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Black Student Success Initiative

BSSI History 

The inspiration behind the Fresno State Black Student Success Initiative (BSSI) is the declining enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of Black students across the California State University (CSU), and namely at Fresno State. While progress has been made in closing the achievement gaps for some underrepresented groups, the inequities surrounding Black student success in the CSU are stark and often hidden. Lumped into the single category of “underrepresented minority students (URM),” Black students experience wider equity gaps from White, Asian and other student groups (non-URM) that are obscured in the system’s public reporting about graduation rates. As only 4% of the CSU student body, and 3% of the first-time freshmen and new undergraduate transfers at Fresno State, Black students graduate at lower rates than other historically marginalized groups (Zinshteyn, Huck, & Watts, 2022; OIE data Fall 2014-2022). 

The Fresno State BSSI is specifically designed to shine a spotlight on and implement sustainable change to address the long-standing equity-gaps around Black student progress across all levels of the university. In doing so, the BSSI promotes Black students academically, socially, culturally, and professionally. The BSSI more broadly supports student success at Fresno State in all areas, particularly for groups who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented. 

In the fall of August 2022, the Office of the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs issued a call for suggestions from Colleges/Schools for Student Success initiatives for potential inclusion in Graduation Initiative (GI) 2025 funding requests. The premise was to advance efforts that should address improving graduation rates and/or reducing achievement gaps using proven, evidence-based practices on a scale beyond individual course sections such as college-wide first year experience programs, Supplemental Instruction, etc.). Efforts could also encompass existing programs with no dedicated funding, new initiatives, one-time interventions or pilots, and sustained, multi-year programs. 

Funding requests could be supported through two different sources:

  • $2.5M in one-time enrollment funds - these are intended to primarily support students in their last semester(s) and help them to graduate. This was the request from the Provost the other day for additional AY and summer/intersession courses that could be offered.
    $5.5M in permanent funds to support efforts to reach GI 2025 goals 
    Division requests were submitted to President Jiménez-Sandoval who made the decision on allocation of funds. 
  • Dr. Jenelle S. Pitt-Parker, who was serving as Associate Dean of the Kremen School of Education and Human Development during Fall 2022 reached out to Interim Vice Provost Alam Hasson to “pitch” two ideas to confirm if her thinking was in alignment with the call for suggestions. The two ideas were: a) Cluster-hires in specific areas which spoke to cultural climate and linkages between faculty diversity, student recruitment, retention, and graduation; and b) Mentoring programs similar to the African American Edge Initiative which existed on Fresno State’s campus from 2010-2016 and was co-led by Dr. Marnel Niles Goins and Dr. De Anna Reese. 

After a brief exchange and receiving further direction from Interim Vice Provost Hasson that the two above ideas seemed to align with the latter pot of GI 2025 funding (i.e., $5.5 in permanent funds to support GI 2025 goals), Dr. Pitt-Parker “went to work.”

Between August and October 2022, Dr. Pitt-Parker convened a team of colleagues consisting of Dr. De Anna Reese, Professor in the Department of History and Africana Studies Program; Emogene Nelson (retired), Budget Analyst in the College of Health and Human Services; and engaged in consultation with the following individuals and entities at Fresno State:

Briana White (former) Coordinator, African American Programs and Services, Cross Cultural and Gender Center, Fresno State

Cory Cowan, Research Analyst, Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Fresno State

Davion Baker, Staff Coordinator, Office of Black Student Success, Fresno State

Dr. Carolyn V. Coon (retired), Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management/Dean of Students

Wendy Nelson, African American Initiative Coordinator, Outreach and Special Programs 

As the BSSI vision and proposal process unfolded, discussions regarding specific positions also came under examination based on national student success data, extant research, and institutional examples. One of the key student-centered positions that was discussed as part of the BSSI was advising-mentoring related positions that leveraged unique knowledge and skills that would facilitate assessment of students’ needs, while connecting them to University resources and supporting acclimation to  university life as Black students at Fresno State. 

Because of this, Dr. Pitt-Parker reached out to several institutional leaders as part of the proposal to better understand this comprehensive way of supporting Black students and affirm programming like this could happen at Fresno State.This included conversations with Mr. Kevin Collymore at the University of San Francisco’s Black Achievement, Success and Engagement Initiative (BASE) and two CSU campus presidents including President Soraya M. Coley at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and President Thomas Parham at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Both President Coley and President Parham facilitated connections through their respective offices with key leaders on their campuses for a description of duties, populations served, classifications (e.g. Student Services Professional III), and an overall structure of positions which helped to further inform not only the proposal’s development, but set a precedent for future BSSI staffing with the use of an intentional data-driven and strengths-based approach to retention, closing achievement gaps, and degree completion.

 The Black Student Success Initiative proposal was submitted to the Office of the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs on October 21, 2021.

Drs. Reese and Pitt-Parker began engaging in an environmental landscape for the purposes of: 1) becoming acquainted with the various roles and responsibilities of structured positions at various institutions that were supporting Black student engagement, achievement, leadership, 2) building cross-institutional connections for engaging in the work ahead, 3) hiring key staff for coordination, implementation, and oversight of the BSSI and 4) collaboration with on campus strategy teams to increase Black student recruitment, admission, and enrollment.