Drawing on resources and learning to persevere in graduate education
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African Americans are grossly underrepresented among doctorates in American society. Current literature purports negative social encounters, inadequate mentoring, and limited financial support are key factors contributing to their underrepresentation. The situation is exacerbated by lower-than-acceptable efforts from the nations’ top universities in producing African American doctorates and the prohibitive rate of attrition from doctoral programs. These challenges, notwithstanding, more African Americans enter and graduate from the field of education than from any other field. African Americans with doctoral degrees in education offer a best case scenario for research on factors that influence students from this group's persistence in their programs. Nonetheless, knowledge of doctoral completion among African Americans, that research with this group offers, remains untapped. Little research has addressed African American education doctorates social learning experiences in their programs, the social and cultural capital and other resources they brought to their studies, or how this knowledge can help increase the numbers of African American students who graduate from doctoral programs. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the social, cultural, and programatic factors that contributed to the successful completion of education doctoral programs by African Americans at historically white institutions. Data analysis was accomplished through a set of narrative analysis tools. The results of the study are: 1) to complete their doctoral degrees African American students had to overcome interpersonal and intrapersonal effects of racism; 2) resources that positively influenced doctoral education for African Americans were the supportive environments that programs created for financial help and students’ intellectual, psychological, and emotional safety; 3) degree completion was influenced by students’ use of cultural capital; 4) degree completion was influenced by students exercising agency: taking control of their circumstances, and redefining their positions in their universities; 5) relationships played a key role in degree completion in that they created opportunities, provided support, and were frameworks for collaboration. Implications are identified and recommendations for improving doctoral completion for African Americans are discussed.