criminal Justice Programs

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead

    Kaplan University continues to be an integral component in higher education’s pursuit to better assist African American students to successfully attend college, earn their degrees, and follow through with their career aspirations. Some have pointed out that Kaplan University provides a valuable pathway of access to earn degrees for students who traditionally have been underrepresented in higher education. Faculty members are essential in ensuring students’ educational growth and that students are achieving academic success. Although there are many factors that contribute significantly to college retention, Web 2.0 tools could be one of these effective endeavors for online instructors to implement. If each faculty member put forth a small extra effort in their classrooms, the combined success could be substantially profound not only for African American students, but for all Kaplan University students. 

    Teaching online at Kaplan University offers professors a variety of opportunities to use Web 2.0 software to heighten student online learning, outcomes, and retention. This could especially be important for the African American student population, as hindering inequalities continue to persist with regards to the retention and graduation rates of these students in higher education. The US Department of Education found high school dropout rates were 6.6 percent for African American students compared to 2.7 percent for White students.* Of those graduating from high school, the Institute of Education Science estimated that 14.5 percent of African American students will go on to be a part of the total enrollment in degree-granting institution. Unfortunately, a study done by Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) determined that a graduation gap of 18.8 percent (45 percent African American graduation rate versus 63.8 percent White graduation rate) has remained fairly stationary over time.‡ This graduation gap’s steady average is representative of four-year, nonprofit, public and private degree-granting institutions.§ 

    Faculty should not only continue to develop their social awareness and critical consciousness surrounding racial inequalities within academia, but also become a part of the solution by being active participants in reducing the graduation gap of African American students. An approach they can implement is focusing on what the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy (IHELP) refers to as timely indicators or on-track indicators. An on-track indicator is a process that builds academic momentum through a student’s academic behaviors, which in turn will lead them to a timely earning of college credits. One of these on-track indicators is credit accumulation and related academic behaviors. Utilizing emerging technologies within the virtual classroom is a way for faculty members to focus on credit accumulation and related academic behaviors by reducing the graduation gap through supplementary Web 2.0 enhancements.

    These various 2.0 tools are a means of ensuring strategic priorities by aiding all students in succeeding in their graduation and academic goals, while centering on IHELP’s vision for credit accumulation and related academic behaviors. A study by Huang and Behara suggests that Web 2.0 tools capture all four stages of experiential learning, that it allows for more interactive learning, is easily applicable to a variety of instructional formats, and is beneficial for student achievement. # Web 2.0 technologies allow professors to interact and collaborate with their students through using social media and other technological venues within the classroom. Often times, these Web 2.0 enhancements take little time for faculty to implement, have free online versions that suffice for a faculty’s needs within the virtual Kaplan University classroom, and are easy to learn and use. Web 2.0 online resources and enhancements for classroom learning include video messaging and emailing; multimedia presentation tools, presentations, and text; podcasts; online screen casting; presentation creating and sharing; blogs and wikis; and even note taking, noticeboards, and curriculum bookmark sites. These technologies may seem quite foreign to the average professor who has yet to utilize them; however, they have been a part of most students’ everyday lives since they can remember.

    Web 2.0 tools allow for faculty to organize information and curriculum in ways that can make it both simple and fast for students to access materials, communicate, and attain knowledge since it is in a format that is very recognizable to them. Additionally, these types of tools provide students with a greater diversity within their learning strategies and experiences. This not only is a way to enrich classroom and online learning, but also helps ensure an all-embracing student success. Many Web 2.0 venues have free tutorial videos and directions directly on their websites, making them easy for professors to learn and use within their online classrooms. In addition, the Kaplan University Center for Teaching and Learning offers a variety of resources and holds an annual Kaplan University Village Virtual conference that covers many Web 2.0 tools. The Center provides faculty with many resources, including a variety of presentations and workshops to assist them in getting started on utilizing these tools within their classroom. 

    Every faculty member has a responsibility to all students. Studies have consistently shown that interpersonal interactions with faculty and their fellow classmates is one of the most significant influences on a student’s success.** Professors matter and play a vital role in increasing retention and graduation rates amongst all students and in particular those students with traditionally fewer resources available to them. Good educational practices, like Web 2.0 tools, are a valuable way for online educators to develop and foster student-to-student and student-to-professor interactions. 

    We all can be a conduit of progress towards racial unity and equality by exploring new venues within our own teaching philosophies and practices while implementing an educational experience that encompasses the diverse 21st century student. Faculty at Kaplan University who employ Web 2.0 software could find it a useful tool to support students who have traditionally been excluded, ignored, or even left behind in higher education. These students especially depend on us—the faculty—to create learning environments that cultivate their strengths, support their academic efforts, and encourage their involvement within the online classroom community.



    • * US Department of Education. (2011). Public high school graduates and dropouts, by race/ethnicity and state or jurisdiction: 2008-09. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_114.asp
    • † IES. (2011). Public high school graduates and dropouts, by race/ethnicity and state or jurisdiction: 2008-09. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_114.asp
    • ‡ Nguyen, M., Ward Bibo, E., & Engle, J. (2012, September). Advancing to completion: Increasing degree attainment by improving graduation rates and closing gaps for Hispanic students. Retrieved from http://static.ow.ly/docs/Advancing_Hisp_U76.pdf
    • § Nguyen, M., Ward Bibo, E., & Engle, J. (2012, September). Advancing to completion: Increasing degree attainment by improving graduation rates and closing gaps for african-american students. Retrieved from http://www.edtrust.org/sites/edtrust.org/files/Advancing_AfAm.pdf
    • # Huang, D., & Behara, R. (2007). Outcome-driven experiential learning with web 2.0. Journal of information system education, 18(3), 329-336.
    • ** Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate. Retrieved from http://wwwtemp.lonestar.edu/multimedia/SevenPrinciples.pdf

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