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Community College Mentoring Programs Help Students Stay Engaged

Unemployment, poor housing, inadequate preparation, childcare needs, discrimination and low expectations are among the issues that have hampered minority student success at community colleges. Throughout the country, the two-year institutions are reaching out and providing the needed support.

The programs may have different names from campus to campus, but the goal is the same – retain minority students and support them through graduation and admittance to four-year institutions. At the heart of the programs is mentoring, that one-to-one connection offering students a friendly face or a safe place to disclose their personal challenges and receive help.

For 20 years, Roy Pompey has reached out to students at Hudson Valley Community College as program director of its minority mentor program. While the program may have morphed into what it is today, the Collegiate Academic Support Program, which offers formal and informal mentoring and academic support, the challenges have remained the same since its inception.

Students are identified through the admissions office and are invited to an orientation, which begins the tracking process. Located in the Campus Center building on the second floor next door to food services, other students wander in seeking tutoring and support. Students who have found success in the offices return with friends.

Participants receive math and science tutoring, and are matched with a mentor on a formal or informal basis. Pompey also serves as an informal mentor. A retention specialist works with Pompey to monitor the 250-300 students who are on their list each semester.

“I have seen my math specialist take a student from an F to an A,” Pompey says. “We have a number of students in and out of our office all the time. Kids let us know in their own way that they need help.”

The program currently boasts an 85 percent retention and graduation rate.

“It’s an impact position,” Pompey says. “We’re impacting the lives of people all the time. They need a place that’s safe and the opportunity to get an education.”

The North Carolina Community College System, the third largest in the country, has made a significant commitment to supporting Black males on campus through mentoring and tutoring. What grew out of a grant helping six community colleges in the state has now grown to include 58 colleges.

Monty Hickman, coordinator of the Male Minority Mentoring program for the state community colleges, says the program works, noting an 80 percent increase in academic improvement.

“It’s not just about their GPA, but impacting issues such as leadership,” Hickman says. “We had a student who was really shy about public speaking and reclusive. That same student has become Student Government Association president on his campus.”

Part of the success at the community colleges is its commitment to renewal and redevelopment of its programs. For the last four years, an annual conference has been held to bring all of the colleges together, along with the community, faith-based institutions and corporate partners to share ideas.

Mentoring in the North Carolina Community College system includes programs that support minority males in middle and high school, and includes White males who may also need support.

“What makes it work is that we customize it for each community the college serves,” Hickman says. “In some communities transportation or unemployment may be a bigger issue; others may need more role models. We bring in speakers, address etiquette and give them experiences that they may not ordinarily have.”

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