Sunday, July 10, 2005

Teaching Online to Inner City School Kids

Our local paper in town, the News-Gazette, ran a story today about the difficulties for African-American students attending school here. Illinois has a very good graduation rate compared with peer institutions, over 80%, but the African-American graduation rate is lower, only about 60%. The story relies on a Web site from the Education Trust that lets visitors to the site view various graduation rate statistics and various white papers on the subject.

The article itself hints at but doesn't focus on the fact that the fraction of African-American students here is low and I believe it has been declining recently. The current rate is 5%. It was once as high as 9% or 10%, not stellar, but better. Our sister campus in Chicago has a much higher rate of African-American students. At the graduate level we are truly an international campus. Historically, we've been much more of a regional campus at the undergraduate level, with the in-state rate over 90%. There are efforts afoot to make the undergraduate population more diverse, but currently the focus there is on recruiting international students (who will pay the full out of state tuition). We should be doing more to attract minority students from within the state.

The News-Gazette article talks about a mentoring program between minority graduate students and minority undergrads. Undoubtedly this is a good idea. But what about something similar where the reach is down into the high schools and the focus is on getting ready to attend school here, both on the cultural side and the academic side. If the high schools these kids attend don't offer a rigorous enough curriculum (the article talks about one kid interested in science who found his preparation inadequate and hence it was hard for him to compete in the classroom). Why not push online alternatives that are taught by folks here in conjunction with a mentoring program (some face to face, say the summer before, and then some online) to make sure these kids are ready. I believe the campus has a program during the summer after high school before the freshmen year starts. Why not push that back a year or two and get the kids when they are in 11th grade or even 10th grade.

I know budgets are tight, but the technology is certainly good enough now that this should be do-able. The hard part is not there. The thing to ask is how to get institutional commitment for this sort of thing. I wish I knew the answer for that.

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