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Southern University System Finds Creative Way To Attract Students

When the fall semester begins at Southern University Baton Rouge, freshman orientation will be a bit different this year. In addition to the 892 incoming freshmen being welcomed to the Louisiana campus, about 150 community college students also will be greeted. They are enrolled at Southern University at Shreveport, a two-year community college.

As part of a new enrollment plan developed by the Southern University System, Southern University at Shreveport, La. (SUSLA) will, in effect, operate satellite locations on the Baton Rouge and New Orleans campuses. In addition to those attending classes on the Baton Rouge campus, about 100 SUSLA students will attend Southern University – New Orleans (SUNO). Students who attempted to enroll in one of the four-year universities, but did not meet the criteria, have the opportunity to be admitted as community college students and attend classes on the SUBR or SUNO campus.

System President Ronald Mason told Diverse the initiative is designed to help more students complete a four-year degree, as well as to raise the graduation rates and help recruitment at the four-year institutions. Mason said the program generally works this way: “Students who want an HBCU experience and are not admissible to one of our four-year HBCUs … have the option of being admitted to Southern-Shreveport and then going on to a four-year campus. Once they meet the requirements that are necessary to transfer—usually finishing developmental work, having a 2.0 GPA and 18 credit hours—the data show that their chances of getting a four-year degree increase—by a lot.”

SUBR chancellor James Llorens told Diverse the new initiative has allowed his institution to attract students who otherwise would not be there.

Llorens said state guidelines restrict students at the four-year institution from taking more than one developmental course. But under the new plan students enrolled through the community college may take additional developmental courses if necessary. “We wanted to capitalize on our unique status as a system—the only HBCU system in the country—and to help students who want a total college experience.”

The campus has experienced declining enrollment in recent years as the state has tightened admission requirements, sending many prospective students to community colleges before transferring to the university. Llorens said some of those students become “disappointed and frustrated” and never reach a four-year institution.

“Now we can actually bring them onto the campus so that they can begin to participate in student life,” Llorens said.

From the students’ standpoint, “It’s all positive,” said Willie McCorkle III, president of the Student Government Association at Southern-Baton Rouge. “We think it’s a great idea. The students I have spoken with are in full support and are looking forward to having the Shreveport students here. It shows the cohesiveness of the schools within the Southern University system, and it promotes a family atmosphere.”

McCorkle said the plan allows students maximize their time by taking developmental courses while also enrolling in other courses offered by the university and participating in student activities.

Llorens said the existing dorms, cafeteria and parking facilities will accommodate the additional students. He said faculty for the community college students will be hired and assigned by the Shreveport administration. He said some SUBR faculty might serve as part-time instructors for the Shreveport students.

Mason announced the proposal on his President’s Portal, as part of several cost-cutting and revenue-building measures.

“We should take advantage of our system status to coordinate activities and programs, eliminate service duplication, increase economies of scale, and strengthen our component units,” Mason said in his state of the university message on the site.

The Shreveport-Baton Rouge plan was included among several proposals centralizing and consolidating services and programs throughout the system.

Nationally, the Shreveport-Baton Rouge enrollment plan could be a model for other HBCUs, according to Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), which is made up of leaders of historically Black institutions.

“We’re increasingly trying to improve the pipeline from two-year to four-year institutions,” she said. “It seems that this would lower costs and help students make a seamless transition.”

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