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Going after the high-flying scholars: Florida A & M University ranks among the best in enticing high school best and brightest – Recruitment & Retention

WASHINGTON — Skylar Byrd is only 17 but she already knows what it’s like to be courted by the big guys.

Her top grades and perfect 1600 score on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) turned the heads of university recruiters her way, including Harvard and Florida A & M University, the two top destinations of National Achievement Scholars.

Byrd’s long-time aim has been to go to Harvard, which has historically been the top destination for National Achievement Scholars. But FAMU — which this year edged out Harvard for the second time as the top recruiter of those scholars — hasn’t given up on trying to recruit her.

Rudy Slaughter, director of high school and community college relations, is still hoping that she will attend Florida A&M University (FAMU) and has called her and enticed her with airline tickets for campus visits.

“We go after a lot [of students] and we lose a lot,” says a frustrated Slaughter. “We’re having trouble getting her [Skylar Byrd]. Everyone else is also interested in her.”

Byrd’s decision regarding her early admissions acceptance to Harvard is still pending, but she knows she will be traveling away from home. “I’m not just trying to get away from Washington (DC), but I think there are better schools outside of Washington,” says Skylar whose high school, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, sits in the shadow of Howard University.

In earlier years, FAMU has successfully wooed other National Achievement Scholars from Byrd’s high school, which is 98 percent African American. When it comes to recruiting the nation’s best and brightest African-American students, FAMU is number one.

For the second time in four years, the 10,324-student campus in Tallahassee, lured 59 National Achievement Scholars into its 1995 freshman class, two more than runner-up Harvard. FAMU previously topped the list in 1992 by recruiting 73 National Achievement Scholars to Harvard’s 49.

National Achievement Scholars place among the top two percent of all students taking the preliminary SAT. One half of one percent of about 10,000 African-American students taking the test annually are selected as National Achievement Scholars by the National Scholarship Corp., which also reviews an applicant’s class rank, extracurricular activities and letters of recommendations.

More than 200 National Achievement Scholars attend Florida A&M, which boasts the highest average SAT score among the nation’s 117 historically Black colleges and universities, said Eddie Jackson, a spokesman for the university.

But the competition for top students doesn’t end with the promise of a hefty scholarship package, Jackson added. Generally, National Achievement Scholars can count on generous financial award offers, so FAMU goes further- by offering corporate job internships and other perks.

“We have told these students if they stay here and get good grades we will send them to graduate school, all expenses paid,” said FAMU President Frederick Humphries.

Budding scholars are easy to spot, says Jacqueline Pegram, a guidance counselor at Banneker High School and Byrd’s counselor in her freshman and senior years. “They are the students who have a natural curiosity and an innate ability to learn,” she said.

“So many people ask how did Skylar achieve her high score on the PSAT and do so well in school,” Pegrem said. “Skylar put it so very, very well: `I simply read. studied, did my work and the rest fell into place.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Ranking of Colleges and Universities Attended by National Achievement Scholar Class of 1995

1995 National Achievement Rank Institution Scholars 1. Florida A & M University 59 2. Harvard/Radcliffe Colleges 57 3. Howard University 43 4. University of Oklahoma 29 5. Stanford University 23 6. University of Virginia 22 7. University of Florida 20 8. Massachusetts Institute of Tech 20 9. Yale University 19 10. Georgia Institute of Technology 18 11. Princeton University 16 12. University of Michigan 16

SOURCE: National Merit Scholarship Corporation Annual Report 1994-95

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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