California Hopes To Ease Path To Historically Black Colleges

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Leaders of California's vast community college system on Tuesday approved a program aimed at making it easier for students to transfer to historically black colleges and universities in other parts of the country. It comes at a time when seats at the state's own public universities have gotten harder to come by and many of the schools that once were the only higher education option for African-Americans are facing declining enrollment.

         Under a deal brokered by Chancellor Brice Harris' staff and approved by the system's governing board, nine historically black schools in the South and Midwest have promised to admit all students who have completed certain prescribed courses at California's 112 two-year colleges with a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.5.

         The agreements, set to take effect in the fall, are designed to reduce the time it takes students to accumulate enough course credits to move to a four-year school and earn their baccalaureates by making sure the work they do in California is recognized by the historically black institutions. Mismatches between the content of lower-division courses at community colleges and the same classes at four-year schools often make it hard for students to meet transfer entrance requirements or cause them to lose credits.

         "This is very important for our students," Joseph Bielanski Jr., a member of the system's Board of Governors, said of the agreements. "It's a way of building pathways that are clear to the students so they can have a variety of opportunities now to get their education."

         Individual community colleges throughout the U.S. have created their own compacts with historically black colleges, most of which also have transfer pacts with the two-year schools in their home states. But California's arrangement is believed to be the first between a community college system and multiple historically black institutions, Paige Marlatt Dorr, a spokeswoman for the chancellor, said.

         "This may be a model that can be used by other states in the nation to look at HBCUs to provide meaningful opportunities for access and educational attainment," George Cooper, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, said at Tuesday's meeting in Sacramento.

         African-Americans make up about 7 percent of the 2.3 million students enrolled in California's community colleges. In 2011, the last year for which statistics were available, less than half of one percent of those who transferred to four-year schools opted to complete their studies at one of the nation's 105 historically black colleges and universities.

         The transfer program is open to students of all races and ethnicities.

         University of Pennsylvania Professor Marybeth Gasman, an expert on historically black colleges and universities, praised the program as an opportunity for both California students, who may be unfamiliar with historically black colleges since their state has none, and for the colleges that will be able to recruit from a more geographically, racially and educationally diverse pool.

         "This is a really, really great initiative," Gasman said. "It's a whole new market for HBCUs and might bring in more Latinos, which will help with enrollment."

         The nine schools are Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas; Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; Dillard University in New Orleans; Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina; Wiley College in Marshall, Texas; Fisk University in Nashville; and Stillman College, Talladega College and Tuskegee University, all located in Alabama. With the exception of Lincoln, all the institutions are private schools with annual tuitions ranging from about $9,300 to over $19,000.

         The low transfer rate for California's community college system long has been a sore point in the state. Just 12 percent of the students who started their studies in 2008 had moved on to a four-year school after three years.

         – by AP Reporter Lisa Leff



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