Disaggregated retention and graduation rate data show lower rates for Black male students as compared to other subpopulations at the college. National Student Clearinghouse data shows that the majority of this population does not persist to degree completion. Rather, many cite academic, financial, and/or other family obligations as reasons for dropping out.
The overall project plan will address both the academic reasons for departure and alleviate financial and family responsibility concerns by helping students obtain a credential more quickly. However, the first phase of the project focused on the latter by helping students to complete an associate's degree as a mid-point milestone in their baccalaureate journey. Many students drop out either shortly before they have reached the mid-point or after the second year, having no credential to show for their time spent in school. Completing a degree in just four semesters is a motivator for students to stay one or two more semesters, and it also serves to address students' familial concerns for those who need to leave college to work full-time to support family.
Therefore, the college redesigned its degree completion plans so that all students are directed through an associate's degree within the first four semesters of attendance. Next, the college ordered a customization for the student information system (SIS) to allow for automated associate's degree checks campuswide. Finally, the college alleviated first generation inexperience and financial constraints by waiving students' requirement to apply for an associate's degree and pay a $150 graduation fee.
The college automatically awarded 51 associate's degrees in the 2022-2023 academic year utilizing the new system. Twenty-two percent of students receiving AAs this year were Black males, increasing the number of Black male degree completers by 111% as compared to last year. Some students even participated in the annual commencement ceremony to celebrate this milestone achievement.
Initial plans to address academic reasons for dropping out were delayed. This has become a full-scale project in itself that will begin in the 2024-2025 academic year. The college applied for a federal grant to aid in this endeavor. Plans were laid to establish a freshman cohort system in which students are grouped by "meta majors." In addition to the roll out of a freshman academy cohort system, the project includes changes to freshman classes to include assignments related to students' majors, followed by a trial of specs grading for freshman courses.