By MAUREEN O’HARA
Capital News Service
LANSING — A good high school curriculum may be important for college success, studies say, but real students such as Shawna Patterson see no progress in a society that “caters to the majority.”
The Central Michigan University junior actively participates in the school’s attempt to assist minority students, but feels that the school must be even more committed to helping.
“The challenges that minorities face are more of a societal issue,” she said. “The school has the potential but needs to follow through.”
As president of the Organization for Black Unity, Patterson’s first priority is to make black students feel comfortable on campus. The group is also used as a political base, she said, as well as sponsoring events that promote cultural awareness.
A U.S. Department of Education study reported in 1999 that students with an intense high school curriculum were more likely to be successful in college. According to Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, the key is to provide an adequate background for the student to be competitive.
“When you factor in things such as economics, ethnicity and geography, the most important one that influences the student’s success is the quality of his or her high school curriculum,” he said. “This is something we knew intuitively, but now so many jobs require strong quantitative skills.”
The Presidents Council represents Michigan’s 15 four-year state universities.
While college campuses fight to retain minority students, Stevens said, high schools have the real obstacle to overcome.
“We have a basic agreement on the end result, but there is a difference of opinion on how to get there,” he said. “The K-12 experience is crucial and so colleges have to provide support for their students.”
Stevens contends that every state college strives to maintain Michigan’s competitive edge. While the numbers vary from campus to campus, he said, the challenges remain the same. ”
Without question, this has been a major priority of every campus for a significant portion of time,” he said. “The numbers reflect a higher participation rate and a more diverse population than we saw some years ago.”
CMU’s office of minority student services offers a wide range of programs designed for high school and middle school students. Initiated by the U.S. Department of Education, Gear Up is a five-year program that targets Flint schools to prepare the district’s students for college.
“We work closely with the community and develop leadership programs for younger students,” said Jeanette Smith, administrative assistant at the minority office.
Among other several CMU programs that aim at student retention as well as supplemental instruction is one that pairs an upperclassman mentor with a new student.
“The program helps the students get socially and academically in line,” said Jeanette Smith, administrative assistant. “They often call up and ask if he or she needs help with anything. It helps them get acquainted with college.”
Patterson volunteered as a peer mentor her freshman year, and said that the office “does the best they can” to help minority students, but it is the student’s obligation to go in and use the resources offered.
“A lot of freshmen don’t know what to expect their first year,” she said. “With these programs they can find students with similar interests but more experience.”
The wide range of curriculum at Delta College is what attracts its minority students, said Paul Moore, chairman of the social science division. Along with classes such as black history and minority group politics, students participate in discussions that foster awareness on campus.
“There is a certain comfort level for minority students at Delta,” he said. “We find that they are open and concerned about issues on campus.”
Moore echoes the importance of high school curriculum, but feels that experience outside the classroom, not just academia, are what produce the most successful students.
Stevens contends that with the institutions’ increasing efforts as well as a rigorous high school curriculum, more minority students can succeed at the collegiate level.
“Diversity is achieved when we level the playing field and have all students gain access to a high quality K-12 education,” he said. “This will literally negate some of the other obstacles.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By MAUREEN O’HARA