Men of Honor mentor program aims to hold on to African-American men
PASADENA, Texas –Twenty-year-old Jared Williams of League City, Texas is on his way to joining a group of African-American men, who make up a small percentage of the nation's college graduates, with help from a close-knit mentorship program that he says "makes him a better man."
Williams is a member of Men of Honor (MOH), a program funded through the San Jacinto College (SJC) Foundation that aims to increase African-American male student retention.
"This program makes you a better man," said Williams. "My mentor told me that I could accomplish anything I put my mind and heart into. My one-on-one sessions let me know that he has my back at all times."
Approximately 68 percent of African-American men who attend college never complete their degrees, according to Dr. Shaun Harper, a nationally renowned researcher from the University of Pennsylvania. Offering mentors at higher education institutions may be the key to retaining this particular group of students, said Earl Godfrey, SJC dean of enrollment services who founded the MOH program after researching the success of other mentor-based programs.
MOH members are assigned mentors; attend weekly meetings and monthly forums; train to eventually become mentors and peer coaches; participate in regional and national African-American male initiative conferences; and engage in community service, which includes providing food to a local women’s shelter and campus service projects.
"It's changing their lives because they're dealing with a person, an adult that they trust," Godfrey said. "They're dealing with someone who is helping them with their individual pathway to success - helping them go from Fall semester to Spring semester without being on probation because of grades, and helping them communicate with women. Overall, it's helping them modify their behavior."
Out of the 71 students who joined MOH in Fall 2009, 70 remain. The additional student, no longer with SJC, joined the United States military. This semester, some of the students and mentors will travel to the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education Male Initiative Conference in Atlanta.
"I ask of these men what I ask of myself," said Godfrey, who is a doctoral candidate at Walden University. "I came from the same streets they come from. I want them to know that they can succeed if they persist."
African-American men are less likely than women to complete college, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Some of the challenges they may face include grade-level education, criminal backgrounds, lack of information about college and lack of responsiveness, said Cory Walker, program coordinator of the Men of Distinction (MOD) program at Austin Community College (ACC), the same program Godfrey modeled the SJC program after.
Walker’s program began in 2008 and holds a 66 percent retention rate, 23 percent higher than the college’s overall retention rate. Components of the program include mentoring; community involvement; the MOD squad, a group of young men who engage in various program activities to influence others; an eight-week course that focuses on development; and peer coaching.
"Our education system pushes these men on through, regardless of their reading levels and so forth," said Walker, who is a member of the Minority Participation and Success Taskforce with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. "They come into college unprepared, and therefore, less likely to stay in college. Also, you'll be surprised how many of these guys come to an institution of higher education and don’t know what's going on."
There is also an underlining stigma attached to higher education, said Williams, adding how college is, at times, perceived "not cool."
"There's the stereotype that students who go to college, go there to party, not to study," said Williams. "Yes, college is about interacting, but more so about getting where you need to be in life and in your education."
Breaking all stereotypes with each program
Breaking through those stereotypes and challenges is the overall goal for Texas colleges and the fairly new programs that are geared toward African-American men. MOH members are asked each week to engage in discussion about various topics, like what a community expects from them, how one overcomes obstacles, how a college student becomes a role model, managing finances, defining pride, and laws and values of society.
"Programs like these are still very young, but we serve as a catalyst that may be able to bridge the gap," Walker said. Other African-American retention programs across the region include the University of Texas in Austin's Student of African American Brotherhood, Dallas County Community College's Men of Distinction, Texas Southern University's Black Male Initiative, and Huston-Tillotson's President's Male Initiative on Learning and Excellence (MILE).
"We are a team, all of us here in the region," Walker said. "We're working together to find solutions that we can implement across the board. The state is looking, we're looking, and eventually we're all going to find it."
The Men of Honor program at San Jacinto College is endorsed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the American Association of Community Colleges.
San Jacinto College serves more than 27,000 students in over 140 degrees and certificates in university transfer and technical programs. The College also serves the community through workforce training. Students come with various goals and aspirations and we are committed to their success. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.
For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150 or visit www.sanjac.edu.