The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

October 20, 2012

Graduation rates higher for black students at SHSU

HUNTSVILLE — A recent study by a national organization whose mission is to “close the gaps in opportunity and achievement” has identified Sam Houston State University as one of the top public institutions in the nation where African-American graduation rates equal or exceed the rate of white students.

The Education Trust, of Washington, D.C., has ranked SHSU seventh in a list of public universities, just behind Old Dominion University in Virginia and just ahead of SUNY at Albany in New York. SUNY College at Old Westbury was ranked first.

The study, “Advancing to Completion: Increasing degree attainment by improving graduation rates and closing gaps for African-American students,” looked at six-year graduation rates for 2004 and 2010.  

In 2004, the graduation rate at SHSU for black students was 44 percent, compared to 39.1 percent for white students.  The graduation rate for all students improved in 2010, with a 52.9 percent rate for black students and a 49 percent rate for white students.

According to the 2009 Digest of Education Statistics, men of color are more likely to drop out of college than graduate with a four-year degree. The report released last year shows 33 percent of African-American men who go to college get their degrees.

Sam Houston State University has a variety of mentoring programs in place for student success, most of which are offered through the Student Advising and Mentoring (SAM) Center.  

“We make a well-coordinated effort to provide services across the spectrum of performance for all those attending Sam Houston State University,” said Bernice Strauss, director of academic support programs.

“Different groups have different needs, and we try to keep a diverse and sensitive perspective on what we offer,” she said.

Strauss oversees two programs, which were established to assist with the retention and graduation of minority students.

“Grassroots — Conversations On Leadership In A Diverse Community” brings to campus local and state role models who have made meaningful contributions to their professions.  The structure of the program is an informal conversation or dialogue between the presenter and the audience, with the speakers sharing aspects of their own childhoods and events in their lives that promoted their commitment and understanding of leadership in diverse settings.

“We recognize that having role models that look like us, with shared experiences, can serve as a very powerful source of inspiration and motivation,” Strauss said.  “Students take away from the presentation the sense that  'if they can do it…I can do it.'”

The Sam Houston ELITE program (Establishing Leadership In and Through Education) promotes academic development and encourages civic engagement for freshman minority male students.  Participation requires that students attend weekly meetings that teach study skills and provide networking opportunities and be involved in community service projects.

The program was piloted during the 2010-11 academic year with 25 students and followed in 2011-12 with 30 students.  This year, the program has 70 students and was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to implement a new sophomore program for its members.

Recent figures show that participants in the ELITE program have attempted and completed a higher average of hours than other first-time male freshman students and the average GPA for African-American ELITE members was 2.62 compared to 2.3 for other first-time male freshmen.

“Sam Houston State University offers many meaningful opportunities for our diverse student population to succeed,” Strauss said.  “We have a wonderfully diverse student body and a welcoming and approachable staff and faculty eager to offer support while maintaining high academic standards.”

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