Minority GPAs reflect lack of preparation

Regina Garcia Cano

Transition from high school to college tougher on students from inner-city; programs reduce achievement gap

When Ondia Butler first came to college, she realized that professors can fail students. While in high school, the senior marketing major said teachers would pass students regardless of grades.

“They do it as a routine,” Butler said, about her time in high school.

As more minority students continue to graduate from high school, their presence in colleges across the country has increased during the last three decades. But these rising numbers have not been reflected by their college grades.

The average GPA for undergraduate black students at Kent State is 2.60, and 2.86 for Hispanics, according to the Office of Research Planning and Institutional Effectiveness. White students averaged 2.97. International students and Native Americans averaged 3.02. Asian American students have the highest grades, with a 3.08 GPA.

“In college, studying can be a challenge,” Butler said. “If you never studied in high school, it is easy to do the same in college.”

Students and administrators say minority undergraduates’ experiences in high school and their college expectations can make college difficult. The programs the university has designed to help them can determine whether they earn their college diploma.

High school education

For Pete Goldsmith, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, the performance in college of some minority students can be a result of poor high school preparation.

“Some students come from school districts that don’t have the resources that some other districts have,” he said. “A lot of students come with poor preparation in math. There’s poor preparation in English sometimes, in terms of standard English (and) study skills.”

The average high school GPA of first-time black freshmen on the Kent campus for Fall 2008 was 3.01; Hispanic students 3.09 and white students averaged 3.19. Asian or Pacific Islander, Native American or Alaskan Native students and those who did not report their race had an average GPA of 3.15.

Butler said inner city high school graduates are not prepared for the critical thinking skills that college requires.

“College is not about learning the definition, but all the different components of that definition,” she said. “When you came to college, you didn’t know the caliber of the question that professors were going to ask.”

For some students, the No Child Left Behind Act gets in their way of college preparation. This act requires annual evaluation of students in grades three to eight and once more in high school.

“In the inner city schools you are not equipped,” said Dylan Sellers, junior applied conflict management major. “When you come out of a Cleveland public school or even an Akron public school, you’re not prepared for college because you’re taught to a test, and that test is not reflecting what you would have to accomplish or what you would have to do when you get to college.”

The enrollment of undergraduate minority students at Kent State increased by 0.3 percent points from Fall 2006 to Fall 2007, reaching 10.3 percent of the total enrollment.

Student’s beliefs

Goldsmith said all freshmen often have high expectations on how they will perform in college.

“They just assume they’re going to do well, and when they don’t, rather than seeking help, they don’t,” Goldsmith said.

Sellers said some minority students set wrong priorities in high school that permeate their development in college in the long run.

“One of the things that needs to be grounded to African-American males in particular is that everybody is not an athlete, so everybody needs an education,” Sellers said. “The focus should be placed in education as opposed to how well you dribble the basketball. If you blew out your knee, you need a backup plan, or you get to college, you’re not prepared, and then you drop out.”

For Kareem Mitchell, criminal justice and Pan-African Studies major, the socioeconomic status of some black students also influences their college experience.

“For some African-Americans, education is not a priority. They are so concerned about other stuff, like money, that being smart is not cool,” Mitchell said.

Variety of programs

In an attempt to reduce the achievement gap in college, the university offers a myriad of programs that benefit minority students. The Student Multicultural Center runs the Students Achieving and Reaching Success (STARS) program, Kupita/Transiciones and the University Mentoring Program.

STARS is a transition and retention program for newly-enrolled black students. Those who are involved take seven credit hours during a five-week summer session, prior to their freshman year. The program’s enrollment is limited to 30 and is free of charge.

Shana Lee, director of the Student Multicultural Center, said the performance of the STARS scholars is supervised during their first two semesters in college. The program offers students academic advising, counseling and leadership development. Advisers also may show up in any of the students’ classes to make sure they are in fact present.

Kupita/Transiciones program is designed to help black, Hispanic and Native American students cope with the problems they may experience at a predominantly white college. The program takes place during the week before fall semester begins.

Lee said the University Mentoring Program consists of a faculty or staff mentor, a peer mentor and a mentee who meet regularly to improve the mentee’s life management skills. Through this program, students learn how to balance academic challenges with social, cultural and personal interests. Ten students are currently enrolled in the program.

Hispanic, black and Native American males can also receive help from the Helping Brothers Out (HBO) program, which is sponsored by the Adult Student Center.

Tim Moore, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the program targets undergraduates who are on the border line of being dismissed. Students involved in HBO are assigned one faculty or staff mentor of color and a peer mentor.

Shared responsibility

But some undergraduates say all these programs are useless if they are not introduced to students during their admission process. Students say they should be included in the campus tours and PASS program.

“They show you everything that the university has to offer except what might be beneficial to an inner city youth,” Sellers said. “I didn’t know about the University Mentorship program until I got to Kent State.”

For Vice Provost Steve Michael, reducing the achievement gap is not only a matter of the available resources for minority students. The willingness of these undergraduates to succeed also plays a main role.

“It’s like having the Health Center – if you’re sick, and you refuse to go, the Health Center is not going to come to you,” Michael said. “By the time they come to you, it is 911. It’s too late. So what you need to do is if you’re feeling sick, say ‘I have to go there and get help.'”

Michael said undergraduates should be able to determine when to ask for assistance. For him, this is the difference between a university student and an elementary school student.

But students regularly find it difficult to admit they are facing a problem they will not be able to solve on their own.

“I was a pretty smart kid in high school,” Sellers said. “When I got here and realized that I was going to need some extra help, it was a shock to me. I totally ignored it, and it didn’t work out so well for my GPA in the beginning.”

But shame is what prevents several students from admitting their problem, particularly males.

“I was one of those males from freshmen year, and I struggled because (when) asking for help, you have a lot of pressure to be a man, whatever that means, and your pride gets in,” Sellers said. “No one wants to feel stupid, so when you’re struggling with something and you go to a tutor – even though they’re not looking at you like if you’re stupid – you feel like they are, and you have a problem with that.”

George Garrison, professor of Pan-African Studies, said minority students would ask for help if they felt more comfortable talking with some advisers or professors.

“If black and other non-white students feel like the adviser or the professor are truly supportive of them and treat them fairly and want them to be successful, then, yes, they would ask for help,” Garrison said. “If they’re dealing with people that they perceive to be prejudiced or people who are insensitive or disinterested in their progress, then they probably will not. This is a human characteristic.”

Michael said the success of minority undergraduates in college is key for the success of the nation. He said if these students are not successful, they will become a heavy burden for the American society.

“You cannot have a strong democracy if a large segment of the population is not well-educated,” Michael said. “There is not going to be a strong political union.

“Minority people have tremendous talents, great talents that with proper education and mentoring can bring back benefit to society.”

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Regina Garcia Cano

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