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College Extends Aid to Black Men

Susan Notes: This story raises the spirits. If we do not show faith in human beings to repair their lives, then we might as well just pack it up and go watch Fox TV. And imagine a group of educators that shows not only faith but money too.

Sean Pennie, 18, didn't get serious about high school until his senior year, but by then the damage to his grade point average had been done.

Michael Cabrol, 22, admits he "didn't apply myself too well" in high school. Cabrol wanted to go to college, but his 2.0 GPA didn't bring any scholarship offers. He shipped himself off to the Army.

Many college admissions officers would put guys with low grade point averages like Pennie and Cabrol at the bottom of the application stack. But Georgia Perimeter College is welcoming them.

Officials at the college Tuesday announced their new African-American Male Leadership Academy, funded largely by a $75,000 gift from Wachovia. The academy offers intensive support and scholarships for students who, for the most part, could not get into four-year colleges or be eligible for other scholarships.

The pilot program is part of a statewide initiative to boost the enrollment and retention of black men in Georgia's public colleges. As of fall 2003, black men numbered 18,200 students, or 7.4 percent of the state's 247,020 undergraduates in public colleges.

"We were looking for students who graduated with minimal scores because we believe they can rise to the next level and because they need help the most," said Georgia Perimeter's program director, Sandee House. "We at GPC believe in rewarding achievement, but we also believe that some students haven't achieved yet. Most of us are just not exceptionally talented people. We had somebody who helped us along the way."

Sixteen black men, including Pennie and Cabrol, are members of the academy, which began in August.

The students paid for their first semester of school, but the program gives them a chance to earn scholarships for a free ride during subsequent semesters at the two-year college, for three years, if necessary. The students must maintain progressively increasing grade point averages and attend regular sessions for counseling, leadership training and tutorial support.

They can earn scholarships of up to $1,250 per semester for tuition, books, fees and supplies. Georgia Perimeter's current tuition is about $800 per semester, House said.

The college's foundation is raising scholarship funds to help the program reach its goal of 100 students by next fall.

House said program leaders are working on ways to extend support for the students into four-year colleges they may transfer to. The program also will help students who can't cut it at Georgia Perimeter, through alternative scholarships for job training or technical or certificate programs.

The vulnerability of black male students has been identified by several national studies, most recently a report on graduation rates by the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation for Public Education. Its analysis of national education data determined that Georgia graduated only 33 percent of black male high school students within four years. By comparison, the percentage of white males who graduated with their classes with a traditional diploma was 53 percent.

Georgia Perimeter student affairs counselor Jason Gladman helped select the first group of participants and meets with them every other week to discuss personal or academic issues.

Gladman, who is black, dropped out of Ohio University in 1987, not for academic reasons, he said, but because he felt isolated and alone. Later, he transferred to Bowling Green State University, where he "sort of stuck it out" and earned both undergraduate and master's degrees.

He believes in the leadership academy.

"Everybody expects African-American males to perform at a low level. . . . They expect us to do well on the sports field, to slam dunk and to run fast," Gladman said. "In the classroom, that expectation changes."

Cabrol says there's no way he'll fail.

"I got too much help," he said. "I really feel so lucky that I'm in this program. People would be willing to fight to get the chance I got."

Staff reporter Mary MacDonald contributed to this article.

— Donna Williama Lewis
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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