Achieving the Dream, Part 3

Jackson College: Increasing Retention Rates of Students of Color

This blog is the third installment in a four-part series that highlights the work of colleges that received an Achieving the Dream grant from the Michigan College Access Network to assist with creating, expanding and sustaining research-based interventions that help more students, particularly low-income students and students of color, persist through degree completion. To view the first blog post in the series, click here. Second blog, click here.

The Jackson College Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs are initiatives that focus on increasing engagement and retention rates of students of color. The programs were started in fall 2008 and fall 2009, respectively. They have experienced tremendous success; and average fall to winter retention rates at the college are above 85 percent.  

Jackson College Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength participants

The Jackson College Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs have a strong mentoring component, which is an essential part of the programs. A three-pronged mentoring approach is utilized:

  1. Students are mentored by successful leaders in the Jackson community, many of whom are persons of color, have come from similar backgrounds, and successfully overcome many of the challenges that the students regularly face.  
  2. Students have peer-to-peer mentoring. Examples include students who check on each other to make sure they are attending class, and those who are skilled in certain subjects help those who may be weaker in those areas. 
  3. Students mentor young people within the Jackson community. They often speak at schools about the critical importance of education.

The Sisters of Strength program and the Men of Merit program provide meetings once a week for an hour. Presentations are given at the meetings by a community leader mentoring the students. The programs follow a curriculum that includes topics such as: How to Develop Networking Skills, Financial Literacy, Dressing for Success at Interviews, Healthy Relationships, Goal Setting and many other essential topics.

There is an annual National Leadership trip that students take. During the trip, students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities, visit historical landmarks in the respective areas, and attend a National Leadership Institute where they receive leadership training.  

During the 2014-2015 leadership trip, students visited Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. They visited the Martin Luther King Jr. museum and birth home, as well as the National Civil Rights Museum. Students spoke at an elementary school, and during the Leadership Institute, national leaders presented to the students and inspired them by addressing leadership, professional excellence, and high achievement.   

Students in the programs often connect with community leaders regarding matters of problem solving. They address issues regarding law enforcement relationships with the black community, health care issues, and voter registration. They assist with community clean-up efforts and help increase educational awareness in the Jackson community. The students serve as leaders on campus, in the community, and even nationally.

After development of the Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs, Jackson College conducted research and found the students of color needed a place to go on campus to connect and engage. In 2013, the Multicultural Center was opened, which increased student engagement and played a critical role in assisting with retention rates. The center averages 300-400 visits per month. Thanks to the programs and availability of the Multicultural Center, on-campus engagement and retention of students of color has gone up significantly.

The next step in Jackson College’s effort to improve retention rates for students of color is a commitment to increase the scope of Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs. Currently, the groups average 35-50 students per semester. The goal is to double that within two years. Additionally,

Jackson College has developed a Males of Color assessment tool to strengthen the college’s understanding of every enrolled male of color. The goal is to lead and guide them to the Men of Merit program, and increase overall retention rates. There is a plan to develop a similar assessment tool for the Sisters of Strength program in the upcoming year.  

Jackson College is deeply committed to the success of all students - especially students of color and first-generation students. Thanks to these programs, retention and engagement have increased.


Lee HamptonGuest Author:  Lee Hampton, Director of Multicultural Affairs, Jackson College

Posted May 7, 2015

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