Many African-American youth grow up in poverty and come from single-parent households. And about 60 percent of African-American males drop out of school by the ninth grade. Cedar Valley College, south of Dallas, is trying to change those numbers with a $2.45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The nearly $2.5 million grant comes from the education department’s Predominately Black Institutions program. It’s meant to strengthen areas like STEM – which stands for science, technology engineering and math – and boost the academic achievement of black male students.
“It’s so important because our African American males are not doing well relative to education and completion,” said Jennifer Wimbish, president of Cedar Valley College.
More than 6,600 students are enrolled at the school and more than half are African-American. The grant will target 6,000 students over a five-year period. The college is working closely with early college programs in nearby school districts like Lancaster, Cedar Hill and DeSoto.
“When you look at that 60 percent nationally of the African-American males drop out of high school at the ninth grade and about 50 percent complete high school, then of that number, only about 50 percent go to college, get a job making a certain amount of money and or complete colleges, that means that’s a population we all have to focus on,” Wimbish said.
The college’s goal is to increase the number of black male students who enroll in STEM courses by 15 percent and improve improve that group's retention and graduation rate. Some of the money will also pay for the completion of a STEM center. Wimbish says the school will help students get a degree or a certificate. Why a certificate?
“There are programs, let’s say a water technician that makes $50,000 or more. There are jobs in the automotive area, where students can get a certain associate degree or certificate and make $100,000,” Wimbish said. “So we’re focused on STEM, but we’re talking about it as a pipeline, a pathway.”
WaTerron Evans is a first-year student at Cedar Valley, who's studying health science. He's also considering a technical career in commercial music. He says he gets why there’s so much talk about helping students like him.
“Most black males actually tend to come from single households,” Evans said. “It’s very prevalent, it’s very important, and I feel like having other male mentors maybe in their lives to help support them is very important.”
Evans was raised by a single mother, but had support growing up from other black males, like his grandfather.
Cedar Valley officials say with the help of this grant, they hope to see more students like Evans thrive on its campus.