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Sharing the Responsibility: Increasing Black Male Student Enrollment

Sharing the Responsibility: Increasing Black Male Student EnrollmentEarlier this year, the University System of Georgia’s board of regents accepted 15 task-force recommendations designed to increase the number of African American males enrolling in Georgia’s colleges and universities (see Black Issues, Oct. 23). Yet, not one of the recommendations adequately incorporated the use of grass-roots efforts or community involvement as a part of the solution. The role of community organizations in developing initiatives to increase African American male enrollment is instrumental to pulling along a new generation of college students, as well as reaching more first-generation students. While serving in leadership roles in my fraternity and Masonic lodge, my focus has always been on the young Black male in the community, particularly since many young Black men excel on the gridiron or on the court, but do not have the academic wherewithal to meet the requirements for an athletic scholarship. To counter this dilemma, I initiated an adopt-a-school program, giving lodge members the opportunity to talk to young Black men about their experiences when they were young and what led them to attend college. Through this initiative, we discovered that building self-esteem and awareness helps determine the success of students. As a member of several college alumni associations, I recognized that many of our efforts focused on raising money for scholarships. However, I also realized that we needed a two-pronged approach, to both develop and nurture future students, particularly Black males. One solution has been for alumni to participate in local college fairs, where they can interview students and interact with them in an environment that is conducive to constructive dialogue. They can share with the students how a college degree can assist in achieving their goals and aspirations. One issue of concern is the number of students that are not aware of what courses they need to be college-ready. So while many of them have heard the rhetoric of going to college, they don’t know what it takes to get there nor have they prepared themselves adequately. Alumni associations can be instrumental in reaching students before this point.Churches can play an important role in improving the academic performance of students. Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., for instance, has developed youth ministry programs to help improve standardized test scores through its SAT preparation program and encourages students to prepare for classes through its daily tutorial sessions. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the church has instituted a recognition ceremony that acknowledges those that excel academically. This is specifically important for encouraging students to continue to perform at the honor-roll level, and motivating those who may have fallen short to improve their performance. When more churches are actively involved in the academic development of students, particularly Black males, we will notice an increase in enrollment.As we develop avenues of approach to increase Black male enrollment, we must focus on developing comprehensive policies that incorporate how grass-roots efforts and university system initiatives can share the responsibility. This holds true for actors such as community organizations, college alumni associations and churches, all of which must be included in order for the Georgia board of regent’s plan to work. As community activists determined to overcome this quagmire, multiple plans must be put into place. At a time when bureaucratic inertia becomes a barrier because of political and economic realities, those of us working on the grass-roots level must think outside of the box to increase Black male enrollment in Georgia’s public colleges and universities and those around the nation.  — Timothy D. Etson is a policy analyst with the Georgia governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, and an adjunct professor of business and liberal arts at Herzing College-Atlanta.

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