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Getting At-Risk Students Into College Not Enough: TCC Focusing On Helping Them Graduate

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FORT WORTH (CBS11) - A unique mentoring program at Tarrant County College campuses is proving that it's not enough to just get minority and at risk students into college.  Effort and attention has to be paid to helping them graduate.

"It doesn't help you to start, unless you finish it," says Freddie Sandifer, Jr. "We want you to get in where you fit in—be that a certificate program, or a two year degree-- and we want you to complete."

Four years ago Sandifer, an adviser at TCC, began noticing a troubling trend: in spite of efforts to boost minority student enrollment, more than half of male minority students were dropping out before completing their first semester.

"I would call them and ask `where are you? Well, I don't know anything about my financial aid… I don't know anything about, whatever'," recalls Sandifer. "They were getting lost." And Sandier admits that a "macho" attitude about asking for help kept many of them silent, and struggling.

So Sandifer began recruiting colleagues at TCC to serve as mentors for the students, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college. He now serves as the Coordinator for Student Services Men of Color Mentoring Program. Hugo Nunoz is one of the program's success stories.

"How am I going to tell my daughter to go to school, finish college and have a career when I didn't do it myself?" asks Nunoz.

Nunoz has a job, but, the one-time drop out re-enrolled in TCC to chase a dream. He wants to become a teacher and eventually a superintendent.

Still, as the first in his family to enroll in college, Nunoz admits to struggling with a mindset that says that sacrificing for long term economic success is a luxury.

"They're always thinking week to week, month to month: 'how am I going to survive?' So, they instill that in you." Adding, "it was easy to quit."

But, working through the Men of Color Mentoring Program, Sandifer has helped dozens of those students get back on the right track—and it's showing success.

"Having the mentor program, we looked at the next semester and we retained at least 65 to 75 percent of them, so we knew we had something there."

Since then, some 300 students have enrolled in the program and roughly 150 TCC staffers, men and women, serve as mentors, helping students navigate the sometimes complicated college process. But, at other times, mentors provide that much needed encouragement.

"He's always after me… `hey, have you put in applications? Have you done your homework? Why'd you miss this class?' says Nunoz with a chuckle. "And it's okay, we need that…even as a grownups."

Students also need help preparing for the next step, says student Junichi Royal, "such as applications, transcripts, letter recommendations… guidance."

"I'm 29 years old," says Nunoz, "my margin for error is minimal: I have a family. I have a wife and daughter to support. I can't fail, it's not an option. And thanks to Men of Color I feel like I have some support."

Nunoz will finish his studies at TCC this spring. He's already been accepted to Texas Tech, where he will pursue a degree in Education.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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