A new book edited by Dr. Clinita Ford provides unusual insight into the lessons taught by more than two decades of experience with improving educational opportunities for African American, Latino, and Native American students.
In Student Retention Success Models in Higher Education, the interventions described have been chosen with a discerning eye. Combined, the twenty-five chapters teach us much about the distance we have traveled and the work that lies ahead.
The book is a collection of valuable advice that is particularly compelling and timely in light of the decision in Hopwood us, the State of Texas which forbade the use of race as an admissions criterion at the University of Texas law school. For instance:
· Based on extensive experience in the University of Wisconsin system, Hazel Symonette describes the importance of program evaluation and offers guidelines for using assessment as a self-diagnostic resource.
· * John Gardenhire provides tips on improving classroom learning environments.
· * Lillian Poats and Emma Amacker persuasively argue the case for working more closely with school districts.
· * Ann Carter-Obayuwana draws implications from extensive research at Howard University on the importance of the theoretical constructs of hope and coping for female graduate students. The instruments she describes for distinguishing students who may require special assistance from those who are likely to succeed on their own should be useful in other institutions.
· * Four chapters describe programs designed in close cooperation with specific academic units. They include:
· * Katie McKnight’s report on an early admission and summer academic program offered through the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
· Reaching out to seventh and eighth grade students, the approach has contributed to significant increases in the numbers of Hispanic and African American students admitted, while exercising a systemic influence on the design of the nursing program.
· * Roy Sherrod’s and Lynda Harrison’s description of a comparable program that operated with special federal funding for three years at the University of Alabama. After the funding ended, the University continued a number of the services.
· * Kevin McCarthy’s description of a new program for students in the College of Music at the University of Colorado at Boulder that will use Black music as a way of attracting and retaining talented students.
· * And Forest Smith’s description of the Louisiana State University retention activities for minorities in engineering. Her chapter provides an effective blend of literature and experience.
· The largest number of chapters describe programs that emphasize helping new students adjust to the demands of college life particularly through orientation and mentoring. In these chapters:
· * Reed Markham portrays the ambitious and successful College of Arts retention and enhancement services at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona where more than sixty faculty members provide academic planning and support services to first-year students.
· * Barbara Evans depicts a similar program at the University of Pittsburgh where students in upper classes provide mentoring. In both programs, mentors receive special training.
· * Project BEAM at West Virginia University, as described by Horace Belmear, is displayed because, while it shares many of the characteristics of the Cal State and Pitt programs, it places more emphasis on recruiting.
· * John Bush describes a voluntary umbrella program at the University of Massachusetts designed to overcome the fragmentation that often results from separately administered targeted programs.
· * Clifton McKnight describes the All-Pro Partnership for student athletes at the Rockville, Maryland, campus of Montgomery College.
· * And John Reid Jr. relates the successful efforts of California State University at Fullerton to improve graduation rates for African American male student athletes.
· * In contrast to these highly focused programs for Black and Latino students attending predominantly white institutions, Roland Byrd discusses the less intensive pre-orientation program at Howard University, which can rely on a more supportive institutional environment to help out with retention efforts.
· A fourth collection of chapters involve larger scale comprehensive efforts, several of which have clearly had significant impact on the institutions where they evolved. Most striking is the system-wide program offered by the University of Georgia and described by Joseph Silver Sr. The program targets African American freshmen and sophomores providing advising, peer counseling, tutoring, study skills, and financial aid seminars. The candid assessment of program strengths and weaknesses, along with sensible advice and convincing outcome data draws on four of the stronger models within the system.
· Also on several campuses of the University of Georgia system are successful bridge programs. The one at Georgia State is depicted by Constance Chapman and Beatrice Logan. This combination of system and campus perspectives helps to point out the variety of services that must be coordinated for the best results.
· Equally impressive is a description by Quincy Moore of the comprehensive services offered at Virginia Commonwealth University. Begun as a separate program for Black students under a special grant, the services have now been integrated into the college as a whole, with the University assuming increased responsibility for funding. While the philosophy of the program has changed to one of providing services to all university students, funding constraints continue to prevent full implementation of the philosophy.
· The University of Louisville has taken; a very different approach. In a concise, but very informative chapter, J. Blaine Hudson explains the institution’s Preparatory Division. It began in 1975 as a structured program of testing, academic advising, development instruction in basic skills, and individual and small group tutoring for academically underprepared African American freshmen. The program now serves students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, but remains the only academic unit of the university from which African Americans derive equal or greater benefit than students from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.
· Donal Brown describes the well-known, comprehensive AHANA program at Boston College. Less integrated into the institutional mainstream–but equally comprehensive–are the services offered at the University of Buffalo as described by Muriel Moore.
· While program out-comes are positive, continuing reliance on If specially-designated state and federal funding, and difficulties in expanding the numbers of minority faculty and teaching assistants, remain concerns to those who lead the program.
· In the three chapters which focus on graduate students:
· * Maurice Daniels, Patrick Johnson and Louise Tomlinson describe University of Georgia achievements in competing for federal funds available through; the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship Program for graduate students, particularly noteworthy is the program’s emphasis on integrating contributions from a variety of programs under the auspices of a university-wide diversity committee.
· * Deborah Atwater and Catherine Lyons describe a support program at the Pennsylvania State University that provides assistance to minority graduate students and faculty. The targeted nature of this program has been controversial, with many asking, “Why not serve everyone?”
· * And Karen Smith describes an imaginative collaboration between the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College.
· Black graduate students at the University are supported for up to four years of graduate study by the college. In return, they teach three courses a year as adjunct faculty, contributing to diversity among the Santa Fe faculty.
· The final chapter, by Pamela Arrington, places retention issues in national perspective by reporting on the American Association of State Colleges and Universities/Sallie Mae National Retention Project. Using the results of extensive surveys, regional meetings, and her project activities, the chapter reports on the status of retention efforts in the public universities that jointly award more baccalaureate degrees to African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans than any other institutional grouping. All institutions have programs, but most are not integrated into their campus cultures–a condition that offers both hope and challenge.
· Dr. Ford has done all of higher education a signal service by pulling together this masterful compilation of accumulated wisdom on student retention. The book is interesting and well organized. It is a must-read for anyone concerned with diversity or student achievement.
· Richard C. Richardson Jr. is a professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Arizona State University.
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