A UC Davis study out this week found a "disturbing" achievement gap between California's Latino and African-American community college students and their Asian and white peers. Now, a Cal State University program is working to reach African-American students and their families before they get to college -- by bringing its recruitment effort to church.
Sunday service at the Greater Victory Temple in the central coast town Seaside is a lively event. A trio of singers sways on stage while church members stand in the pews, some shaking tambourines. And this Sunday there's an added twist. Up on stage are the interim president and admissions director from nearby Cal State Monterey Bay. They stand alongside church elders.
Super Sunday is an annual recruitment event in the Cal State University System. During the months of February and March, top officials from the 23 CSU campuses visit predominately African-American churches to speak about what it takes to get into college.
David Linnevers is director of admissions at CSUMB. "It's the mission of the university and the mission of the CSU, very important, that we're continually serving a diverse population of California," he says.
African-Americans make up about 5 percent of students in the entire CSU system -- it's about 4 percent for the UC system. The last census shows that blacks account for 6.6 percent of the state's population. But increased recruitment efforts like Super Sunday are bridging that gap. System-wide, applications from African-Americans are up. And at CSUMB, its African-American student body has increased by 80 percent since the school started these targeted recruitment efforts five years ago.
During this Super Sunday Service, there aren't any high-school-aged African-Americans in the pews. But they aren't necessarily the target of Super Sunday.
"We know that education starts with parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles," Linnevers explains, "promoting that to the students and helping them stay engaged. So that's the message of Super Sunday. Not just reach the sixth graders or the high schoolers, but the parents [who] are decision makers."
It's those decision makers who fill the lobby after the service. Church members crowd around information tables set up by CSUMB staff, students and community organizations. Retired librarian Frankie Green stops to pick up some information for her granddaughter. She's a fourth grader who excels in math.
"And she's going to become Condoleezza Rice," Green says. "And she's going to make lots of money, and I tell her that's who she is. [She says] 'I'm not Condoleezza Rice.' I said, 'I know you're not, but you are my Condoleezza Rice. And you are going go to college and finish college."
One of the pamphlets Green takes is a getting-into-college guide. It starts with classes kids should take in the sixth grade -- like a second language -- then continues year by year through high school. Martha Henry is the church's director of Christian education. She says Greater Victory Temple has long promoted higher education, but that participation by Cal State Monterey Bay in recent years just takes it to another level.
"By CSUMB coming in here, they're saying, 'We share that same dream for higher education. We have the roadmap. Here are the steps. Let us guide you.'"
Kymberly Shavers' family guided her on that path to college. The CSUMB senior staffs a table in the lobby for the campus group Black Students United. She says outside her family, the messages about her future weren't so positive.
"Statistically speaking I was told that I wasn't going to be able to make it to college," she says. "It was a surprise that I even graduated from high school. It was expected that I would have at least two kids by now. And I just had to prove that I'm better than that. That that is not my fate."
Shavers graduates this year with a degree in business. She eventually plans to start a non-profit to help kids in disadvantaged communities get on a path to college.