Harford Community College officials present report on cultural diversity

The racial makeup of Harford Community College's student body reflects the overall population of Harford County, but college administrators must work to improve the graduation and retention rates of minority students, as well as increase the number of minority faculty and staff members, according to a progress report on cultural diversity presented to the Board of Trustees Tuesday evening.

Diane Resides, associate vice president for student development, and Karry Hathaway, dean of humanities, presented the 2014 Progress Report on implementing the college's "Plan for a Program of Cultural Diversity 2013-2015." The board approved the plan in May 2013.

Higher education institutions are required by state law to develop a cultural diversity program and submit annual progress reports to their governing bodies and the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The report, which the trustees voted unanimously to accept, must be submitted to the MHEC before Sept. 1.

"We continue to do well with recruiting non-Caucasian students," Resides told board members.

She noted the college continues to have "almost an equal percentage" of non-white students compared to white students, similar to the population of Harford County.

Harford's population of 249,215, as of 2013, is 78 percent non-Hispanic white, 13.2 percent black, 2.9 percent Asian, 4 percent Hispanic or Latino and 2.4 percent bi-racial and multi-racial, according to U.S. Census data posted online.

Resides noted other positive developments such as "very positive results" gleaned from climate surveys of students and employees, which will be shared with the campus during forums through the fall 2014 semester, and best practices developed to serve African-American students.

She said those practices include creating the My College Success Network.

The network is "designed to empower and support African American students at Harford Community College" through academic coaching and advising, as well as selecting events such as the iCan Succeed weekend, scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13, according to a college web page on the network.

Hathaway noted the college is making progress in closing the graduation and transfer rate disparity between black students and white students, which narrowed to 4 percent during the fall 2009 semester.

"We're happy about that, but there obviously needs to be continued work in that area," he said.

Hathaway said the college needs to improve its successful-persistor rate, which tracks student progress four years after their initial enrollment, for minority students.

He said "77 percent of all students continue to succeed and persist four years after their initial enrollment."

He noted that rate is 65 percent for black students, a 12 percent gap.

Hathaway said the HCC faculty is 6.7 percent minority and 14.3 percent of administrative and professional staffers are nonwhite.

"There's still a large gap that we have to improve, in terms of employees at the college who are nonwhite," he said.

Board member Rev. Cordell Hunter Sr. asked Resides and Hathaway what programs are in place to connect with students and make them aware of the various diversity initiatives.

Resides said college officials are working to develop a greater peer mentoring network for students, as well as staff volunteers, and two academic success coaches have been hired to work directly with students.

She said those mentors, volunteers and coaches can work with students to ensure they are attending classes and turning in their work "to close those gaps and keep them focused on learning."

Hunter stressed the need to ensure students are aware of the programs, otherwise "you just have a program and a brochure."

Hathaway stressed the iCan Succeed Weekend, and Resides said coaches and staff have been reaching out to students via direct mail and telephone calls, and officials plan to use social media and fellow students for outreach beginning in the fall semester.

"It's just a matter of getting the success coaches involved and getting faculty involved and having an ongoing conversation about the success and making sure that our students do succeed," Hathaway said.

Board member Jan Stinchcomb asked if there is enough staffing available to carry out the student success initiatives.

Resides, along with Deborah Cruise, vice president for student affairs and institutional effectiveness, noted the two success coaches are dedicated staffers for that goal, and there are additional contact people from various campus departments providing support.

Resides said the staffers are designated "so that we can try to develop a support system; the students know we're all working together, we believe that they can achieve."

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