At Compton College, commencement is approaching, and we are looking forward to celebrating with an in-person celebration, as the pandemic caused us to move the ceremony online for the past two years. Those two years have presented extraordinary challenges for our students, especially our Black and African American students, who face disproportionate obstacles on their path to earning degrees and certificates – a critical step toward building a successful future.
I am steadfast in my efforts to ensuring this group of students not only enrolls in college, but also completes classes, returns for more, and graduates. I have shared information on this topic at local and national conferences, news media outlets, and in a series of articles last year. The conversation continues today – I remain committed to unapologetically fighting for Black student success.
My work as an advocate for Black student success is ongoing and I was privileged to share these thoughts on the recent “PBS News Hour series “Rethinking College.” This special report focuses on higher education enrollment declines and the pandemic, particularly noting the sharpest declines are found in community colleges, where enrollment dropped 13% since 2019. The number was 21% for Black men. Reversing that trend has become a focal point at Compton College.
The report also featured our new Director of Black and Males of Color Success Dr. Antonio Banks, who is dedicated to helping this group navigate college. Dr. Banks noted that Black students often need guidance on the basics, including helping to solve food, housing, and transportation insecurities – all key factors that can keep them from attending college. They cannot be successful in their studies if they are worried about these important issues.
Dr. Banks is also building individualized support for Black students to work within the college’s existing guided pathway divisions, making the whole academic team part of the process. To have a truly successful and transformational program, it must be a broad-scale, team approach.
Black and African American students also need opportunities designed explicitly for them. Compton College recently implemented summer residential programs with Clark Atlanta University, Arizona State University, and UC Irvine. Students will be able to learn about transfer opportunities and earn Compton College units, while immersing themselves in a university setting.
All expenses will be paid, and students will also receive a $1,000 stipend. The federal American Rescue Plan funding supports both our new Director of Black and Males of Color Success position and the summer residential programs.
The work at Compton College and other community colleges is not enough and that’s why three years ago, a coalition of leaders and advocates in the California Community Colleges established Black Student Success Week, which is held annually during the last week of April. Black Student Success Week offers a time to reflect on how we serve our Black and African American students. This is our chance to identify what’s working and what’s not.
Black Student Success Week 2022 is framed within the theme, “Black Student Success: Creating a New Landscape to Succeed,” and highlights new approaches to ensure that Black and African American students thrive at California Community Colleges as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many ways to participate, from professional development webinars to discussion forums, in addition to connecting on social media. Read more about the activities on Instagram and Twitter @CABlackStudents.
To make sure our goals for Black and African American students are met, we need resources to back them up. Budgets are your value statements. When you truly value Black student success, then you have to fund it.
When calculations are being made in the 2022-2023 California State Budget, the state needs to allocate $50 million to support Black student success in California Community Colleges. Funds should be used for the hiring of Black faculty, professional development for faculty and staff, statewide mentorship programs for Black employees and students, research and evaluation for programs and services, the expansion of programs such as the African American Male Education Network & Development, and most importantly, specific funding for each community college to focus on outreach and retention of Black and African American students. Black and African American student enrollment and retention in California Community Colleges are in a state of emergency and action and funding are needed now.
Right now, we are in a crisis regarding Black and African American student success. A crisis demands a state of emergency approach, which means we need to allocate resources now. We can’t wait.
We also need to decide if we are standing on the sidelines or if we are in the game. We can no longer just talk about Black and African American students success; we need to advocate the agenda on our campuses and statewide to improve Black student outcomes.
Are you all in on Black Student success or are you standing on the sidelines? That’s the question students, educators, advocates, community members, and elected officials should be asking themselves as we address this state of emergency. Join me in continuing the fight for the success of our Black and African American students.
Keith Curry, Ed.D., is the president/CEO of Compton College.