As part of initiatives designed to increase diversity at the University, Cornell administrators are prioritizing increasing the retention of African-American male students –– a demographic whose graduation rate has lagged far behind those of other groups on campus, according to a University report.
While 92 percent of students entering Cornell in 2003 graduated within six years, only 75 percent of African-American male students graduated within six years, according to the report. Administrators say they hope to raise this rate, but that they must conduct further research to determine how to do so.
Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D. ’94, vice president for student and academic services, said a University task force is working to gather data and research ways in which other universities have tried to increase the graduation rates of black male students.
“We are going to start with good research. Good literature. For example, I’m … visiting [Prof.] Shaun Harper, [education, University of Pennsylvania],” Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, said. “He’s doing some progressive work with college-age black men.”
Additionally, Alexander said that members of the Division of Student and Academic Services will look through data on Cornell’s student population to devise plans to boost black male graduation rates.
“[We need to] take a look at trends. Does any college or school jump out? Are there any socioeconomic considerations? Are these first generation students? [These questions] might give us an idea,” she said.
The Division of Student and Academic Services will also collaborate with other colleges and departments in order to increase retention of black males, according to Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office.
“I think that’s not a goal that can be accomplished by our division alone. It’s a goal that will require collaboration with a number of different entities on campus, including coordinating with college admission offices and other offices of support,” O’Brien said.
In addition to conducting research, administrators say that they will continue to support Students Working Ambitiously to Graduate, a Cornell mentorship program for black male students.
Members of SWAG said that the University’s research could help their efforts to reach out to students who are most at risk of dropping out of school.
“The problem is people who are in the program are the ones that are graduating. If we reach out, we want to pool in those who are struggling,” said Kendrick Coq ’15, co-chair of SWAG.
To boost the retention rates of black males, the University needs more support from not only students but also alumni, said Thaddeus Talbot ’15, co-chair of SWAG.
“The job is never easy. What I think is more effective is a hands-on approach, particularly more involvement from alumni,” Talbot said. “The administration has been giving us support and we appreciate them, but our work still requires more hands.”
In moving toward its goal of increasing retention rates, the University will also continue to support the New York State Higher Education Opportunity Program. The program helps low-income students who could not gain admission under the University’s regular standards attend and graduate from Cornell, according to Alexander.
According to A.T. Miller, associate vice provost for academic diversity initiatives, students that are part of HEOP are supported throughout their time at Cornell.
“The HEOP program purchases student course books and provides supplemental workshops,” he said. “In HEOP, the students have what we call intrusive advising, where they must see their advisor every other week in their first year, once a month in their second year and twice a semester after that.”
The support that HEOP lends to its students helps ensure that, ultimately, “they do graduate,” Alexander said.
Murphy acknowledged, however, that increasing graduation rates of black males at Cornell will take time.
“You’re not going to change it in a single year,” she said.