Help Where and When You Need It — In Class

The State University of New York’s Black Male Initiative–which you do not have to be black or male to participate in–is beginning a pilot project that studies the effectiveness of academic support embedded in class.

The brainchild of David Fullard, Ph.D., a sociology and criminal justice professor at SUNY Empire State College in New York City, the Fortified General Education Studies program “fortifies” students’ learning experiences, by including coaches and mentors in class, along with the instructor. Students don’t have to make appointments or see the professor after class; extra academic support in the form of trained coaches is included right in the classroom.

The Critical First Term


The pilot program seeks to address a dire statistic: “The graduation rate for black male students who complete their first term courses is nearly 10 times that of those who do not (50.6% vs. 5.4%),” Fullard writes in a summary of the program.

To improve graduation rates for underserved, often undereducated, black male students, such a course is necessary, Fullard says.

“Writing is particularly challenging for this group,” he told me. “When we talk to them about writing an argument, they look at us with blank faces.”

Yet, acquiring college-level writing skill is essential to earning a degree. So, Fullard envisions embedding writing coaches in class, along with other in-class support for:

  • Critical thinking
  • Critical reading
  • Assignment completion
  • Working with subject content

“There will be two coaches in the class,” Fullard says. “Coaches are employees of the school and have master’s degrees.”

Higher education peers have endorsed Fullard’s plan. Because various components of the program are already being implemented, I asked him how it works.

“It works when the students follow what we tell them,” he says.

Perhaps with greater academic and mentor support, more students will be able to do that.

To learn more about SUNY’s Black Male Initiative, go here.