Dropping in numbers, African-American students are left behind

The African-American student population at Fresno State and in the California State University (CSU) system is facing a continual decline, even though general enrollment is at an all-time high.

According to the Fresno State Office of Institutional Effectiveness, from 2012 through 2016, African-American students slowly dropped in numbers. Reasons for the low enrollment may vary, but if the trend continues, African-American students will make up less than 1 percent of the university’s population in the following years.

On campus, African-American student population has dropped from 3.2 percent to 2 percent in the past four years.

This issue does not only present itself at Fresno State but is seen in the CSU system as a whole. In 2012, there were 20,902 African-American students enrolled in the system. In 2016, there were approximately 20,009, according to CSU Analyst Studies.

Last year, when CSU Chancellor Dr. Timothy P. White hosted a forum on campus, the Afrikan Black Coalition voiced their concerns. Outside of the forum, 68 red shirts were laid on the floor representing the 68 African-American students who had dropped out since the beginning of the semester.

Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro addressed the concerns during the forum, and said: “We share their concerns about the decrease in the number of African-American students at Fresno State, and actually, in higher education across the country. I believe it’s going to take time, but I’m confident that with the right strategies, our enrollment will grow.”

Recently, the university began establishing resources for African-American student success.

Ciara Armstead, a senior public health major and former president of Black Students United (BSU), is working toward the success of African-American students.

Armstead explained that geography plays a role in the drop of African-American freshmen enrollment.

“There’s a low density of African-American people in Fresno,” Armstead said. “If you’re outside of the service area [for example Los Angeles], you have to have a higher grade point average to get into the university.”

In order to get local students interested in applying to a four-year university, Fresno State is reviving an outreach program.

“The ambassador program are students serving in the Fresno area where they’re going out to middle schools and high schools,” Armstead said. “They’re talking to the students about A-G requirements and SATs and ACTs.”

Although there are many Black Students United members currently participating in the program, they look for all volunteers interested in making a difference. The program hopes to expand outside of Fresno County, where there are high populations of African-Americans students.

Armstead is also part of the Afrikan Black Coalition, a student-created organization from the University of California system that works to fix African-American acceptance and retention levels. The organization chapter on campus works closely with University President Dr. Joseph Castro.

“We directly work with the president and his cabinet to make sure programs like this get off the ground,” Armstead said. “[The program] is structured in a way to help African-American students recruitment and retention rates.”

One program initiated was the Office of Black Student Success, which began in the fall and was opened through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).

“It’s a program through EOP that helps specifically African-American students with advising and keeping everyone accountable for their education and making sure they are adapting to the university well,” Armstead said.

Armstead also said the programs for African-American students in the Cross Culture and Gender Center help promote students’ success.

The university worked to get African-American freshmen excited about their journey in higher education, through the Harambee Retreat. The three-day event was held over the summer and gave a transitional experience for African-American students.

“It was to really get African-American students acquainted with the Fresno State campus, faculty and staff before starting school,” Armstead said.

Armstead owes her success to the students and staff that made her feel like the campus was “home,” she said.

She explained that student success can’t be done by one person, but the entire community coming together.

“Making sure all students feel welcome and accepted at the university,” Armstead said. “I think that will be the biggest key to success at Fresno State.”

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