As a high school guidance counselor, Deidre Cuffee-Gray, was confident that 100% of the senior class at the Springfield Renaissance School in Massachusetts would get accepted into a college. Although 75% of the seniors at Springfield Renaissance were African American and Hispanic and from low-income families, she felt the school’s rigorous curriculum had reduced the challenges most kids in their situations faced with meeting criteria for enrollment.
But she also knew that getting accepted was no guarantee that the students would actually graduate. After all, college graduation rates for black and Latino students are much lower compared to white students (41% and 46% compared to 57% for first-time, full-time college freshmen starting at public universities in 2000).
Since some schools have better matriculation rates for first-generation African American and Latino students, Cuffee-Gray wanted to make sure that her students learned more about them. But she knew that because of costs, many of her students wouldn’t be able to visit the schools they were considering.
Since Mohammad couldn’t get to the mountain, she decided to bring the mountain to Mohammad, so to speak.
Using a $5,000 grant from The Fund for Teachers, she conducted a 13-day, one-woman tour of 20 colleges and universities that were listed on Black Enterprise’s “Top 50 Colleges for African American Students,” Hispanic magazine’s “25 Top Colleges for Hispanics” and “The Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority” published by the Education Sector. She recorded her experiences at Renaissancecollegeroadtrip.org, writing articles about the application process, financial aid, testing, and interviewing. She also videotaped interviews with admissions counselors and students. Her hope was that by learning more about the schools her students would also learn more about themselves and what types of environments in which they would best thrive .
Here are Cuffee-Gray’s recommendations to assist students of color to choose schools that will increase their chances of graduation and success as a professional.
Be prepared to look at the school and yourself with a critical eye. “Have a sense of your own needs,” says Cuffee-Gray. She suggests students take an introspective look at what learning environment they best succeed in. Understand the different options that are available at a large school versus a small one, and vice versa.
Before the visit, thoroughly examine the school’s Web site, says Cuffee-Gray. Prepare several questions for tour guides, admissions and financial aid counselors, students and professors; by doing so you can create a measuring stick by which to judge the schools.