New initiative aims to boost graduation rates at historically Black colleges

As we enter another graduation season, historically Black colleges and universities are working hard to increase the number of students who walk across their stages in the years to come. One program is doing that by focusing on reenrollment and giving students access to one-on-one educational support. Hari Sreenivasan reports from Atlanta for our series, Rethinking College.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    As we enter another graduation season, historically Black colleges and universities are working hard to grow the number of students who walk across their stages in the years to come.

    One program is doing that by focusing on reenrollment and giving students access to one-on-one educational support.

    Hari Sreenivasan reports from Atlanta for our latest series on Rethinking College.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The Crown Forum at Morehouse College in Atlanta is part lecture series, part pep rally. The weekly assembly is a celebration of an all-male institution renowned for producing Black leaders known as Morehouse Men, from Spike Lee to Martin Luther King Jr.

  • MAN:

    And now you're graduates. You will be moving forward.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We visited as the school recognize its soon-to-be-graduating seniors. A week before we arrived, Morehouse honored one senior with a brand-new award.

  • Man:

    The Dean Darden Academic Resilience Award is being presented to Mr. Roland Moses Bland.


  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Resilience to overcome all the things that life threw at him.

  • Roland Moses Bland, Senior, Morehouse College:

    I got on academic probation after my first semester.

    During that summer, my grandfather passed away. My grandfather raised me. When that happened, I decided to take time off from school and be there for my family. I came back, smooth sailing. And then COVID-19 hits.

    Going back to school online, I don't know if that's for me. And I decided to take some more time off of school.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, when you came back, what were the challenges of kind of getting yourself focused, getting yourself in class, doing the work, doing it on time, not being distracted?

  • Roland Moses Bland:

    I started to visit the academic center, the Frederick Douglass Academic Center, actually taking the time to learn how to study.

    Right when I got here, I was still immature. I wasn't really taught the skills on how to study and how to retain that knowledge.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Bland learned those skills through a new initiative at Morehouse, the Student Success Program.

    In partnership with the United Negro College Fund and the education firm InsideTrack, the initiative identifies students whose GPA falls under a 2.0 and intervenes with one-on-one academic coaching, tutoring and workshops.

  • Roland Moses Bland:

    The fact that they have a writing center that I can — that anybody can go to, the fact that they have tutoring sessions that anybody can attend, and the tutoring sessions are tailored to your major in your class that you're taking, that was very important.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Versions of this pilot program that started at nine HBCUs have expanded to more than 30 schools with funding through 2026 aimed at helping students like Roland graduate.

    It comes at a time when enrollment in historically Black colleges and universities is growing, and more students are applying. But the sad reality is that only 38 percent of students at those schools end up graduating. Even at an elite institution like Morehouse, the rate is only a little more than half.

    So what happens between the time they come in and four years later or six years later, that half or sometimes less than half are walking out with a degree?

  • Dr. Melvin Foster, Associate Provost For Student Success, Morehouse College:

    Life happens.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Dr. Mel Foster is the associate provost for student success at Morehouse, where he's been teaching for 27 years.

  • Dr. Melvin Foster:

    There are those guys, when they come to Morehouse, they are now in a community of excellent students.

    There is competition here. We don't have to make it happen, right? It's going to happen naturally. And, sometimes, students will become more interested in the social aspect of being at the college.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Another massive challenge? Finances.

  • Dr. Melvin Foster:

    Our cost of attendance is roughly about $51,000. The median household income for African American families is less than our cost of attendance.

  • Curtis Clark Jr., Academic Success Coach, Morehouse College:

    Remember why you came here. You came here to get the degree.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Curtis Clark Jr. is an academic success coach who hears those and other challenges from students adapting to college life, especially first-generation college students.

  • Curtis Clark Jr..:

    They may have never had someone who looks like them tell them: I believe in you. You can do this. You're capable. I expect that you will achieve this. I'm not hoping that you're going to be successful. Like, I will be disappointed if you are not successful.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Clark graduated from Morehouse in 2015.

  • Curtis Clark Jr.:

    I think about a number of students who I started with who I didn't finish with, which is why I'm glad we have this program now, because I could think of people that I would have liked to have seen be impacted by this program in my matriculation at Morehouse.

  • Adebola Aderibigbe, Freshman, Stillman College:

    This semester especially was really hard.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Stillman College freshman Adebola Aderibigbe is away from her home in Nigeria, and finds her coach to be a huge help.

  • Adebola Aderibigbe:

    I had a lot to deal with mentally. And she was always checking up on me even on days I would just forget about her.


  • Adebola Aderibigbe:

    If she wasn't assigned to me, it would have been a rough semester.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But even a program like this can only go so far.

  • Adebola Aderibigbe:

    It's also dependent on the students to accept those offers of assistance, because there's a limit to what the coach can do. It's still up to me, as a student, to invest in myself and just be the best that I can be.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Another aspect of the program showing results so far, reenrollment.

  • Aja Johnson, United Negro College Fund:

    Getting a student back onto campus is a huge win.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Aja Johnson is the program manager for leadership initiatives at the United Negro College Fund.

  • Aja Johnson:

    We have been able to have about 700 students reenroll in their institution and get back on their educational journey. And if you think about it, 700 may not be a robust number, but for some of our institutions, that's more than their student body overall.

    Each step of the way, we are helping a student continue to stay on their educational journey and truly help them get to that graduation stage and walk across it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Roland Moses Bland will do just that this spring. He says he plans to work full-time on the online clothing company he and a partner started and hopes more of his peers can gain the necessary supports.

  • Roland Moses Bland:

    I felt like I was chosen. And it'd be great if more students could feel like they are chosen.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Chosen to be Morehouse Men.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Hari Sreenivasan in Atlanta.

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