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Tavis Smiley hosts town hall to increase college graduation rates

DENISHA McKNIGHT | 12/6/2017, 3:06 a.m.
African American students graduate from college at a low rate of 42 percent despite high-rate enrollments, according to The Journal ...
Tavis Smiley hosts The Future of Higher Education town hall meeting. Panelists from left: Texas State Representative Roberto Alonzo, Higher Education Committee Member; Angela Farley, Senior vice president of Workforce and Education – Dallas Regional Chamber; Nakia Douglas, executive director of South Oak Cliff Feeder Pattern; Elexis Evans, Paul Quinn College student; and Dr. Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College. Denisha McKnight

The Dallas Examiner

African American students graduate from college at a low rate of 42 percent despite high-rate enrollments, according to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

There are several factors that pinpoint the reasons for the low graducation rate, such as tuition fees, lack of guidance and discouragement.

Recently, local schools have attempted to address ways to aid millennials in their future college careers.

“It’s about changing the way we do education to meet the needs of a new student base,” said TV and radio personality Tavis Smiley during a town hall discussion at Paul Quinn College on challenging current education systems last month.

At “The Future of Higher Education” forum, panelists examined the issues revolving around students of color and their difficulties with obtaining a post-secondary education.

“There was a time when higher education rose to answer the issues of the day,” said Paul Quinn president Michael Sorrell. “Somewhere along the line, higher education began to tiptoe instead of stride.”

Numerous ideas were brought up during the discussion, but a constant theme throughout the event focused on the economic disadvantages of inner city schools and the nature of schooling provided.

“The missing link is the quality of one’s education,” Sorrell said. “The question we struggle with is how do we get the necessary caliber of education into students so that they are prepared for all that comes this way.”

The current education paradigm has seen a few changes, but not enough to push Black millennials to continue their college hardships and close educational gaps.

“We’re not on the farmer’s calendar anymore, so there has to be that mentality and that shift of understanding that gap for our students during the summer has to be addressed,” said Nakia Douglas, executive producer of South Oak Cliff Feeder Pattern. “A lot of our students may not come from good homes, so it is imperative that when we hire those counselors, principals and teachers that they’re intentional with what they are doing in that classroom and creating opportunities outside of the classroom.”

Aside from issues within the school systems, the personal sentiments of Black college students aren’t often considered.

“A lot of us are first generation students,” explained Elexis Evans, a student at Paul Quinn. “We weren’t taught how to go to college, manage time, or money.”

The growing amount college dropouts among African Americans has bestowed negative stereotypes on Black millennials that affect their self-esteem and their actions in the job world.

“We’re typically labeled as lazy,” Evans said. “Black college students are not lazy at all. These are the hardest workers I have ever seen in my life. These are people that have come from situations where they may not have the means to go to college and still made it. We just don’t know what to do.”

Dropping out creates further problems in the lives of young African Americans, as job requirements have changed over the years.

“About 60 percent of Dallas jobs on [Monster.com] require a bachelor’s degree, so if you want to live in this region and stay, your bachelor’s is critical,” said Angela Farley, senior vice president of Dallas’ workforce and education department. “In the city of Dallas, we have a big skills gap. The jobs that we have where they require a certain amount of training and knowledge don’t match up with the skills many of our residents have.”

Currently, local school districts have worked towards motivating high schoolers to attend college through various collegiate programs that allow them obtain associate’s degrees after completing secondary school.

There are various actions that could be taken to improve this dilemma, but the panelists said that the prime solution is establishing a “village” of positive role models that ensures that students of color get the help they need.

“Allow our students to go through the struggle, but we guide them through the struggle,” Douglas advised. “A lot of our issues can be resolved collectively [instead of] individually.”