Greenville Technical College
Photo by Will Crooks

A $170,000 grant from The Graham Foundation will create a pilot program at Greenville Technical College to help the school increase its number of graduating black male students.

In 2014, 22 percent of the college’s students were black, but they made up only 16 percent of its 2017 graduating class, according to the college and data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The college said part of this decline is because a significant portion of students don’t graduate within two years — many work part- or full-time jobs and have families. So a portion of the 2017 graduating class would have enrolled in the college prior to 2014.

But the percent of black, male students who enroll in the college is still greater than the percent who graduate.

The college hopes to offer resources to boost that graduation rate — one that remains low in public colleges and high schools across the United States.

A report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released in 2017 examined the completion rates of college students enrolled in schools across the country in 2010.

The report found that only about 26 percent of black students who start at two-year institutions completed their college degrees.

“Black men and women both have lower rates than men and women in other race and ethnicity categories,” the report said. “The outcomes of black men are particularly alarming: less than one out of four black men who begin their postsecondary studies at a community college eventually complete a degree or certificate and just about 61 percent end up stopping out or dropping out at the end of six years.”

The report does credit community colleges for providing more cost-effective access to higher education for traditionally underserved groups, but says that even in two-year schools, more needs to be done.

“This report provides additional evidence that community colleges facilitate access to postsecondary education, especially for black and Hispanic students: almost half of the students in each of these two groups started in a two-year public institution,” the report said. “However, we also found very low success rates for underrepresented minority students starting at two-year public institutions, particularly for black students.”

The report said the factors that contribute to the achievement gap between black and white students, and even male and female students, are complex, and often stem from a lack of access and support.

“Factors such as selectivity, campus climate, and availability of financial aid can serve as either completion barriers or pathways,” the report said. “Overall, research results highlight the complex connection between socioeconomic status, college enrollment and degree attainment, particularly among minority populations.”

A report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education examined the high school graduation rates of black male students across the United States for 2012.

The report listed South Carolina as having the third-lowest graduation rates for black students, sitting only above Nevada and Nebraska.

“Black males continue to be both pushed out and locked out of opportunities for academic achievement, including notable disparities in their enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and participation in Gifted and Talented programming,” the report said.

Although the two reports examine graduation rates at different levels, they underscore the same overarching theme — that black students are not provided equal access and opportunity in education.

Greenville Tech’s grant from The Graham Foundation hopes to address that.

The grant will go to a pilot program that boosts academic advising (including a graduation plan), career advising, financial advising, financial literacy education, college tours, transfer assistance, book scholarships, connection to support services, cultural activities, and mentoring for traditionally underserved students.

Keith Miller, president of Greenville Tech, formed a committee within the college called the President’s Commission on Persistence and Retention to help come up with the idea for the grant and implement it.

“Our mission is to transform lives through education, but if students don’t persist until graduation, that transformation can’t take place. We are very grateful to The Graham Foundation for funding that will allow us to provide services to support our African-American male students,” Miller said. “We expect these services to make all the difference in seeing this group graduate and advance at a higher rate.”

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