By Aletheia Meloncon & Matthew Engleman
By Aletheia Meloncon & Matthew Engleman
The widening gap between Hispanic and African American students versus White and Asians at Riverside City College has received help from the Student Equity Plan. The plan was created to address the needs of the continuing disparity among ethnic groups according to an executive evaluation issued to the Riverside Community College District.
The report resulted in the drafting of a Student Equity Plan early in 2005.
It started with a request from the state chancellor to analyze data on the enrollment rates of the different ethnicities living in the Inland Empire. RCCD came to the conclusion that not enough was being done to help Hispanic and African American students succeed.
According to Ed Bush, vice president of student services, the state chancellor required that colleges do the summary to identify where the problem was.
“First we had to identify and observe access and enrollment for minorities, then we had to make sure that its demographic matched and the retention of how many students were actually staying in class, how many were using the ESL and basic skills and how many graduated,” he said.
The Plan consisted of faculty and administration that were selected to collect data for the evaluation.
While discrepancies in student enrollment for ethnic groups have been somewhat alleviated, Hispanic and African Americans students are not as successful at finishing school. The research at the time indicated that “the lowest large ethnic group reporting course completion in all courses was African American males.”
Interestingly, the only ethnic group that is underrepresented in the student population is Caucasian students, yet Caucaian students received disproportionately more awards and certificates than Hispanic or African American students.
The Student Equity Plan was the District’s response to these findings. Proposed in the plan, among other things, was the creation of a Student Equity Implementation Task Force. The Task Force was to consist of “representation from administration, faculty, staff, students, and community members…”
Activities that the Task Force would oversee included finding “25 African American males” to participate in the “African American Success Initiative.” The purpose of the Initiative was to create a “learning community” to focus on the needs of students and to work with Student Services personnel to intervene if necessary to keep the student engaged.
African American males were identified as the group that was performing the lowest and so the Student Equity Plan decided to take their plan a step further and implement a program that would help this particular group.
“We did not want this report to just sit on shelves, we made a commitment after writing it,” Bush said.
The lowest performing group at risk was African American males so the Plan’s committee created programs that are now flourishing on all three campuses. The Ujima Project in Riverside, The Talented Tenth in Norco and Renaissance Scholars in Moreno Valley.
The district pays for these programs through “Federal and State grants and from private sources.”
The Ujima Project at the Riverside campus is headed by associate professor of business, Don Ajene´ Wilcoxson.
Wilcoxson, who is the coordinator, saw this program as a lifelong dream of his and he is able to see it come to fruition. He takes a special pride in helping students that come through the Ujima Project to achieve their goals.
“Schools were losing about 53 percent of ethnic groups in schools because of the lack of connections that most students felt on campuses,” Wilcoxson said. The diversity score showed a disparity between success and ethnic cultures.
The Ujima Project today has seen many students that started with the program now make their way on to four year universities and succeeding at a greater rate.
Anthony Frank 20, a second year student at RCC came from Chicago to start a new life back in 2005.
Frank had not had great success in high school, but wanted to make changes and start his own business when he decided to head back to school.
“When I first came to RCC, I was not used to school as being an active participant,” he said. Since joining the Ujima Proejct I have become more engaged in school.”
Frank is now in the process of applying to Grambling University where he will continue his education in business administration, he aspires to some day open a hair and barber salon and a shoe store.
Wilcoxson remembers Frank when he first started and has seen the tremendous growth and change in him with the help of the Ujima Project.
“Many students don’t know or understand the process of college,” he said.
The Ujima Project’s mission is to help students academic achievement with the goal of touching students in three areas: academics, culture and community.
The Project which is not just limited to African American males, has Latinos and females, anyone is able to participate in this program.
The Ujima Project has led The Student Equity Committee to create other proejcts group that will help in establishing these new programs.
“When we look at the Equity Plan again we want to be able to ask ourselves what do we want to do, what obstacles will we face now,” Bush said.
Currently the Student Equity Plan committee is in the process of reviewing its findings to address the next group who are at risk which were identified as Hispanics and Native Americans. A meeting was scheduled in March to review the Plan again.
The Plan identified back in 2005 that the need for Hispanic students was to “increase the persistence” of students to complete college level English.
Strategies outlined in the Equity Plan included an increase in the tutorial staff in the Writing Resource center, offering more Basic English courses and creating “more English curriculum workshops that address basic skill issues.”
There is also the development of “thematic courses to increase interest of ethnically diverse students” to improve enrollment.
While the Plan does not address any specific factors that contribute to the disparities among the student population, it does suggest that the district should try to identify any “institutional barriers” that may impede upon “underrepresented” students.
Effective implementation of the Student Equity Plan was expected to increase the number of transfer ready Hispanic and African American students “by five percent by 2008.”
By the Fall of 2009 “the successful course completion rate of African American male students participating in the Initiative will increase to the level of their White male counterparts.”
Amber Davis, a student in the Ujima Project, would have probably would have dropped out if not for encourgement from other instructors who are on the committee to help guide her.
“Dr. Woods recommended the project to me and it has helped me to stay more focused and be comfortable on campus,” she said.
“I learned to engage communication with my instructors when I needed help with my studies,” Shannon Petris another student said.
Whatever happens in the future the Plan is backed by the district who is committed to making the campuses have greater success among ethnic groups.
“The beauty is in the group sitting down and shaping what direction we should go,” Bush said.