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Black, Brown and College Bound

Black, Brown and College Bound
Annual conference focuses on boosting minority male higher ed attainment.
By David Pluviose

Like numerous professional athletes who have maintained ties with childhood friends with spotty criminal records even after they move out of tough inner-city neighborhoods into sprawling mansions, some minority college students face similar challenges as they find a way to advance themselves through higher education.

On a student panel at the “Black, Brown & College Bound” conference in Tampa last month, young Black and Hispanic males spoke out about the pressure they face from friends bent on going down the wrong path.

“A big thing for me in my neighborhood is loyalty, but that loyalty sometimes gets me entrapped in some situations that I shouldn’t be in,” said Palm Beach Community College student Thomas Beckwith. “Some of my friends say, ‘You’re changing on me. You know where we come from. I made you and I’ve been there for you.’ Sometimes, that’s how you get entrapped in that environment.”

Beckwith added that, ultimately, surrounding himself with people who can motivate him to excel in college can help “alleviate that pressure.” Yet, “each day when I go to the college, it’s like a whole different world to me. But as far as when I come home, I know I’m going right back into the same situation that I came from.”

Manatee Community College student César Hernández expressed similar sentiments, saying, “One of the challenges that I’ve experienced is friends. Sometimes you’ve got to get rid of the friends that don’t make good decisions, people that are going to hold you back,” Hernández said.

Hosted by Hillsborough Community College and nine other Florida two-year institutions, the second annual Black, Brown & College Bound conference attracted 375 participants who attended numerous tracks dedicated to examining and removing barriers to college for young Black and Hispanic males.

In a session on minority male retention, Maxine Lennon, JobLink Career Center counselor at Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, N.C., said having older minority male students mentor younger students is critical to keeping them on track for graduation.

“A lot of times, the minority male in a classroom setting might be the only minority male in that class,” Lennon says, adding that many of these students “feel outnumbered and oftentimes they feel real doubt.” On SCC’s campus, Lennon says, “We only have two minority males on the whole campus in an instructional role,” and a student mentoring program helps provide students a “support base.”

In his keynote address, University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III outlined the crisis confronting young minority males, highlighting statistics indicating wide disparities in the number of minority males in prison compared to their representation in society as a whole. Hrabowski also spoke about the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at UMBC, which aims to propel talented young minority males towards doctorates in STEM disciplines.

Hrabowski also highlighted the Choice Program at UMBC, which enrolls first-time juvenile offenders ages 8-15 who have the option of enrolling in the program or going to a correctional institution. Once in the program, participants are monitored 24/7 as they receive intensive counseling and participate in a variety of educational activities meant to steer them away from future incarceration.

In response to those who told him to show college enrollment numbers for Choice participants, Hrabowski said, “Our first goal is to keep them alive. No. 2 is to keep them out of trouble and No. 3, help them to learn to read, and develop the skills that they need.” Then follows efforts to help Choice participants find a job, and finally, “help them to dream about the possibilities.”

In another keynote, League for Innovation in the Community College President and CEO Dr. Gerardo de los Santos outlined how the Hispanic population boom is changing the demographic landscape nationwide. De los Santos also addressed the complicated issue of serving the growing population of Hispanic students, some of whom are undocumented.

When it comes to financial aid for undocumented students, community colleges are “not going to get it from the state, so it is going to be incumbent upon ourselves to raise these monies, otherwise, these students are going to have nowhere to turn,” de los Santos said.

He also highlighted the Achieving a College Education Program within the Maricopa County Community College District in Arizona, which seeks to ease high school students’ transition from high schools to community colleges, universities and onto the workforce. De los Santos also spoke of a similar initiative within the League.

“The League for Innovation has finished a five-year initiative focused on easing transitions for students moving from high school to community colleges, as a means of trying to align curriculum, to decrease the level of remediation that students are going to have to take, and increase academic performance of students moving through the transitions,” de los Santos said.

“This program is helping to focus efforts on this important transition where a lot of students are lost and fall through the cracks,” he added.

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