HBCU Summit on Retention
Highlights Challenges for BSU
By Kristina Rowley
For many universities a major concern is not just how to recruit new students but how to get them to return each semester. Universities all over the world spend countless dollars and time creating retention plans that cover everything from academics to recreation.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities are a special case when it comes to recruitment and retention because the purpose of the HBCU has changed. No longer are HBCUs the only institutions that will accept black students. So how do HBCUs compete with other institutions and maintain retention?
The 12th Annual HBCU Summit on Retention held March 12-14 at the Clarion Hotel in Ocean City, Md., gathered together faculty staff and students from HBCUs all over to discuss the issue of retention. The theme for this year's summit was "Everybody's Business: Assessment, Accountability, and Retention."
BSU professors Dr. Joan Langdon and Dr. Anne Gaskins-Nedd, co-chairs of the HBCU Summit Steering Committee, stated that the purpose of the summit was to provide opportunities for representatives of all groups concerned about the persistence of African American and other minority students in higher education to come together. The purpose of everyone coming together was to address the problem of retention of African American and other minority students in colleges and universities, and to celebrate successful retention programs in higher education.
At the start of the first full day of the summit, panelists from various institutions discussed the importance of reaching students because the value of higher education is changing. Panelist Tendai Johnson, vice chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment at Fayetteville State University, brought out that "Generation Y" comes to college today to get a degree because it is like a driver's license or something you need to get to the next level.
Johnson related that HBCUs have unique responsibilities to reaching and keeping students today. HBCUs have responsibilities to assist students to become productive social members, to accept students where they are socially and educationally, to develop and build skills, and to provide avenues for student success.
A professor in the audience said universities often provide resources for students but they do not use them, and asked how to get students more engaged in the resources they have. Panelists answered that it is important that students realize they need the resources provided to them which sometimes requires intrusive intervention and requiring students to use certain resources to create a culture of accountability. Other audience members suggested that everyone become a mentor for students to help guide them in the direction they need to stay on the path to graduation.
Some of the best practices for retaining students, outlined in the HBCU Summit program, were discussed. Making retention everybody's business, organizing a special welcome for new and returning students, assessing at mid-semester, getting to know the students, being personal, developing skills as faculty and staff, and encouraging re-enrollment are practices that have been working to retain students in the past.
After the intense beginning discussion everyone was invited to attend various presentations about the issues and successes of retention held in different rooms. Some of the presentations included:
- A Case Study in Recruitment And Retention-A Year Later Student Perspective
- Utilizing Data For Effective Retention Planning
- The Psychological Predictors of The Academic Success of First-Generation African American College Students
- Creating A Culture of Assessment At HBCUs
- Student Retention through Independent Learning, and
- Low Cost Common Sense Strategies for Achieving High Retention.
One popular session, Where is The Black in HBCU?, provided a lot of information about the role of cultural difference in retention. The speaker Dr. John L. Hudgins, chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Coppin State University, talked about reinstating the "black experience" at HBCUs. Dr. Hudgins said HBCUs need to regain their sensitivity to black issues because the population is still predominately black.
At Bowie State University the population of black students is 91 percent and the percentage of black teachers is 68 percent. Dr. Hudgins said that more black teachers need to immerse black students into black culture surrounding them in their communities because it is not given in public school. After all, said Dr. Hudgins most people come to HBCUs for the "black experience" but are sadly just going to a school with black students. Dr. Hudgins said he believes that if more emphasis was put into Black culture at HBCUs retention rates would be high.
One of the sessions that highlighted retention success was lead by Frances Thomas Rogers, assistant director of the Academic Enrichment and Research Division at Delaware State University. The session, Effective Advising for First Year Students, showcased the hard work that Frances' division put into creating a system to place students on the path to success from their beginning at the university.
Frances talked about how Delaware State University has an "accuplacer" and college student inventory system that helps pinpoint students who are prone to dropout, predicted academic difficulty, educational stress, receptivity to institutional help, and first generation students. The students are automatically given staff and peer mentor support as well as mandatory advisement and tutoring.
The Early Alert System at DSU allows professors to alert tutoring and mentoring services to their students who are at risk of failure who are then contacted and given mandatory tutoring and advisement. All of the systems at DSU help the institution maintain a high retention rate.
During the course of the summit there were many sessions that provided information about retention plans and success. As the summit came to an end faculty, staff, and students were encouraged to use the information learned to ignite a passion for retention efforts at every institution and to come back next year to do it all again.
The annual HBCU Summit was instituted in 1998 through the vision of Dr. Nathanael Pollard the eighth president of Bowie State University. The summit was put together during a time of very low graduation and retention rates. Since 1998, HBCUs involved in the summit have made great progress in retention at their institutions and will continue to have the summit annually to develop, share, and implement creative solutions for the problem of student retention.