The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a historic civil rights group, announced Wednesday they will be launching an investigation into the way that African-American students fare at Austin Community College campuses.
Reverend Kyev Tatum of the Tarrant County branch of the SCLC was in Austin Wednesday for the preliminary steps of the investigation.
He explained that several black students reached out to SCLC with concerns after they felt formal complaints they’d filed with ACC had not been addressed. Tatum couldn’t specify exactly how many complaints there were, but said there was enough evidence to start an investigation.
As of Wednesday evening, ACC said it had contacted SCLC and is working with it to learn more about its concerns.
Some of the complainants said they hadn’t received enough resources, others said they were exposed to disturbing language and imagery in classes, including repeated use of the “N” word.
“We want to help put these systems in place that afford these students a happy experience, not one where there’s anxiety where they don’t want to complete the class,” Tatum said. “Some students are failing two or three times taking classes, we have to figure out what’s going on, we cannot continue to let failure be at the forefront of our educational institutions.”
Tatum said SCLC will look to see if there is a correlation between these students’ complaints and performance of African-American students at ACC. He hopes to use their findings to work with ACC and community colleges across the country to support black students.
“When the frustration, anxiety and things start stopping you from being successful in your academic pursuits, we need to address those adverse college experiences, where are they, what’s causing them, and can we do something to change them?” he explained.
ACC leaders were receptive to the idea of taking feedback about how they can better support their students.
“We’re always interested to work with any group who’s willing to work with us to make things better for all our students because that’s what we’re about at ACC, student success,” said Molly Beth Malcolm, executive vice president of Student Affairs and Campus Operations at ACC. “We all know community colleges have been around for a long time and people are able to come through the door, but sometimes they come out the back door without a degree or a certificate, and that’s what we’re always willing to work with the community on those things.”
“If somebody has a problem with ACC and is a person of color, a black person, we’d like to look into it and try and make it right,” added Professor Roland Hayes, the director of the African American Cultural Center at ACC’s Eastview campus. “We’re not saying we don’t have any problems, we’re not going to close the door to the fact and not look at it.”
Hayes, whose degree is in African-American History, explained that ACC’s history is rooted in both east Austin and supporting their black communities who live there.
ACC launched its first classes in the 1970s at the old Anderson High School, the last remaining all-black school in AISD, which was closed in 1971. Hayes, who has been with ACC since its beginning, said that many of ACC’s first graduates were African-Americans in the community who may not have gotten a college education otherwise.
He pointed to ACC’s continued investment in the African-American community throughout the years, noting that on June 18 they would be hosting a rededication to showcase improvements to the African American Cultural Center. Hayes added that he thinks that building trusting relationships between students and faculty members at ACC will be one of the keys to retaining African American students.
“We have to look at the data and we have to own it and say, ‘We’ve done better, but we could do so much better,’ and we’re actively working towards that,” said Guillermo Martinez III, the Assistant Aice President for Student Engagement and Analytics at ACC, referring to how ACC has been closing educational gaps for African-American students.
Martinez explained that while the percentage of black Austinites over the last decade has changed, Austin Community College has kept enrollment of black students at around 8 percent over the last 10 years.
ACC sent KXAN some of its most recent numbers from the Higher Education Coordinating Board to look at the patterns. When you look at persistence rates — meaning the number of students who continue to be students from one fall semester to the next– black males have a 46 percent persistence rate from 2016 to 2017, the lowest of all the gender or race/ethnicity categories. However, ACC notes that number is only seven percentage points away from the average and significantly closer to the average than it was five years ago.
“We have seen vast improvement even though there is work to do,” an ACC spokesperson noted in an email clarifying these statistics.
According to ACC’s most recent, available graduation rate statistics by ethnicity, black males actually have a 14 percent graduation rate, which is 5 percent higher than the average graduation rate. However, the total number of black graduates is only a fraction of the total numbers of white or Hispanic graduates.
Martinez mentioned that statewide there has been a movement since 2015 for closing educational gaps, especially for black and Latino male students. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating board has tracked eighth graders to observe their long-term potential over the last decade.
Martinez said that of those students who were tracked, only one in 10 of the black or Latino male students was likely to have any sort of certificate or degree after 11 years.
“That’s horrible — we gotta do better,” he said.
According to ACC data, in the fall of 2017, ACC had 1,218 black male students and 1,823 black female students.
Between 2016 and 2017, ACC says enrollment of African-American students declined by 3.2 percent. Of professional and technical personnel at ACC in the fall of 2017, 10.24 percent were black, and of full-time faculty, 7.69 percent were black.
If you look at the population in all of the counties ACC serves, in 2017, 6.74 percent of that population was black and that percentage is expected to decline slightly by 2030 to 6.36 percent.
The most recent 3-year graduation rate for full-time, first-time in college ACC students who started in the fall of 2014 is 9 percent, which Martinez says “is nothing to write home about.” But ACC noted that number is an improvement from 5 years ago when the graduation rate was 4 percent.
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