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Why Southern Blacks Skip College

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Voscia Walker almost didn't make it through college. A few years ago, the young African-American considered leaving the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to help her mother. Ms. Walker stayed, though, convincing her mom that an education was crucial to her success.

Walker is now working toward a master's degree in organizational communication. She also volunteers for Students Making It Lighter Everyday (SMILE), a program that assigns incoming minority freshmen a peer counselor to guide them through the first year of college.

Retention programs like SMILE are essential in assisting African-Americans to stay in college. As the 21st century approaches, college degrees remain elusive for many African-Americans, especially in the South.

The percentage of black students enrolling in public universities and colleges is on the decline after years of gains on college campuses in 19 states, which previously operated segregated systems. Furthermore, the percentage of African-Americans earning bachelor's degrees increased from 8.5 percent to just 10.3 percent between 1976 and 1995, according to The Miles to Go report by the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta.

"It's important for freshmen, especially black freshmen, to know what programs like tutoring and financial aid are out there for them so that they know college doesn't have to be so tough on them," says Walker. "A lot of blacks get frustrated and just drop out."

In fact, two years after they graduated from high school, only one-fourth of African-Americans were enrolled in college, according to Michael Nettles, executive director of the United Negro College Fund's Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which researches educational opportunities for African-Americans.

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