WKU trying to increase retention of black male students

Mitchell Grogg

The Office of Diversity Programs at WKU has recognized retaining black male students as a national problem, and one WKU wants to focus on.

As part of this effort, the Office of Diversity Programs brought Michael Cuyjet, a guest speaker from the University of Louisville, to discuss retention of black men in its student body on Monday.

Richard Miller, chief diversity officer and vice provost, said nationally, this retention problem is an issue.

“I think the plight of the African-American male has been the subject of conversation for many, many years and the demographics reveal the percentage of black males on college campuses has declined over the last several years, and the graduation rates have declined disproportionately so,” Miller said.

Data published in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Education showed an overall graduation rate at four-year institutions of 31.4 percent among black male students. The overall rate of graduation stands at 59.4 percent, according to the same statistics.

Black male students made up just over 4.5 percent of the student population in fall 2011, the last year available in the WKU Fact Book.

The overall percentage of students, graduating in 2011, who did so in six or fewer years, was 49.7 percent.

Cuyjet, the guest speaker who discussed this issue, feels WKU is on the road to improving those numbers.

“I think WKU is poised to really have some good programs that would benefit African-American men, and a couple of programs that are starting,” he said. “I think the resources are here.”

Andrea Garr-Barnes, director of the Office of Diversity Programs, chose to focus on African-American males because she also sees retention as a problem nationwide.

“They’re coming in, in smaller numbers,” she said. “Male students of color are coming to higher education in smaller numbers compared to majority students, and then they’re graduating in even smaller numbers, so I don’t think it’s a case of what we’re doing wrong. I think it’s more of a case of what we need to do differently.”

Garr-Barnes’ reasons for this focus are also personal.

“I’m working on it because I’m a mother of three sons,” she said. “I’m working on it because when I look around, whether it’s on campus…or whether I look in society, and I see bigger positions and people of success, and I do see people of color, I don’t see many males of color.”

Cuyjet noted that an increase in retention could help the social mobility of African-American men.

“Generally, African-American men or Latino men are clustered in the lower elements of our society, and I think it’s important, as educational institutions, that we prepare numbers of African-American men and Latino men, so that we do have them represented throughout all elements of society,” he said.

“I hope that what happened here today will be the catalyst to have people really start a major initiative to help African-American and Latino men on campus.”