Black Male Student Initiative Boosts Retention And Graduation Rates At UTC

Thursday, February 20, 2014 - by Shirl S. Gholston, director of UTC Student Support Services

A highly structured program focused on more than success in the classroom is increasing the number of black male graduates at UTC.  

Student Support Services launched the University’s first-ever black male initiative, Black Males on Campus in fall 2010 to promote the retention of black male students so that they can succeed and graduate from UTC.  Not only does this program focus on success in the classroom, it also addresses social, cultural, emotional, personal and financial issues. 

SSS works to “retain and graduate students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds at the highest possible rate and foster an academically focused climate supportive of the success of students.” 

Before BMOCS was created, black males who participated in SSS lagged behind other students in educational attainment.  In fact, only 32 percent of black males entering SSS in fall 2002 earned a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 63 percent for other SSS students.

“I could not accept this distributing trend as a permanent reality and thought that it was time to be responsive and create a program to focus on this subgroup of students,” Shirl S. Gholston, director of Student Support Services said. 

BMOCS is modest in size, but the results are impressive.  By focusing on these young men, the one-year retention rate of black males in SSS increased to 94 percent by fall 2013.  During the same period, the six-year graduation rate of black males in SSS dramatically jumped to 74 percent.  This group rose from having the lowest retention and graduation rates to achieving the highest retention and graduation rates of the entire SSS student population.

“Among our various activities, the most engaging and transforming have been the monthly rap sessions," explained Christopher Stokes, who is responsible for the implementation of the initiative and works as the SSS Academic Advisor.  "These interactions allow for the young men to tackle serious issues specific to their demographic while finding support and empowerment in college as they venture forward with their career goals.” 

Five young men received $1,000 in the first BMOCS scholarship competition for spring 2014.  Criteria for scholarship winners included a cumulative GPA of 2.70 or higher, involvement in BMOCS programming and SSS financial education, and demonstration of leadership skills and volunteer experience. 

In addition to the scholarship winners, many other students have been impacted by BMOCS as well.  Christopher Whitehead joined BMOCS in 2010 and is on track to graduate in May 2014.

“BMOCS is a great way to network with other black men looking to achieve one common goal, success. Confidence is the main thing I got from the experience,” he said. 

Oluwatosin Ayotunde, a BMOC and SSS tutor, says, “The program has provided extra opportunities to help me be successful. Anyone who can should take advantage and become a member.”

The program also strives to promote the success of BMOCS by building partnerships –it’s a team effort.  Black male students are also encouraged by UTC staff, faculty and administrators, as well as community leaders. 

Although the initiative addresses issues relevant to black male students, any SSS student may join BMOCS.

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