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College: An impossible dream for Black males?

caines | 9/6/2012, 5:30 a.m.

FMUs president takes proactive approach

Dr. Henry Lewis, III, 62, has been the president of Florida Memorial University [FMU] for 18 months. He says something is happening in the secondary school system that is robbing Black males of their aspiration and desire to negotiate an academic experience. Our student enrollment this year is around 1,700 students two-thirds of that population are female. [FMUs ethnic numbers are: Black, 90 percent; Hispanic, 5 percent; white and/or international, 5 percent]. Graduation numbers pretty much mirror our enrollment percentages of male-to-female. Is there a crisis among Black males? Absolutely. The numbers bear that out unequivocally when you look at them nationwide. Women are trending to almost 70 percent whether its at HBCUs or majority colleges. Black males are severely underrepresented. Lewis sites several reasons that he says at least partially explain the current crisis. Too many Black males are finishing high school ill-prepared for college, he said. In Florida you can finish with a certificate of attendance rather than a high school diploma and far too many Black males are doing just that. Even if they attend college they have to be remediated before they are able to enroll in traditional college courses. Lewis has restructured the freshman year with a program called the Centers for Academic Support and Retention. Tutorial programs, academic advising, testing centers and computer labs are connected under one umbrella in order to ensure a continuum of support for entering students. Since we initiated the Centers our retention rate for Black males has gone up to 68 percent from the freshman to sophomore year [Females have a rate of almost 80 percent]. We have to encourage our Black males and help them understand that they have a responsibility both to their communities and to their families. The mindset we want to instill is one that says I can succeed as opposed to one that hinges on I dont want to fail. The two are diametrically opposed philosophies.

Black males need a personal touch

Kareem J. Coney, 38, is FMUs director for their Black Male College Explorers program an initiative that targets high school students from urban settings. Each summer students are placed in a residential setting that exposes them to the rigors of college including taking STEM courses and placing them with mentors. Young boys need a personal touch someone that is genuinely interested in them and their future, Coney said. Pre-college programs like ours help boys enter college better prepared. Many walk in feeling like everyone is their adversary and they lack an understanding of the structures they face. Even more, they dont have a grasp of the steps needed to succeed. Dr. Edward G. Tolliver, director of the Black Male College Explorers Program at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University [FAMU] cites additional obstacles that Black males routinely face. Black males are most likely to be labeled discipline problems, and because their SAT scores average 104 points lower, they are less likely to be enrolled in advanced level or gifted classes, he said. Too often a college education is not the outcome for them. Instead they end up incarcerated, perpetrators or victims of violence or institutionalized for drug addiction or mental illnesses. Florida ranks second in the nation when it comes to Black male high school dropouts. And Black teachers are also noticeably absent from Florida K-12th grade classrooms. Our programs goal, with sites at FAMU, B-CU, Edward Waters College and FMU, were created to reverse the current trends and provide prevention and intervention programs that focus on Black male youth. Society may be out to get us but we dont have to give them ammunition, Coney added. We need to help our youth, especially our boys, become thirsty for knowledge even if its challenging and uncomfortable.