Several CSU campuses are forming brotherhood among underrepresented male students in an effort to improve retention and graduation rates.

Programs such as the Black Male Initiative at Cal State Northridge and Project SUCCESS at Cal Poly Pomona are helping men of color to thrive academically and socially by bonding them with their campus, community and each other.

Funded in part by Graduation Initiative 2025 and campus Student Success Fees, brotherhood programs place male students in cohorts as they go through the program's powerful mix of academic support, mentoring, community service and professional development.

Though each CSU brotherhood program differs in leadership and location, the philosophy remains the same: to foster student success through the high-impact practices of community engagement and close peer-to-peer collaboration.

"It's been proven that a sense of belonging and being part of a community promotes student success," said Matthew Smith, director of Educational Partnerships for the Male Success Alliance at CSU Dominguez Hills. "Brotherhood is important because it gives them a healthy peer group that makes them feel like they belong to something. Brotherhood gives them accountability to their campus and community."

'We are here to challenge the norm'

When CSU Dominguez Hills' Male Success Alliance (MSA) was established in 2009, it was the first program of its kind in the CSU system. The program was developed as a response to data showing low retention and graduation rates for men of color across the nation.

The program's first six years proved to be a highly effective approach to solving the problem: reports show that MSA's first 158 members boasts a combined 90 percent retention and graduation rate from 2009-2015.

Cal State Fullerton's Male Success Initiative (MSI) is reporting the same upward trend in academic success among its members. Now in its second year, MSI's first cohort has a reported GPA average of 3.22 as of fall 2017, a significant leap from the average GPA of 2.63 of all males in fall 2016.

"Data shows that the time and effort we are putting into our students is having a big impact on grades," said Vincent Harris, director of MSI at Cal State Fullerton. "We are here to challenge the norm and defy the odds that men of color can't be academically successful at high-achieving universities."

Harris explains that, while Cal State Fullerton is one of California's largest campuses with more than 40,000 students enrolled, only 800 are African-American. Out of 800, only about 300 are male, meaning African-American males make up less than 1 percent of the school's student body. To put it into perspective, there's one African-American male out of every 122 students.

"It was evident that there was a need for more African-American males in college, and this is how MSI was born. We wanted to encourage African-American males through faculty and staff support as well as student advisory boards," said Harris.

Though MSI started as a pilot program five years ago, it has since expanded to support all men of color, including Latinos and Asian-Americans, with the help of adequate funding in 2016.

Closing Achievement Gaps for Men of Color

By achieving a sense of belonging in a group of other young men who face a variety of hardships, the success of brotherhood programs is due to its members uplifting one another as they navigate through college life together, while receiving stellar support from CSU's faculty and staff.

Brotherhood programs place members in community service and its members also serve as mentors to local middle schools and high schools. Members are provided with continuous academic support throughout the year. Professional development workshops are also offered through the program, as well as annual retreats.

Nearly half of all bachelor's degrees awarded to African-American students in California each year are earned at the CSU. Brotherhood programs support the Graduation Initiative 2025 goal of closing equity gaps among underrepresented students and their peers.

For more information on the Graduation Initiative 2025, visit https://www2.calstate.edu/csu-system/why-the-csu-matters/graduation-initiative-2025/Pages/default.aspx.