September 7, 2011
A new study has found that minority students in community colleges will fare better academically if their professors are of the same race or ethnicity.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the study, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that students who are African-American, Latino, or Native American can improve their academic performance by taking a course with an instructor from the same group: Minority students taught by minority instructors were 2.9 percentage points less likely to drop a course, 2.8 percentage points more likely to pass the course, and 3.2 percentage points more likely to score at least a B. In particular, young African-American students appeared to benefit most by having an instructor of the same race.
The report, entitled "A Community College Instructor Like Me: Race and Ethnicity Interactions in the Classroom," was based on data culled from about 30,000 students at De Anza Community College in Northern California.
But as Inside Higher Ed pointed out, the study also found that having more minority instructors could possibly result in decreased academic performance for white students. For this reason, the authors of the study concluded the paper by calling for more research, rather than encouraging community colleges to employ more minority instructors.
"Our results suggest that the academic achievement gap between white and underrepresented minority college students would decrease by hiring more minority instructors," the authors wrote. "However, the desirability of this policy is complicated by the finding that students appear to react positively when matched to instructors of a similar race or ethnicity but negatively when not."
Many colleges and universities have already recognized the value of having minority staff members who can act as mentors to minority students. For example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that Georgia Tech ran the Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering/Science Program, a 10-week research program aimed at attracting minority students to graduate school. The program had about 35 participants this year, which organizers hoped would ultimately help increase the number of minority students earning doctorates in engineering and science.
"I've done research with other professors before, but it's different with Dr. Harris because I feel like we can relate," said Camille Cruz, a minority student participating in the program who was mentored by Professor Tequila Harris, an African-American instructor. Cruz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she was certain Harris "will guide me through school and my career."
Harris, who is a professor of mechanical engineering, has encouraged Cruz to continue her education and earn a doctorate.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that a study released last year by the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University found that African-American college students are more likely to continue as science majors if they have at least one black science professor.
Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman
"A Community College Instructor Like Me: Race and Ethnicity Interactions in the Classroom," papers.nber.org, September 2011, Robert Fairlie, Florian Hoffmann and Philip Oreopoulos
"An 'Instructor Like Me'," insidehighered.com, September 6, 2011, Scott Jaschik
"Graduate School Magnet," ajc.com, August 22, 2011, Laura Diamond
"Study Finds Minority Students Benefit From Minority Instructors," chronicle.com, September 6, 2011, Dan Berrett