WORCESTER – While it’s only been four months, organizers behind a new college preparation program for underprivileged young men are claiming success after completing phase one of the two-year initiative this past week.
At a reception Thursday afternoon at Worcester State University, representatives from the state-sponsored "100 Males to College" program's partner organizations – Worcester State, Quinsigamond Community College and the Worcester public schools – joined state and local officials in congratulating the program’s first 97 participants.
Like its predecessors in Springfield and Framingham, which also launched within the last two years, the 100 Males program in Worcester aims to provide guidance and support to male students in the city who want to go to college. The initiative, which began in April, pairs those young men with mentors; allows them to enroll in college credit-bearing dual enrollment classes; offers them college planning assistance; takes them on field trips to college campuses; and provides other services aimed at demystifying the process of applying to and enrolling in college.
Just as important, said Ryan Forsythe, Worcester State’s vice president for enrollment management, the program aspires to give its students confidence they can succeed in higher education.
"This is evidence that you can do it," he told participants at Thursday’s reception. "You’ve been successful in college already."
According to Mr. Forsythe, for example, 95 percent of students who took a dual enrollment course over the past four months of the program received a passing grade. Some have already been accepted to college, although most will be returning to their high schools this fall.
Program participants Jose Pizarro and Gerardo Sanchez, both rising seniors, said they especially found the mentorship part of their experience helpful. The Worcester 100 Males to College program’s mentors, many of whom dealt with the same socioeconomic and family barriers as their students, provided realistic and relatable expectations of what college is like, they said.
"They’ll tell you the truth," said Mr. Sanchez, who attends South High Community School. "They’ve had struggles, too. But they overcame them."
Mr. Pizarro, who goes to North High School, said one of the most beneficial aspects of the program was how it pushed him to develop self-motivation to succeed in college.
"Without that motivation, you won’t be motivated to do your work, you won’t be motivated to go to class," he said. "You won’t achieve the goals you want."
Luis Pedraja, the new president of Quinsigamond Community College, said he knows what it’s like to be a young man in a position where higher education is not a given. A native of Cuba, he said "college would have been impossible for me, if it had not been for the people in my community who supported me … through their help, I believed it was possible."
However, college continues to be beyond the grasp of many male students today – as Mr. Forsythe pointed out, "men are less likely to go to college than women are." Locally, young men of color in particular are underrepresented on college campuses compared to their white male peers. According to the most recent state data for the Worcester schools, for example, 59 percent of African-American and Latino students – who made up the majority of participants in the Worcester 100 Males to College program – were enrolled in higher education two years ago, compared to nearly 71 percent of white students.
The reality driving the 100 Males to College initiative – the state’s higher education commissioner, Carlos Santiago, said at Thursday’s reception the state plans to continue launching programs in other cities – is that some of those students simply don’t have anyone to show them how to get to college. Mr. Sanchez, for example, admitted he can’t rely on his family members to guide him.
"They haven’t been to college," he said, adding the 100 Males program, which his guidance counselor suggested he sign up for, has filled a critical gap in his college planning. "Having that knowledge is really important – now you know what to do, and how to do something."
Program organizers hope to bring in even more participants in the second phase of the initiative; outreach to students will begin when school starts later this month, they said.
Contact Scott O’Connell at Scott.O’Connell@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottOConnellTG