Cultivate academic persistence – now!

Helping students to remain n school and to reach their educational
goals is one of the many challenges facing community colleges. While it
is important to help all students, the needs of the neglected minority
population require special attention.

If we are serious about helping minority students to achieve
academic success, then intervention must occur earlier in the
educational process. This can be realized as public education at the
elementary and secondary levels strengthen its educational planning and
academic preparation of minority students.

Far too many students are entering college ill-prepared. As such,
community colleges must consider establishing effective articulation
plans with public schools. College’s must also consider strengthening
their relationships with organizations that deal extensively with
minority students — in order to attract not only the conventionally
aged eighteen-to-twenty-year-old freshmen, but to also attract other
individuals who display the potential to benefit from the community
college experience.

Over the past five years, African Americans and Native Americans
and Native Americans have experienced some decline in postsecondary
retention, while Asians and Hispanics have witnessed only slight
increases. Declining high school completion figures are another factor
impacting college participation by the various minority groups.

Increasing the rate of participation and success of minority
students will benefit not only these specific groups, but the society
as a whole. As we approach the end of the twentieth century, we are
entering an era in which the shifts in technology and demography
present the community college with the greatest challenge in its

Through the year 2000, one of every three American school children
will be a person of color, and minority workers will compose
approximately one-third of net additions to the work force. How we, as
a nation, deal with the growing diversity of American society is linked
to how we match the needs of the labor market to the profile of our
diverse labor pool.

Community colleges must view this challenge as a opportunity. They
must find better ways of serving the nation’s minority students, or
face a nation with a greatly weakened economic and social fabric.

In a attempt to better understand the problems that effect minority
student retention, the New York State Education Department undertook a
study of retention focusing on minority students enrolled in its
two-year college professional technical programs. Its intent was to
determine the extent to which programs and/or services exist to
facilitate the persistence and retention of minority students.

Based on the ranked responses by college administrators, they found
the following seven primary barriers affecting the retention of these
students: job and family responsibilities of students; location of
colleges outside minority concentrations; lack of minority faculty and
administrative staff; lack of college funds for intervention programs;
inability to afford college; lack of appropriate social and cultural
activities; and unsupportive surrounding communities.

In addition, eight retention efforts which were developed to assist
in the academic success of minority students were: support groups and
clubs for minority students; special advertising to minority community;
intrusive or directive academic advising; special orientations to help
minority students with course selection and registration; cultural
workshops, awareness efforts, scholarships, etc.; ethnic studies
courses; tailored financial aid programs and policies; and an office
cited or coordinator for minority affairs.

Ten factors most often cited as affecting retention included:

* Positive faculty-student relations.

* A positive relationship between the college and community
organizations that work extensively with minorities — including
collaboration with elementary and secondary schools, and continuous
dialogue between influential community leaders and member of the
college staff.

* Public support of the minority community’s role as a critical part of the overall taxpaying community.

* Leadership within the college.

* Retention services organized as a unit to give more visibility, accessibility, and importance.

* Special courses and support services for new and returning students.

* Orientations planned especially for minority students.

* Identification of “at risk” students before they encounter serious academic problems.

* A campus atmosphere that supports minority students’ ability to learn.

* Overcoming the barriers of institutional racism that unfortunately still exist throughout American society.

In addition, we need to ensure that institutions offer a more
hospitable and accepting learning environment for all cultures and
ethnic diversities. Programs designed to assure a smooth transition
from inner-city high schools and communities contribute to a positive
community college experience. Such efforts can change the perception of
college to a place for all students to succeed.

Before us is an opportunity to cultivate academic persistence for
individuals who are prone to withdraw from college before achieving
their educational goal. We cannot accomplish this task in isolation. We
must respond together — and now!

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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