TAMPA, Fla. — More people of color are attending colleges and universities than ever before. Still, the graduation rate for Black and Latino men is far below what it is for other demographic groups, including Black and Latina women.
"I'm studying computer science right now. I may change it to computer engineering, but computer science it is," said Steve Emile.
Emile, originally from Haiti, is a student at Hillsborough Community College.
Although more people of color, like Emile, are pursuing higher education, African American, Latino and Native American men have some of the lowest college graduation rates.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 36% of Black male students completed a bachelor's degree within six years, and 52% of Latino male students completed theirs within the same time. White males graduated at a rate of 63% in six years.
Some of the challenges many men of color face contribute to that lower rate, such as being a first-generation college student, needing to work full-time, or not having the income or savings to afford tuition.
Hillsborough Community College is working to increase the graduation rate of African American and Latino men through a program called HOPE Scholars.
"The Hope Scholars program is a minority male program that has a lot of support services built around it to help men of color be successful," said Ken Atwater, president of Hillsborough Community College.
Dr. Atwater said 60 men participate in the program every year. The scholars receive stipends every semester, study and learn together as a cohort and are assigned faculty mentors who help them navigate the college experience.
"If you have peers or faculty or staff that are serving that capacity, that navigation is easier," said Dr. Atwater. He said the HOPE Scholars graduate at a rate of 85%.
"It's vital because a lot of these young men come from a background where they're a first-generation college student and they're not exactly prepared for what lies ahead," said Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri is in the HOPE Scholars program.
Gonzalez-Mulattieri is studying philosophy and sociology. He is also the first in his Brazilian American family to attend college.
"I feel like the whole program creates a situation where it makes that easier for students, especially Black and Brown students, to succeed and thrive here in a college and academic environment," said Gonzalez-Mulattieri.
Both Emile and Gonzalez-Mulattieri attended the Black, Brown and College Bound Summit, a yearly event at the Tampa Convention Center. The event attracts influential speakers to inspire and encourage Black and brown men to further their education. The keynote speaker for the 2022 Summit was NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.
"It's not easy being an African American in this country and having, I mean, people always say you get a fair shot. Well, what is fair. Fair is relative. The point that I did hit and touch on was having a vision for where you want to be and what you want to do. And that can go as far as what type of lifestyle you actually want to have and want to enjoy. And develop a plan towards that vision," said Smith.
Meanwhile, in Washington, a bill is making its way around the House of Representatives. It's called the College for All Act. It was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. If passed, it would make community college and public universities free for families making less than $125,000 a year.
"I think that a higher education these days – in some form – community college, university, sometimes certification is a necessity, not a luxury. And, so, we need to treat it like we've treated K through 12, and we need to make public universities and community colleges free, at least for the vast majority of families out there," said Julian Castro, former presidential candidate and HUD secretary under Obama.
As for Emile, he plans on continuing his education at the University of South Florida, making his family back in Haiti proud.
Gonzalez-Mulattieri is aiming for Princeton University, where he wants to study public and international affairs before heading to Columbia University Law School.
"Just believe in yourself because, my message to anyone who's trying to or even thinking about going to college, it's definitely a challenge in the beginning, but once you get acclimated to it, the world is yours. The sky's the limit."
Learn more about the HOPE Scholars program at Hillsborough Community College here.