By Amy MacKinnon
It was the summer of 2014, and Dr. Yolanda Johnson was worried.
The executive officer for student services for Springfield Public Schools, Johnson fretted about a subsection of her high school student body that weren’t continuing on to college—but could.
“I was concerned about district data around our males, particularly males of color, those young men who were in the middle academically,” said Johnson. “I thought, what if we created something around supporting young men to aspire to college.”
Johnson wasn’t the only one concerned. Within days, she received a call from an official at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE), which was also troubled by the same data points. Johnson recalls that it was a pivotal moment: with DHE involved, the narrative around young men of color attending college was about to change. The result was 100 Males to College.
Launched in Spring 2015, the access program seeks to create an academic, social, and practical infrastructure for lower-income high school students, particularly young male students of color, which the goal of helping them see themselves attending college. The model is simple: public school districts work in partnership with public colleges and universities to support boys who may not have considered themselves candidates for higher education. Funded by DHE’s Performance Incentive Grant with programs now operating in five communities across the state, 100 Males to College targets primarily juniors and seniors with GPAs between 1.8 and 3.2, said Colleen Coffey, the director of The Metrowest College Planning Center located on the campus of Framingham State. She said some students now served by a 100 Males to College program run by Framingham State and MassBay Community College, in partnership with Framingham Public Schools, may face economic and/or cultural challenges. Through a holistic approach involving everything from college prep classes to mentorships to internships, the program helps them begin to identify as college-bound students.
“What we try to do is demystify the college experience,” said Michael Walsh, assistant director of Student Success and Diversity/Male Student Success Interventions and FAM at Bridgewater State University (BSU). A collaboration between Brockton High School, Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, Massasoit Community College and BSU allows students who enter the program to be eligible for dual enrollment courses through Massasoit Community College, for which they earn both high school and college credit. Walsh said 100 Males to College also offers students tutoring during and after school, as well as other support services many college-bound students take for granted.
“We focus on college readiness,” said Walsh. “We help with college applications, teacher recommendations, the college essay, FAFSA, even financials. We have two trained advisors who speak with the students, who are undergrads in their own right. It’s an excellent opportunity for modeling; the best part is they’re able to see themselves in their mentors.”
Walsh said the program is comprehensive because it doesn’t address only the steps necessary to apply to college, but it helps to reframe the students’ sense of self. In the fall, high school students meet once a week for 12-14 weeks and another 10-weeks in the spring on BSU’s campus to create a sense of community around brotherhood. They’re challenged to consider what it means to be male, how to ask for help and manage their time effectively.
Ultimately, the goal of 100 Males to College is twofold: to create a better future for men of color and redefine what it means to be a successful male.
It’s a sentiment James Lightfoot, academic advisor at Springfield Technical Community College, echoed.
“We talk about healthy masculinity, leadership, academic preparedness, STEM career pathways,” said Lightfoot. “In a nutshell, 100 Males to College is helping young men see themselves in a position of leadership.”
The young men are challenged to imagine a future for themselves filled with options and the opportunities for better mobility and financial stability that a college education makes possible.
“Being the first to have that experience, to go to university, I can pass that on to my sisters who don’t know anything about it because no one in our family has ever gone to college,” said one of the 100 Males participants in Springfield, proudly sporting the UMass Amherst sweatshirt he received upon acceptance to the state’s flagship campus.
As for those data points Johnson fretted about in 2014, 100 Males to College is creating new sets of positive numbers, all trending upward. Since its inception and through Fall 2018, 409 Springfield students have participated in the program and to date, 199 have graduated. Of those, 178 enrolled in college, seven enlisted in the military and 14 delayed college and joined the workforce. That’s an 89 percent overall college-going rate for those who completed the program, compared to the overall college-going rate of 59.4 percent for Springfield Public Schools’ 2017 graduates. In the Brockton program, 100 percent of the 100 Males to College participants graduated from college; 87.5 percent were accepted to college.
Said Lightfoot, “We’re creating leaders who are now advocating for their brothers. We’re creating a movement of young men who are going to be good citizens of the world.”