Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Sydney Parent


Even though the enrollment numbers of African American students are comparable to other racial/ethnic groups at a university in the midwestern United States, the problem investigated through this study was that African American students were graduating at a slower rate compared to other groups. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of African American university students about the academic challenges they faced as they worked towards graduation as well as their experiences with and suggestions to improve institutional support to meet these challenges. The study was based on Tinto’s retention theory. For this basic qualitative study, data were collected using face-to-face semistructured interviews with 8 African American college juniors and seniors who were recruited through email and verbal communication. The data were analyzed using open and axial coding and themes were identified with the rapid identification of themes from audio recordings (RITA) method. The themes were challenges with adapting to university culture, building faculty rapport, access to institutional support services, academic advising, and building connection to leadership. In order to address one of the challenges immediately, a 3-day professional development training program for the student support services department was developed to provide additional professional best practices and recommendations for identifying student needs and providing the appropriate support while the university has a more systemic conversation about the other identified challenges to improve degree completion timeframes for African American students. The study promotes social change by addressing academic challenges faced by African American students that could help inform ways to decrease time to graduation.