Retention of students is focus at HCC; Craft Collegians plan, to start next fall, targets underachievers; Emphasis on black males; College program will launch fund-raiser with goal of $300,000


Officials at Howard Community College have grown tired of scratching their heads trying to figure out what to do about the substantial group of students who, every year, leave their studies behind before getting a degree or transferring to a four-year college.

So, they've decided to do something about it.

On Thursday, the college will announce the Silas Craft Collegians Program, created for students who need more attention. The program targets recent high school graduates whose academic performance might not reflect their potential.

"We realize we have some weaknesses" with that segment of college entrants, said HCC President Mary Ellen Duncan. "If there are barriers to an education, we have to find ways to remove them."

High school teachers and advisers will alert HCC to students who might have done poorly the first few years of high school, but buckled down as upperclassmen. Or those who might have started high school well but struggled near the end. Or those who faced family, personal or other hardships that affected their grades.

Such students will receive peer reinforcement, personal attention, additional tutoring and mentoring, increased support from advisers and cultural enrichment activities.

Any student who needs extra support is welcome to apply, but the college is putting an extra emphasis on African-American males.

Ron Roberson, vice president of academic affairs, said an HCC study determined that about 41 percent of freshmen start full time at the school and remain for three years. For African-Americans, that number drops to 25 percent, he said.

"African-American students are not retained at the same rate as other students," Roberson said. "No one seems to have a real reason for why this happens."

College officials hope the program will increase the retention rate of program participants to 100 percent.

"It's much more cost-efficient to retain students than to have to continually go out and recruit new ones," Duncan said.

Thursday's launch of the program will also be the kickoff of a fund-raising campaign. Officials hope to raise $300,000 for program participants who need financial assistance.

Family members of the program's namesake, Silas E. Craft Sr., will attend this week's ceremony. Craft, who died in 1995, was a school principal who promoted education for black students in Howard County.

Craft was principal at Cooksville Junior-Senior High School, the county's first black high school. He also helped open the now-defunct Harriet Tubman High School and was its first principal from 1949 to 1956.

The Silas Craft Collegians will take a rigorous academic load, Roberson said, just as other students do. But they will be required to take extra courses in such areas as career counseling, interviewing skills, resume writing and work etiquette, and meet more often with an academic adviser.

Pam Cornell, the program director, said another component is personal development. Students will be able to take classes on topics such as life skills, time or stress management, discipline, motivation and goal setting.

"These will be designed to help students grow professionally," Cornell said.

The first class of 25 will enter the program next fall. Over the summer, participants will attend an orientation and be briefed in study techniques.

"We believe we can take people from where they are and bring them to another level," Duncan said. "It's missionary work in higher education."

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