Churches and CSU join forces to recruit students


Marquisha Rice is 17 now, and high school graduation is fast approaching. But she remains unsure of what the future will bring. Rice doesn’t know what school she will attend, who will accept her, where she will live, the one thing she does know is that she is determined to beat the odds.

“No one in my family has gone to college,” Rice said.

She is determined to be the first.

Like many African-American students, Rice is faced with the challenge of becoming the first generation of her family to complete a college education. Meanwhile, college campuses across the country are concerned with African-American student enrollment numbers which remain low. This trend has forced college institutions to re-examine minority recruitment policies.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said the university’s 6 percent African-American enrollment is a “deplorably low” number. To increase African-American enrollment Reed and CSU campus presidents joined forces with black churches and church leaders to create an awareness and outreach program for the African-American community, called Super Sunday. The Super Sunday program is a new effort to increase the number of African American students enrolling into the CSU System.

On Feb. 26, the campus presidents and the Chancellor spoke to seven church congregations in the Los Angeles basin.

Like Rice, many students and community members were in attendance at the Sunday service at West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

Reed spoke to the congregation about Super Sunday and how important it is for parents and family members to start preparing the young members in their families to go to college. He asked the African-American community to get involved and become mentors of their sons and daughters, their grandchildren and start preparing them for college.

“When we ask successful people what makes the difference in their lives, the common thread is they all had some kind of mentor whether it was a coach, a counselor, a pastor, a family member,” Reed said.

Even though the CSU system is diverse, “we want to make sure that more African-American students are eligible to go to college. We are enrolling approximately two African-American women for every one African-American man we need to reach out to more and more African American men to go to college,” Reed said.

Jolene Koester, CSUN president, spoke to the congregation at the West Angeles Church of God and Christ about how vital higher education is in today’s society.

“In this world that we live in today, college is almost essential for advancement, it is essential for a good living,” Koester said.

There are over 20,000 African-American students in the CSU system, and there are over 2500 African-American students in my campus, Koester said. CSUN currently has the second largest African-American student population. According to the University Advancement office, in Fall 2005 there were 2,658 black students enrolled, out of 33,243 total students, the largest number ever at CSUN. Koester also said she doesn’t think CSUN has a low enrollment problem.

For Tom Spencer Walters, chair of the Pan-African studies department, the number of African-American students is not changing drastically. Instead he said “a large number of high school students are going down.” He said the African-American community is having a crisis in not sending enough students to college.

“We are already handicap by the social conditions existing in our communities with incarceration of our men and high school dropouts,” Spencer-Walters said. “It is not working in the interest of keeping these students in school,” Spencer-Walters said. The Pan-African Studies Department, is working to recruit more black students to come to CSUN, Spencer-Walters said.

“We’re trying to do recruitment ourselves, we just don’t wait for outreach recruitment, we try to engage in recruitment as well,” Spencer-Walters said. The Pan-African Studies Department works on different recruitment programs and workshops, such as the Harambee High School Conference and Saturday Academy.

“(The) African-American community is poor right now,” said Pawlos Girmay, a high school teacher in attendance. “We are not educating our youth, they don’t understand the value of education.”

Girmay said he tells his high school students to go to college, and they get excited about college, but “when they go back to the streets, to their environment at home, they start forgetting about college.”

“Nobody is talking to young kids” about their education, Girmay said.

Deacon John Wilson III, director of the Youth Center West Angeles Youth Ministry, is one person who is talking about education.

Wilson was another organizer of the Super Sunday program.

Wilson and the youth center have helped a number of high school students in the community get in to higher education. He also said the West Angeles church was the perfect place for a strong start of the Super Sundays programs.

The youth center offers six programs for the youth in the Crenshaw community.

Most are designed to help high school students get into college by sponsoring tutoring programs, literacy programs and different enrichment programs, Wilson said.

“The black churches still are the best way to get the information into the community,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he thinks the low enrollment of African American students in college should be of concern to the community.

That is one of the reasons he has mentored high school students for seven years.

“I want to see more youth getting into the CSU (system),” Wilson said.

The best thing that blacks can do is to go to college and come back to the community, he said.

“We need to have more people in college (to) get back to the community and fix some (of) our problems of violence and broken families.”

He said one reason students do not go to college is because they are not encouraged by their high schools or families to pursue higher education.

In public high schools, the counselors don’t have the time for students because of the number of students they need to serve, and sometimes they’ll tell their students that due to low gpa and SAT scores they will not be able to go to college, and that it is better for them to go to a community college, Wilson said.

Wilson said it is important to have events like Super Sundays, because the African-American youth is not getting enough information and motivation.

Wilson also said one of the purposes of Super Sundays is to talk to parents to encourage their kids to go to college.

Gregory Hall, 46, father of Alisha Hall, said he wishes he would have had a chance to attend college preparation programs like Super Sundays when he was younger. He is glad that his daughters are getting this type of exposure.

“As a parent you always want them (your children) to go to college,” Gregory Hall said. “It is extremely important,” he added, for his daughters to have access to this information because “it is competitive in the world today and they need (education) to be successful.”

Gigi McGuire, recruitment services coordinator at CSUN, said that her plan is “to have follow-up events in these churches, so we can go back to the churches and give applications.”

She also said that black churches have a lot to do with what is going on in that community. They have an important influence on the community.

While the numbers show low enrollment, African-American students maintain their desire to continue their education.

College “is a must,” said Vanyssa Brownlee, 17, as she grabbed CSU brochures from the CSU table at the Hall of the West Angeles Church.

Brownlee said she loves kids and wants to go to college to become a pediatrician.

For Brownlee college would give her much more than a degree.

“I don’t have anyone in my family in college,” Brownlee said. “I want to be the first one in my fami
ly. I want to (make my) grandma and my mom proud.”

Brownlee said that in her senior class the majority of her classmates are planning to go to college.

In order to have better opportunities in life, Brownlee knows she has to go to college.

“All the good jobs recommend a college degree,” Brownlee said.

Brownlee also wants to be able to give her children something she never had.

“I want to be able to tell my children I went to college,” she said.

Gabriela Gonzalez can be reached