The University of North Texas is taking on a troubling statistic. The school found that it is retaining just over 73 percent of its African American male students. But several campus groups are trying to make a difference.
Joshua Okpara says the campus environment drew him to UNT.
“The best part of the college experience is you write your own story," said Okpara, a senior marketing major.
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But like many college students soon find out, you can’t write that story alone.
“If you don't have a successful team, a successful support system you never get to the goal that you want to get to," he said.
That is happening to far too many minority students – at UNT,, and at other colleges and universities. At the North Texas school, one in four male minorities drop out of school.
"We live in a place with a lack of ambition and vision,” said Okpara. “A lot of the young men, when you speak to them, they already have a fixed mind-set of what they think they're going to be in life."
For that reason, he says, studies take a back seat for some of his fellow students.
“And they lack that ambition to do better because they have the mind-set that regardless of what I do in life, I will fail.”
Last Spring, Okpara formed a group called “The Dedicated Men.” He saw a need for mentoring, support and motivation for his peers. It is one of the programs UNT is embracing to try and boost retention rates among minority men.
"It's okay to develop new habits, positive habits,” said Harold Woodard, UNT’s Executive Director for Student Retention Initiatives. “It's okay to resist certain temptations out there."
In his role, Woodard coordinates the university’s retention efforts. He says some students come to UNT and struggle, in part, he says, because they’re used to being a big fish in a small pond.
“Now with over 38,000 students, this is a big pond,” said Woodard. “And a lot of students are worried about keeping up with the competition."
Despite concern over the numbers, they have improved. In 2011, one in three African American males decided to drop out, rather than return to UNT the following year.
“You can want more out of life, said Okpara, whose group also frequently brings motivational speakers to campus. “You can do more in life."
There are possibilities for all, he says – with hard work, dedication, and most of all – a good, strong team.
"You can create your own future with college,” said Okpara. “And I think that's the beauty of it."