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African American Students’ Perceptions of Higher Education Barriers

Davidson, J., Clark, T., Ijames, A., Cahill, R., & Johnson, T. (2020). African American students’ perceptions of higher education barriers. Educational Research Quarterly, 43(4), 59-69.

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The research by Davidson et al. (2020) explored the perceptions of African American college students regarding the barriers associated with enrolling in higher education institutions. The scholars focused on such issues as the standardized testing requirements, systems of support, and the role of financial aid on Black students when they enroll in college or universities. Three research questions were identified, including “how does increased ACT testing requirements create barriers for African American college enrollment?” “how do home and school support systems impact African American college enrollment?” and “what role does financial aid play in African American college enrollment?” (Davidson et al., 2020, p. 60). The method for data collection included interviews and focus groups.

The research revealed that African American students perceived significant barriers in terms of ACT testing requirements, the lack of support systems at home and schools, as well as limitations associated with financial aid when enrolling in higher education at public regional universities. Even though the research is a single case study carried out at a regional public university and its findings may not be transferrable to other settings, it is important for offering a snapshot of what Black students feel are their barriers to higher education. The implications for future research are concerned with replicating the study in a broader higher education setting and include several universities across the country. This is necessary for determining whether similar or the same limitations to educational attainment are relevant to the majority of African American students regardless of their location. The findings are relevant for policymakers in the field of education to facilitate reforms aimed at enhancing the opportunities of Black students.

Dennis-Jackson, T. (2018). African American women and their perceived barriers to attaining leadership positions: A qualitative case study. ProQuest, 13807891. Web.

The study by Dennis-Jackson (2018) is a qualitative exploration of the perceived limitations that African American women have when trying to attain roles of leadership in higher education settings. The key problem to be addressed was concerned with the fact that women of color face significant challenges that limit their capacity to further their careers and obtain administrative positions at colleges and universities. The purpose of the study was to investigate perceptions that African American women administrators have regarding the gender and race-associated limitations they endured in their careers. Research questions that the study aimed to answer were the following: “how have gender- and race-based factors hindered African American women’s pursuit into leadership positions in higher education?” and “why did African American women gain leadership positions in higher education despite the barriers they possibly experienced?” (Dennis-Jackson, 2018, p. 8).

The researcher used a questionnaire administered to African American women in higher education, an analysis of historical data attained from various resources, as well as interviews with a subset of the study’s sample that was instrumental in providing historical data based on the experiences of Black women in the administrative position within higher education. As a result of the research, the scholar differentiated between three themes, such as institutional structures, the traits of personality, and White men in the role of mentors. All of three themes allowed for explaining the great extent of women’s underrepresentation in education leadership positions. The implications for future research are concerned with the need to explore how the underrepresentation influences not only women administrators but also female students of color who enter higher education facilities in pursuit of advancing their skills and knowledge.

Hannon, C., Woodside, M., Pollard, B., & Roman, J. (2016). The meaning of African American college women’s experiences attending a predominantly white institution: A phenomenological study. Journal of College Student Development, 57(6), 652-666.

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The study by Hannon et al. (2016) examines the experience of African American women in higher education compared to the experiences of students of other races or genders in white-dominated institutions. In order to evaluate the specific barriers to educational success that Black women faced in higher education, the scholar analyzed such indicators as the availability of social support, psychological factors, racial identity issues, and others. The research questions that the study aimed to answer is the following: “What is the meaning African American women ascribe to their experiences of being African American female students at a predominantly White institution?” (Hannon et al., 2016, p. 654).

The research included an interview carried out with Black women attending higher education facilities that are mainly white. Interviews were chosen as a method intended to collect data from a limited number of participants but exploring their accounts in-depth. The key research finding is concerned with the fact that African American women do not get the level of support and representation as their counterparts of another race or gender. The significant extent of racial and gender bias dominating institutions prevented the population in question from having access to educational opportunities in contrast to White men and women and Black men. Therefore, there is an apparent discrepancy as related to race and gender when it comes to the experiences of students attending college. There is a need to study the issue further to determine whether previous educational opportunities of African American women prevented them from having positive experiences at colleges or universities.

Trent, F., Dwiwardani, C., & Page, C. (2020). Factors impacting the retention of students of color in graduate programs: A qualitative study. Training and Education in Professional Psychology. Advance online publication. Web.

The purpose of the study by Trent, Dwiwardani, and Page (2020) is to shed light on the experiences of students of color within the predominantly white higher education setting. The author argues that the American culture has a deeply embedded belief that hard work accompanied by education leads to significant economic success regardless of race, class, or gender. Such a meritocracy myth has motivated women of minorities to pursue their educational goals. However, there is a problem of people of color being continuously disadvantaged in predominantly white institutions, with serious under-representation dominating institutions compared with the US population. The authors argued that there was a need to address the racial discrepancies by acknowledging the impact of the issue and taking institutional responsibility. Questions set for the study were concerned with studying the extent to which students of color perceive the commitment to their programs or to what extent their race affects the experiences of gaining support within such programs.

The author aimed to answer the question of whether the field of higher education is less favorable to providing opportunities to students of color and elevating their white counterparts with their socially awarded opportunities. The article was based on exploring the personal experiences of students of color regarding their commitment to their higher education programs. It provided first-hand information on how the target population has been treated and what opportunities they were given to ensure that they remain in college. It was found that the racial identity of students was a “double-edged sword:” while it caused them to be aware of instances of discrimination, it armed them with grit and resilience required to preserve them in the face of unfair treatment based on race.

Webster, L. (2019). Enablers and barriers influencing African American administrators’ career advancement at predominantly white institutions of higher learning. Dissertations. Web.

The study by Webster (2019) aimed to addresses the issue that the majority of predominantly white institutions of higher learning do not have enough representation of African American individuals in curriculum development, governance, as well as mentoring recruitment processes. The purpose of the research was to identify and analyzing both enablers and barriers that contributed to the advancement of Black individuals into administrative positions at predominantly white institutions of higher learning from the qualitative phenomenological perspective. Research questions were not clearly articulated; however, the scholar identified objectives that could be linked to the questions. For instance, the study aimed to explore the perspectives of African American administrators toward the opportunities of advancement in higher learning institutions.

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The results of the study were derived from the analysis of demographic information attained from research participants as well as the transcripts of their interviews. The accounts of personal occurrences yielded important themes that characterized the quality of experiences attributed to the target population explored in the study. For instance, key themes included the need for good mentoring, the importance of relationships, the challenges that influence advancement, as well as the high expectations that cannot be met. The researcher indicated that there was a need in creating an effective state and national mentoring program as well as reconsider hiring strategies to offer wider opportunities for Black administrators to be hired at predominantly white institutions of higher education. The implications for future research are concerned with studying best practices associated with mentorship and hiring of African American individuals at the institutions of higher education.


The topic that will be explored in the current study is regarding the barriers that African American women face in higher education settings, which are white- and male-dominated. The bulk of research reviewed in the annotated bibliography is concerned with either experiences of African American women administrators or students of color. This is evidence of the lack of sufficient evidence on the topic of experiences of Black women as students within higher education settings. While it is clear that racial discrepancies in education are pervasive and have not been addressed effectively, there is limited research dedicated to the unique perspectives of African American women within the higher education setting.

There may be a range of barriers that prevent women of color from being successful in education or accessing opportunities for educational advancement. As the majority of higher education administrators and staff is male and white, the barriers to education among Black women are highly likely to revolve around the issues of race and gender, which have been identified but not resolved by educators and policymakers (Hawkins & Nicola, 2017). Women may often experience sexual harassment in higher education or be met with negative attitudes because of racial bias and stereotyping. Hostile campus environments, especially at mainly white institutions, as well as insufficient social and financial support, can also contribute to the adverse experiences of African American women within the higher education setting. While there is an cknowledgement that racial and gender bias could eliminate adverse experiences of Black women and boost their retention, there is a need for further research intended to study real-life experiences and perspectives of women who have experienced discrimination in education first-hand. The issue of importance because racial and gender stereotyping in higher education limits Black women’s opportunities of accessing good careers that would be sustainable to them as well as bring professional success. Therefore, the implications of the current study are vast, with the need to focus on the experiences and lives of real women.


Hawkins, D., & Nicola, T. (2017). Diversity among higher education admission professionals is more important than ever. Web.

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