Addressing the lag among African-American male students

Photo: Greenville Technical College

When the president of Greenville Technical College brought together a team to take a hard look at persistence and retention, that group found that African-American males were lagging behind others.

These students continued from year-to-year at a rate of only 43 percent compared to 56 percent for white students, and the on-time completion rate for African-American males was half that of all males at only 7 percent.

National studies show that the poverty rate for African-Americans is more than double the rate for whites. Since poverty decreases as educational attainment rates improve, persistence and retention rates are important for success in college and in life.

In a focus group attended by a sampling of African-American male students, four themes emerged:

• The students did not believe that they could do college-level work.
• They did not feel a sense of belonging, often being the only African-American males in their classes.
• They were hesitant to raise their hands in class and admit they didn’t know something because they were afraid of reinforcing the stereotypes other groups may have held about their abilities as students.
• They wanted brotherhood as a way to bond with and support each other.

A case-management approach

This research led the college to establish an innovative new program – the African-American Male Scholars Initiative (AAMSI), which is loosely modeled after the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs at the City University of New York system. AAMSI uses a case-management approach and personalized support services to address the issues that are holding African-American males back, helping them overcome barriers, develop academic and career pathways, and graduate on time.

The college recruited 100 African-American males to get the program up and running for fall 2019. Their needs, challenges and potential barriers to success have been assessed. Each student will have an individual graduation plan and will connect to resources on campus and in the community that can assist him.

As the students develop leadership skills through education and mentorship, they’ll be giving back to the community through civic engagement activities.

This first year, for us as program coordinators, is like a pancake. When you’re creating a batch of pancakes, the first one may be too thick or too thin. You may add flour or water to get the right consistency. By the time you cook that second pancake, it’s just right. We, and the students we serve, are learning as we go.

Uncovering potential problems

One of our most important tools for learning is Civitas Learning, a predictive analytics program. A weekly report from the college’s department for institutional research, using predictive information learned from our Civitas platform, measures over 100 variables and shows us which students have a lowered predicted persistence score. This allows us to immediately intervene and reach out to students on an individual basis, as needed.

For example, a few weeks ago, we saw that one of our students was experiencing that kind of a dip in the predicted persistence score. When we looked into the situation, we found out that his car had broken down, and he didn’t have the funds to repair it. He wasn’t able to get to class.

With help from the Greenville Tech Foundation, we were able to find a solution for this student. It helped that we knew about the obstacle right away before it derailed his entire semester.

Positive effects

Civitas shows us lifts in predicted persistence scores, too. Let’s say we bring in a speaker to address the group during a lunch and learn, and he tells the group about his own struggles along the way. Perhaps the speaker’s message resonates with some of the participants. We should see a lift in predicted persistence scores, which lets us know week by week what is working and what isn’t.

The success of all members of our college community is too important to let us maintain the status quo and hope for better results. Instead, we’re trying to create a new model – one that lifts the students up, holds them accountable, sees them reach their full potential and encourages them to lift others.


About the Author

Alecia Watt
is director of educational opportunity programs at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina.