MAXWELL:  Tending the college crop of tomorrow

10/13/1999 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


California businessman Ward Connerly is grabbing headlines in his nascent campaign to dismantle affirmative action in Florida. While Connerly was traveling the state on Monday and Tuesday, 80 members of the College Reach-Out Program (CROP) were meeting in Tampa to cultivate a permanent pool of minority students eligible to enroll in Florida’s colleges and universities.

The Florida Legislature established CROP in 1983. It consists of professional educators at state universities, community colleges and several private post-secondary institutions who serve as project directors and coordinators.

Their sole job, according to an official statement, is to go into public schools “to motivate and prepare educationally disadvantaged, low-income students in grades 6 through 12 to pursue and successfully complete a postsecondary education. Participants are students who otherwise would be unlikely to seek admission to a college or university or other postsecondary institution without special support and recruitment efforts.”

I was keynote speaker at Monday’s session and was impressed with the dedication of these educators to help children at risk of being left behind in school. While others bad-mouth our schools, these people solve real problems.

CROP is serving more than 8,000 students through all 10 state universities, through 27 of the 28 community colleges and through six independent colleges. Approximately 72 percent of the students are African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, 10 percent white, 4 percent Asian-American and 2 percent other. For the 1999-2000 school year, the state appropriated $3-million for CROP, and the participating postsecondary institutions have proposed to match the state appropriation with both cash and in-kind services.

By all measures, CROP is one of the state’s best-kept secrets. Officials with the Postsecondary Education Planning Commission who monitor the program report that it “is strengthening the educational preparation and motivation of low-income and educationally disadvantaged students.” During the 1996-1997 project year, for example, 87 percent of the program’s high school seniors received a standard diploma, compared with 73 percent of the random sample. Of these graduates, 72 percent enrolled in college, compared with 60 percent of the random sample.

The program is increasing the number of middle school children it serves, a move that will orient the students to college much earlier. In fact, nearly half of the participants are in grades six through eight. College counselors stay in contact with the students all year, and most of the students attend summer on-campus residency programs, where, among other activities, they participate in academic and motivational sessions.

CROP’s centerpiece is its attempt to get parents involved in their children’s schooling. Each site, including the one at St. Petersburg Junior College, has established programs for parents. Some programs consist primarily of telephone calls, while others, such as the one at Barry University in Miami, include home visits and in-home family counseling.

The purpose of these efforts is to make parents full partners in their children’s education, to teach parents to look for strengths and not just for weaknesses in the schools. After all, one conference speaker said, parents are invaluable sources of firsthand information and can give counselors and other CROP personnel feedback that makes the difference between students’ success or failure.

Some institutions, such as the University of North Florida, introduce parents to college courses they can take, thereby giving them a better sense of the learning process to help them understand many of the challenges _ reading, doing homework, being on time _ their own children experience.

A 1998 William Randolph Hearst Foundation survey of National Honor Society students indicates that CROP is on the right track. Asked to account for their success at school, 53 percent of the students cited support from their parents, 25 percent marked “teacher quality” and 11 percent chose “school academic standards.”

Local residents should know that SPJC is the fiscal agent for the Tampa Bay CROP Consortium, which consists of the University of South Florida, Manatee Community College, Hillsborough Community College and SPJC. The consortium serves 250 students in nine high schools, three middle schools and two alternative schools.

Linda Hogans, coordinator of the SPJC program, said her dream is to enroll all of her students in college.