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Perspectives: Exposure, High Expectations and Academic Rigor are Critical for Achieving College Success

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, only 18 high school freshmen out of every 100 students nationally will graduate from college on time, which is now considered to be within six years of enrollment. Taking an even more profound look at the 68, on average, who will complete high school, only 40 will enter college immediately after their high school graduation and many will enter unprepared.

These statistics are staggering and appear especially dismissal when focusing on the Black students who graduate from high school at a rate much lower than the national average. Just 56 percent of Blacks graduate from high school, of which 40 percent enter a post-secondary institution immediately after high school. Unfortunately, the overall results of the 2006 ACT tests clearly demonstrates the fact that Black youth are entering their post-secondary careers with substantial deficiencies.  In fact, only 3 percent of Blacks taking the 2006 test met or exceeded benchmarks on all four tests.

Many Black students, valedictorians included, are entering college completely ill-equipped academically and with the false perception of post-secondary education as being a form of “advanced high school.” The problems in education are twofold: the failure to graduate and the failure to graduate students prepared for success in college. A lack of exposure to higher education, increasingly lowered expectations in the classroom, and an effortless high school course load completely devoid of rigor are all factors which can be ascribed to such a low level of preparedness and rate of retention.

A program in Indianapolis has shown that we can turn these numbers around. The Center for Leadership Development (CLD), an Black youth development organization located in central Indianapolis, was established 30 years ago by S. Henry Bundles Jr., a descendent of Madame CJ Walker. Working with numerous community partners, companies, schools, parents and youth, CLD focuses on Black achievement by confronting the various factors which are seen as obstacles. All of the college preparatory courses are developed based upon CLD’s five principles for success: character development, educational excellence, leadership effectiveness, community service and career achievement. 

Local businesses such as Eli Lilly and Company recognize the value of the programs offered by CLD and support the organization’s initiatives through human and financial resources. In fact, a groundbreaking recently occurred for the new Eli Lilly CLD Achievement Center. CLD operates solely on private donations and receives no government funding. 

Recent studies have shown that CLD graduates have a 31 percent higher occurrence of pursuing a post-secondary education than other Black students who have not participated in CLD, and a 26 percent higher occurrence of earning a college degree. Additionally, 96 percent of CLD participants who continue past the initial high school program, Self-Discovery/Career Exploration Project, and complete the College Prep Institute actually enroll in college. Success Prep participants, another CLD program which prepares eight graders for success in high school, receive life and social skills training in order to ensure their academic success in college.  Both of the before mentioned programs require parental participation.

The solution is simple: exposure, high expectations, adult involvement and academic rigor. However, the delivery is challenging because, in reality, success truly is an option and it must be desired, if in fact its existence is known.

Nevertheless, the expectations at CLD are high and unwavering. The idea is to provide experiences through weekly programs or one-day events delivered by Black professionals from the community and focused on the achievement of Black youth.  The participants begin to understand the need for a plan and the need to follow the plan. They begin to reach the expectations set by adults and eventually, they raise the bar for themselves as they are addressed by professionals with whom they can sincerely identify. The thought becomes, ‘If you can do it, so can I.’

Tamiko L. Jordan is vice president of programs and administration for the Center for Leadership Development in Indianapolis.


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