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Feb. 27, 2014

Students more likely to succeed when involved

By Lalita Smith

The struggle is real for black college students not only at Cleveland State but across the nation—the struggle to not just go to college, but to stay in college. Studies have shown that one solution to this struggle is student involvement.

According to a report released last year by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2008 only 11.8 percent of first year, full-time black students attending a public university, graduated within six years.

A report released by Cleveland State cited that black students comprised only 20 percent of all undergraduate students in 2009—and a study conducted by Cleveland State reported that only 14.3 percent of black students who were enrolled in 2001 went on to graduate within six years.

In the “Book of Trends” released last year by Cleveland State University, the reported retention rate for black students between Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 was 46 percent, compared to the 70 percent retention rate of their white counterparts—and of the 2,066 bachelor degrees awarded that year, only 352 were to black students.

For years, black people have fought; fought for the right to live free, fought for the right to enjoy political freedom, fought for equality and fought for the right to educate themselves and their children.

Black students today are free to go to college, free to earn an education that 50 years ago may have been denied to them—but the fight must not end there.
These same students now have to fight to gain the education that is available to them—a fight that it appears many of them are losing.

Allen Smith, 23, who attended Cleveland State from Fall 2008 to Fall 2009, knows first-hand how hard it is to stay in school.
“I thought I was ready to go to college, but once I got there, I was just so overwhelmed,” said Smith.
“I just wasn’t ready.”

What can be done to help students like Smith get ready, instead of give up?

Research done by Dr. Walter R. Allen, professor of sociology and the Allan Murray Cartter Professor of Higher Education at UCLA, supports the assertion that student involvement is the simple (and best) solution.

Dr. Allen and his colleagues at the UCLA graduate school of education and information studies have studied the performance of minorities in college—and in his book “The Color of Success,” Dr. Allen reports that black students who participate in social activities become a part of the social environment of a university, and as a result are more likely to continue their education.

In addition, he argues that supportive social college environments also “communicate to black students that it is safe to take risks associated with intellectual growth…and increase the probability that they will succeed.”

Marquis Brannon, 25, who started at Cleveland State in 2007, can attest tothe importance of being involved on campus.
Brannon was a member of the swim team and also pledged a fraternity while here at Cleveland State.

“If I wasn’t involved, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” said Brannon.

The Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement has recently created a new retention initiative--the Navigator Program--that is focused on assisting minority students in their goals to achieve academic success, while at the same time getting (and keeping) them involved and engaged.

“We say it’s a continuous system of support, from the time you enter until the time you leave,” said Dr. Charleyse Pratt, assistant vice president of the Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement.

The program utilizes the efforts of trained “navigators”-- recruited individuals who support and assist students and are specifically trained to attend the particular needs of students throughout the various stages of their college career.

“My vision in the long term is that we would have like 500 navigators on campus. Right now we’ve got about 40,” said Pratt.

These “navigators” are not just students, but faculty and staff members who are able to provide students with the help and advocacy they need.

Another facet of the Navigator Program is student involvement.

“Research shows that students who are engaged, who are involved, who are connected are more likely to be retained,” said Pratt.

“If you create a space where people can be involved, where they can feel connected...where they can get the help that they need…that contributes to retention.”

Within the Navigator Program and the Office of Inclusion, there are various ways that students can get involved.

A book club, three student organizations, available learning and study groups and a weekly Lunch and Learn event are just a few of the involvement opportunities offered to students.

With the support of the kind of programs and opportunities offered here at Cleveland State, perhaps minority and majority students alike will be able to overcome the struggle and not just go to college, but stay in college.