Factors Influencing the Engagement of White Undergraduates Attending Public Historically Black Universities

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The purpose of this study was to identify factors that influence the engagement of White, undergraduate students attending public HBCUs. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have experienced an increase in White, undergraduate student enrollment since the early 1980s (American Association of University Professors, 2007; Libarkin, 1984; Standley, 1978). Student engagement has been consistently linked to positive student outcomes such as cognitive and social development, college adjustment, and persistence rates (Berger & Milem, 1999; Cabrera, Nora, Terenzini, Pascarella & Hagedorn, 1999; Harper, 2004; Kuh, 1995; Pike, 2000). However relatively little is known about student engagement on HBCU campuses and even less is known about the engagement of non-Black students on HBCU campuses. HBCUs have been known for their ability to provide support resulting in academic success for African American students (DeSousa & Kuh, 1996; Fleming, 1984; Flowers & Pascarella, 1999), but little research has examined their ability in providing such support for other student populations, like White undergraduates. Thus, the primary research question guiding this study was: what factors influence the engagement of White, undergraduate students attending public HBCUs?

This qualitative multiple case study explored the experiences of 22 White undergraduate students attending two, public HBCUs, located in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern parts of the United States. While all the of the participants' experiences were unique and distinctive, the results from document analysis and individual and focus group interviews revealed five factors influenced their engagement: (1) faculty-student interactions, (2) staff-student interactions, (3) involvement in co-curricular activities and university-sponsored programs, (4) prior diversity experiences, and (5) first-year experiences. Based on these findings, recommendations for future research and practice are offered.