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Reaching African-American Males on Their Path to Success

By Sonya Stinson

At Howard Community College in Maryland, the P.R.I.D.E. program is improving developmental-math scores and helping students stay the course.

When researchers at Howard Community College in Maryland examined the academic standing of the student body, they found the lowest levels of achievement among African-American male students who were enrolled in developmental mathematics.

Concerned about those findings, administrators began discussing ways to improve outcomes for these students. After a year of research, they designed and launched the Howard P.R.I.D.E. (Purpose, Respect, Initiative, Determination and Excellence) initiative in fall 2012.

The primary goal: to raise achievement in math. The ancillary goals: to help participants maintain good academic standing and stay enrolled through the completion of their credentials or transfer to a four-year institution, says Cindy Peterka, vice president of student services at Howard Community College.

In three years, the program has grown from 50 participants to 117. In both developmental- and college-level math scores, Howard P.R.I.D.E. students have outperformed other black male students at the school. GPAs also are comparatively better, and P.R.I.D.E. students have won acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University and the University of Maryland at College Park, among other four-year colleges.

One of the most impressive areas of improvement has been in retention rates. In 2013, P.R.I.D.E. students had a 91 percent retention rate from fall to spring, while the rate for all black male students was 68 percent. In 2014, the rates were 84 percent versus 66 percent.

“We’re feeling pretty good about the results,” Peterka says.

Serving students and the community

The strategy for achieving those results is a program structured with many facets. Student participants attend weekly meetings and have access to one-on-one math tutoring. Their academic progress is monitored through a case-management system. African-American male students who have already achieved college-level math efficiency serve as paid peer mentors to those who are working through the developmental-math sequence.

Workshops on topics such as leadership, social skills and time management have featured invited speakers such as Irving McPhail, president of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, and AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus.

Once a semester, the P.R.I.D.E. program convenes the Black Male Summit, with students and associate director Stephen Freeman collaborating to plan each gathering around a specific theme. There also is a service-learning component, with students helping at local schools and organizations.

“Something may come up in the community where they are looking for volunteers, and Howard P.R.I.D.E. is there,” Peterka says.

The program initially targeted incoming students in their first semester of enrollment, but it expanded to include others who had been on campus longer after they expressed interest.

A model to learn by

Peterka thinks other community colleges can replicate the P.R.I.D.E. concept, as long as administrators understand clearly what it takes to sustain the effort.

“Probably the main requirement is that you absolutely need support from the top — from the president, the president’s team and the other vice presidents,” Peterka says. “It requires collaboration and resources and then champions.”

In the case of Howard Community College, Peterka counts associate program director Freeman and all of the college’s vice presidents as staunch P.R.I.D.E. advocates.

Patience is another essential ingredient for success with such a program. “It doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes a while to build a critical mass,” Peterka says.

Finally, she says, the program must have adequate resources. As Howard P.R.I.D.E. continues to grow, administrators already see a strain on the program’s staff, which includes one full-time associate director, a half-time case manager and two part-time tutors.

“We probably need to add another part-time tutor and another part-time case manager,” Peterka says.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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