The College of DuPage is launching an initiative officials say is specifically aimed at boosting enrollment, academic success and retention of black students.
The announcement came as President Obama kicks off a national campaign today to encourage more low-income students to attend college.
At the center of COD's move is a newly created post for an interim director of student diversity and inclusion, whose task will be to improve outreach, support and engagement of already enrolled black students.
The post, to report to Vice President of Student Affairs Earl Dowling, will be filled by a candidate within the college.
COD President Robert Breuder, who said the promotion is "imminent," said the new director will be taken out of their current position for 18 months and then "hand the baton" to someone else.
"That way they can bring the continued sense of energy and purpose," Breuder said. "Why (a candidate from) inside the college? We want someone with a history with the college, its culture, its workings, who needs to be involved."
The genesis of the initiative, Breuder said, came last fall in a visit he received from three black men retired from the corporate world. They wanted Breuder to be aware of their former relationship with the college and talked with him of their focus to help young black men and women better understand the importance of higher education.
COD in the fall of 2013 saw a 6.1 percent increase in its black student population; since 2009 its number of black students has grown from 6 percent to 8 percent of the total student body, a jump of close to 500 students. However, recent figures released by the White House indicate only 9 percent of students from families whose incomes are in the country's lowest 25 percent earn a bachelor's degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent of students from families with incomes in the highest 25 percent.
In November, COD convened a meeting with all black full-time employees to "resurrect" relationships.
"The completion rate, that is what everybody is talking about these days," Breuder said. "Too many are dropping out, and that is not a good thing."
The interim director "will work to improve campus culture as it relates to embracing and understanding diversity as well as emphasize outreach" to prospective black students. Among the position's duties will be:
• Advise and assist in targeted black student outreach.
• Identify and build relationships with key community organizations for black populations.
• Implement retention programs for black students to promote success.
"We're going to see if we can make a difference," Breuder said. "We will start with benchline data: How many (black students) we have, what disciplines they are in, attrition -- and move out from there. If in 18 months we don't see success, then we can always adjust and go in a different direction."
As the move is an "operating decision," Breuder said it is not subject to board approval, but, "I know they would embrace an initiative like this." The plan is to surround the new director with an advisory board of nine to 12 people within the college.