Thomas W. Durso
Central Piedmont Community College

Sometimes problems lurk below the surface, hidden from view for years. And other times the problems sit in plain view, so unequivocal as to demand attention.

The need to act was undeniable when officials at Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina faced retention and graduation rates that were substantially lower for African-American males than for white males.

With African American male enrollment topping 3,300, the college launched programs they term “interventions” to foster students’ success throughout their time at the college.

“We looked at a student’s entire journey as a community college student,” says JJ McEachern, dean of enrollment management. “We looked at the connection phase, the entry phase, the progression phase and the completion phase, and tried to build initiatives under each of those different segments.”

The college informed African-American high school students of the chance to earn co-credits through a dual-enrollment program. Central Piedmont students were invited to one-on-one discussions and information sessions to provide support and encouragement.

Low-achieving students gathered in a “student success lunch” where administrators spoke about overcoming many of the same obstacles the students faced. In many cases, organizers piggybacked on existing events, greatly reducing costs for the interventions.

“The investment is not so much money as it is human capital,” says Diann Back, director of leadership and staff development. “A lot of people just felt strongly about this project and joined in.”

Indeed, the college assembled a cross-functional team to shepherd the initiative—with representatives from key stakeholder groups, including faculty and staff from all levels of the institution. This provided for greater depth of perspectives and knowledge, and also increased opportunities for collaboration between departments.

Despite the size and scope of the group, team members have retained their enthusiasm for the project by feeding off the energy of the students they’re reaching out to and by being willing to try anything.

“Because we were open to all the ideas, everyone in the group remained committed,” says Marcia Colson, director of graduation.

The results are promising: an average increase of fall-to-spring retention of 6 percent and fall-to-fall retention of 4.5 percent for this student group.

“If we can build the type of programs that each department can sustain,” says McEachern, “it’ll help us in the long-term with recruiting, and retaining and graduating African-American men.”