News: CJ Exclusives

Lawmakers, educators meet in Greensboro to address dropout crisis, ways to promote students’ success

Filmmaker Adam Fenderson (right) at an afternoon reception and panel discussion with UNCG students Margaree Brown, (center right), Mckayla Bohannon, (center), and Nicholas Smurthwaite, (center left). UNCG Chancellor Franklin Gilliam (left) also presented at the panel. (Photo courtesy of UNCG)
Filmmaker Adam Fenderson (right) at an afternoon reception and panel discussion with UNCG students Margaree Brown, (center right), Mckayla Bohannon, (center), and Nicholas Smurthwaite, (center left). UNCG Chancellor Franklin Gilliam (left) also presented at the panel. (Photo courtesy of UNCG)

Margaree Brown grew up in Everetts, North Carolina. Her high school had fewer than 400 students. Her graduating class was a group of just 40.

Now a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Brown is a first-generation college student and one of only five people from her high school class still in college.

“I was like, ‘I need to go to college, I need a degree, and I need to get out of Martin County,’” Brown told a group of college administrators, lawmakers, and other public officials Friday, April 5, during a roundtable discussion about student success and graduation rates.

“I love home, but there wasn’t much there for me,” she said. “I wanted to provide for my family. I wanted to be that success story for my family.”

Brown is one example of a much larger population, one of low-income and first-generation college students less likely than their more affluent peers to complete college once they’ve started. Between 2014 and 2016, 4 million undergraduates quit school before completing a degree, data from the U.S. Department of Education show. Local numbers show 905,000 North Carolinians have begun some form of higher education, only to leave before finishing their degrees, said Andrew Kelly, the University of North Carolina System’s vice president for strategy and policy.

Known as “part-way home students,” their growing numbers are a problem. Lawmakers and education officials are taking notice.

On Friday, North Carolina legislators and public higher education officials gathered at UNC Greensboro to discuss “Unlikely,” a documentary film about America’s college dropout crisis. The production, created by filmmakers Jaye and Adam Fenderson, takes a close look at “part-way home” students, who have some college experience but who dropped out because of financial, social, or other barriers.

Brown was one of three student panelists to join Adam Fenderson and UNC Greensboro Provost Dana Dunn in a discussion about how the university is promoting student success. Seniors Nicholas Smurthwaite and McKayla Bohannon, also first-generation college-goers from small towns, spoke alongside Brown.

All three have drawn loans, worked jobs, and supported their families throughout school.

All three are determined to graduate, despite the challenges and expense.

This is a critical — and concerning — case study of what’s happening all over the United States, Fenderson said.  

“We are blown away by the issues that are institutional that are not helping these students,” he said.

Education is still mostly treated as a one-size-fits-all system, but it shouldn’t work that way, Fenderson said. “Unlikely” emphasized nontraditional online schools, mentoring and advising for students, and tailored learning for adult students with responsibilities such as jobs and families.

Public schools like UNC Greensboro can be a tremendous resource to students facing such challenges, Dunn said. The majority of the school’s population is made up of first-generation, minority, and black students. That makes the school one of the most diverse in the UNC system, and officials are focused on student support, Dunn said.

“I like to say we’re a gateway of social mobility for our students,” she said. “Saving students really isn’t rocket science. It [takes] a culture of care.”

The university gathers data on students who have “stopped-out.” Then it works hard to get them back to class and on the right path to a degree. UNC Greensboro’s alumni association offers “micro-grants” to students with emergency financial needs. Additionally, the school will soon launch an Academic Success Coaching Program for first-year students, with graduate student counselors who act as case managers for 150 students who need help adjusting to college academics.

The program, funded from a $1.2 million Armfield Foundation grant, is set to launch this fall.

“We are doing things to support our students, to get them a college degree and career, to transform their lives and transform the region,” said Chancellor Franklin Gilliam.

UNC Greensboro’s graduation rate is 55 percent, the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard says.

In 2018, UNC Greensboro awarded 4,307 degrees to students, its highest number in 10 years, UNC system data show. The school’s total enrollment in 2018 was 20,106, up slightly from 2017, and the highest since 2009.  

UNC Greensboro administrators are right to celebrate successes, but officials should always remember to ask students where they can improve, Fenderson said.

“The big question I love thinking about is, ‘What do we need to stop doing?’” Fenderson said. “I’m sure there are things in your school that you can stop doing. I urge you to pat yourselves on the back … but also keep moving in that direction, and say, ‘What can we do more of, and what can stop doing?’”

  • QuitBS

    Want to “Fix” this? Change the home life of minority families. Encourage marriage, especially if there are children born. Encourage abiding by the law. Encourage all able adults working for a living. Discourage high risk life styles such as drug use and promiscuity. This “Problem” is greatest among a certain demographic that has litters of kids out of wedlock, refuse to work for a living even when able and rampant criminal activity. This minority culture is self inflicted and killing an entire race. Inferiority?

    • Brett Hoover

      This is just ignorance… fueled by racism.

      • QuitBS

        Truth is the new hate speech, but that doesn’t alter the facts. You are an apologist for a failed race. That failed race has enjoyed 30 trillion in government set asides, affirmative action in college placement and job hiring and still score the lowest academically nationwide and have the most broken homes, illegitimate children and the fastest rate of rising homosexuality among their young men. Even Africans immigrating from Africa exceed the performance of this U.S. born demographic. Labeling the truth “racism” doesn’t help correct this self inflicted failure.

        • Brett Hoover

          Please don’t have children.

          • QuitBS

            Angry? None are so stupid as those who refuse to see. I won’t ask you not to breed, but I will ask you to break the trend and stay in the home and parent your thug children and reduce their burden on our society. Would you support reparations for all the Whites who were victims of black perpetrated crime? That is a much greater and more recent immorality than slavery that ended 150 years ago.

            Truth is the new hate speech.

          • Brett Hoover

            No, stupid racist propaganda being promoted as truth is the new hate speech. Not angry. Just disappointed that some anonymous racist is trying to peddle this stupidity.

          • QuitBS

            You went looking for trouble by perusing posts that were over two months old. You began calling names and throwing insults. Refute that 70% of children in black homes have no father. Refute that 6% of the population(black males) commit 50% of all violent crimes in America. Refute there are no statistics for whites raping black women, because it NEVER happens. Refute the fact the NAACP was started by whites but now the leadership is so racist that whites are not allowed to hold positions of leadership. You can’t do anything but deny the truth and call names. You should focus on your own race where the improvement is desperately needed. I will block your posts now.

          • Brett Hoover

            That adverse to truth.