Graduation Initiative Includes Three Local Universities

A national initiative aimed at keeping minority college students in school is depending on three local universities to gather data that might lead to solving a perplexing drop-out problem. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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Texas Southern, Prairie View and UH-Downtown are all part of the Achieving the Dream Initiative, a five-year study that will collect drop-out data on all three campuses and use that information to find ways to help minority students graduate. Eileen Baccus is UH-Downtown's Achieving the Dream coach.

"This initiative is set-up in order to have each institution involved determine in its own way for its own students how it is going to go about attacking those issues, those impediments which get in the way of the success of all of their students."

Some of those impediments include financial issues and campus climate, whether students feel welcome at school. At UH-Downtown, nearly half of what are known as first-time college students drop out before graduation and many of those students are minorities. Gene Preuss is an assistant professor of history at UHD and says the Achieving the Dream initiative should help the school find answers.

"Our question is how do we address this issue? How do we help try to solve the problem of retention and student success. The state wants us in a sunny world to get them through in four years, but many times there are a lot of impediments to that and so we want to find out how can we address those issues, how can we help students to succeed academically."

Achieving the Dream has been involved mostly with community colleges nationwide. The three local schools are the first 4-year universities to be added to the study. The University of Houston will be added next year. Former United States Secretary of Education Dr. Lauro Cavazos has tackled the graduation issue for most of his career.

"I really believe that we have to find ways of retaining them once we get them here. It's not enough to enroll them. I'm pleased that the enrollment is going up. That means that as a university you have to put special emphasis, you've got to stay focused on finding ways to work them through the system, to help them stay here and graduate."

There's a link on our website with additional information about Achieving the Dream. That's KUHF.org.

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