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Program Helps Students Overcome Statistics

Sept. 27, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Amy Barnett

Candi Harris works with male students such as Miguel Arellano and Dante Chaney as part of the Sam Houston Establishing Leadership In and Through Education program, designed to help minorities graduate from college.


When Miguel Arellano walked into his first class at Sam Houston State University, he brought with him books, a nervous stomach and the undying support of his family.

The freshman forensic science major grew up in Palacios, after moving there from Mexico when he was just 6 years old.

Beginning the first grade in Texas, he admitted, came with pressure.

“It’s funny now. I found out my mom would worry because I only knew Spanish; but as the years went on I learned English, and by the end of my senior year I graduated fifth in my class of 92 students,” said Arellano.

Arellano’s family could not have been more proud. Their son was the first person in their family to graduate from high school, and he did it with honors.

He beat his family’s odds, now based on statistics, he faces yet another obstacle.

According to the 2009 Digest of Education Statistics, men of color are more likely to drop out of college than graduate with a four-year degree.

The report released last year shows only 41 percent of Hispanic men who enter college actually graduate and only 33 percent of African American men who go to college get their degrees.

“When I heard that statistic, it encouraged me to take care of my business,” said Dante Chaney, who is studying computer animation at SHSU.

Now freshmen like Chaney and Arellano don’t have to face the challenges of college alone, thanks to a program called Sam Houston Elite (Establishing Leadership In and Through Education).

The Student Advising and Mentoring Center at SHSU obtained grant money through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to fund the project, which is designed to take a proactive approach in off-setting these statistics, as well as the numbers reflecting graduation rates here on campus.

According to the 2009 Institutional Research Report, only 35 percent of African American men who begin college at SHSU get their degree, and the graduation rate among Hispanic men at SHSU is only 34 percent.

Program coordinator Candi Harris said there are two main reasons for the dropout rate at SHSU and across the country.

“First, there is a lack of positive minority male role models at universities for these guys,” said Harris, “and secondly, they often lack academic support.”

A 2010 study by The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center offered the same explanations for the lack of success for minority men in college.

It states that “the lack of role models leads to a search for respect outside our educational institutions.” It goes on say men in college are under the perception that school practices favor girls over boys.

Now Sam Houston Elite is setting SHSU apart from other universities by focusing not just on men in college, but specifically on men of color who are part of the incoming freshman class.

Of the nearly 400 minority men starting college at SHSU this year, Harris interviewed and selected 30 to take part in the program, which requires them to meet each week of their freshman year.

The students are taking part in the SAM Center’s Study Skills seminar series; they are also working with each other in small groups, planning their weekly schedules, participating in monthly speaker programs and doing community service. Most importantly, participants said, they are getting support from the SAM Center and each other.

“We are away from home, and to have that extra push that we used to get from our families, I think it’s great,” said Arellano. “We are like brothers. We give each other support so we don’t lose focus on what we’re doing.”

If the students stay focused, their hard work will pay off in more ways than one. If they fully participate in the program this semester and receive a 2.5 grade point average or higher, Sam Houston Elite will pay for all of their books for the spring semester.

If their GPA is at least a 3.0 at the end of the spring semester, they will earn a Netbook laptop computer that is theirs to keep when they return to SHSU for their sophomore year.

“My dad is pretty psyched for me,” said Chaney. “This opportunity means everything. We all have that statistic behind us that says we might not graduate; so to prove to everyone that we can and will graduate would feel really good.”

“It will be a big accomplishment; even when I graduated from high school my family was so proud, so graduating from college would be overwhelming for my mom, and me as well,” said Arellano.

Harris hopes to obtain funding next year to begin helping a new freshman class. She is also hoping money will be available to continue working with this year’s freshmen throughout their college years.

“Regardless of whether or not we get funding, we will track them to see if they graduate on time and continue to provide what academic support we can here at the SAM Center,” said Harris.

For more information on Sam Houston Elite, contact Candi Harris at candiharris@shsu.edu.



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