The Gainesville Sun (Florida)
By: Jackie Alexander
August 29, 2011
Program works to close the achievement gap with peer support.
Without "My Brother's Keeper," Gerard Williams doubts he would be Santa Fe College's student body president. Juliun Kinsey may not be graduating this fall with his associate's degree in elementary education. And countless other black men at Santa Fe would be without the resources they need to navigate college, administrators said.
Santa Fe College is focusing on improving the retention and success rate of black men after the number of black men pursuing a degree dipped in the previous year.
According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, 52 percent of black male students who were first-time degree-seeking students came back to Santa Fe College in 2010. That number decreased from 76 percent the previous year, halting progress made in that demographic since the inception of My Brother's Keeper in 2006.
Comparatively, the retention rate for all Santa Fe College students in 2010 was 70 percent, while the rate for white male students dropped to 67 percent in 2010 from 70 percent the previous year.
My Brother's Keeper was spawned from a frank, closed-door discussion among black students, faculty and administrators, said President Jackson Sasser. The club helps to encourage black male students to make good grades, navigate financial aid and classes, and create good habits.
But as program director Mike Hutley looked around the Fine Arts Hall on Monday, he was disappointed.
"We sent out 300 to 400 invitations," he told the audience. About two dozen students were present for the luncheon amid many faculty and staff members welcoming them to the group. "What more do you need to see?"
Sasser said the college has a renewed focus on closing the black achievement gap this year as a direct result of the data. Not only are black male students failing to stay in college, but black female students are leaving as well.
Data shows that the black female retention rate dropped to 58 percent in 2010, from 72 percent the previous year.
The transition from high school to college confounds many students, Hutley said.
"The setting is different. The discipline needed is different," he said. "When you come to college, the world kind of flips a little bit."
Juliun Kinsey, 20, knows that all too well. Kinsey was a dual enrollment student while at the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften.
"My Brother's Keeper really exposes a lot of personal academic flaws," he said. "I had bad study habits. They (the program) really filled the gap for me."
Having a team of fellow students and faculty members helped Kinsey when personal issues interfered with his academic success. Kinsey said Hutley was paramount in ensuring his success.
"He's quick to call me into the office to put things in perspective for me," Kinsey said.
Kinsey will transfer to the University of North Florida in the spring to pursue his bachelor's degree.
"They pretty much walked with me from the time I got here and they will walk with me when I walk across that stage in December," he said.
Kinsey helped Williams, the student body president, join the program and the Student Government Association, Williams said.
Chris Johnson, 29, said a fellow student brought him to the luncheon. Johnson is a first-year student majoring in psychology.
"Most people don't know of things and fail," he said. "Anything with success tied to it is something I want to be involved in."
Johnson said he's looking for resources as he tries to appeal to get financial aid and stay in college.
Hutley said the group is trying to spread the message that students have to take charge of their education.
"You gotta clock in," he said. "You gotta come to work."
Kinsey, clad in a suit jacket and trousers, said he sees fellow black male students on campus struggling to stay in school. Without knowledge, he said, they can't do better. He tries to present an image counter to that of celebrities and thug culture, instead offering support and encouraging students to join the group.
"I can't say I'm any one's role model," Kinsey said. "I can say I'm a good brother."
Contact Jackie Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 338-3166.