AVON PARK — South Florida State College aims to improve its recruitment and retention of black males after data showed the institution recently had its lowest percentage of black males complete an Associate’s of Arts degree.
In 2012-13, among the entire student body, only 1.1 percent (3 out 272) of AA degrees were earned by black males.
Their enrollment and completion rates were the areas with the greatest concern in the college’s annual equity update report that was presented Wednesday to the district board of trustees.
SFSC Chief Information Officer Christopher van der Kaay offered data, which highlighted the concerns.
He noted the college’s “completion” rate for all its programs was 45 percent, which is about 10 percent higher than the state average. The completion rate for white students was about 46 percent, Asian 67 percent and Hispanics about 44 percent.
It was 33 percent for blacks, so that is an area that needs a closer look, van der Kaay said.
Black enrollment has gone down over the last several years, he noted. It was 484 (11.7 percent of the student body) in 2010-11, dropping to 409 (11.23 percent of the student body) in 2012-13.
But, the percentage of black graduates did not equate to their percentage of the enrollment, van der Kaay said. “For example, if blacks made up 9 percent of the student body you would expect them to make up 9 percent of the graduates,” he explained.
While black enrollment was around 11 percent of the college’s degree-seeking students, the percentage of those who completed their programs was far lower, he said.
In response to the report, the college is pursuing numerous funding opportunities, including a recent request of $75,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to develop and target a program to increase recruitment and retention of black male students.
The college is also seeking funding from the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which is a federal program aimed at improving success for young minority males.
College President Thomas Leitzel said the programs will focus on black males who have left high school, who probably didn’t complete their high school studies but who are college eligible. It would begin by placing them in a GED program. Once they earn their high school equivalent, they can get into the college and would be eligible for Pell grants, he said.
“Funding beyond that initial stage is not the problem,” he said. “It’s identification and retention.”
The funding will help them buy computers and pay for other expenses that will allow students to come to college, such as transportation, Leitzel said. The funding can even help with basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing.
“We don’t want those deterrents to get in the way of a college education,” he said. “So that’s where the funds reach deep in non-traditional needs.”
In addition to the grants, the college will also study what has been successful at other two-year colleges and other higher education institutions, Leitzel said.
“Fortunately we have good community leaders; they are involved and making us aware and we have responded to that,” he said.
Board Chairman Joe Wright has pointed out the issue before.
Wright said Monday some of his personal interest on the topic goes back to his days when he served on the Avon Park City Council.
“I felt I had good support from the Southside, and any time there is something I can do to help the people of Avon Park I am certainly going to it,” he said.
The issue of black males was addressed in an equity seminar, Wright noted, when he attended his first national community college trustees convention in October 2012.
Wright said he asked the chairman or vice chairman of the seminar, who was black, about the nationwide decline in black enrollment and the retention problems.
“I was disappointed,” Wright said. “I was hoping he had the magic bullet, so to speak, but he really didn’t. He acknowledged that it really is a problem.
“It is something I am concerned about and I think the board needs to really monitor and do something about.”