Bolstering African American college completion rates is not only a national priority, but it continues to be a key focus of the California State University‘s Graduation Initiative. On May 17, Chancellor Timothy P. White hosted a breakfast for 40 of southern California’s most prominent church leaders to discuss strategies aimed at increasing graduation rates among African Americans and underserved communities. The Pastor’s Breakfast, an annual event held at the CSU Chancellor’s Office for the past 11 years, is a legacy event of the African American Initiative that brings pastors and CSU leaders together as they collaborate on best practices for enrolling and retaining more African Americans in college.

“In many ways, the CSU is ahead of our goals of getting more students to degree by 2025,” White explained to breakfast attendees. “This summer, we will be refreshing the Graduation Initiative to set higher expectations and meet our goal of having zero gaps in graduation rates between our students, regardless of their ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. It is a lofty goal that will require our local church partners to join the CSU in advocating in Sacramento so that we can continue to provide affordable, high-quality education.”

In addition to the Pastor’s Breakfast, the African American Initiative also includes Super Saturday College Fair, Super Sunday and the Summer Algebra Institute. The strategic partnership between the CSU and local churches is founded on a shared commitment to increase college readiness, academic success and completion rates among underserved communities. The CSU is a national leader in graduating record numbers of students of color and first generation college students, awarding nearly half of all bachelor’s degrees earned by African Americans in California.

Bishop Noel Jones, a renowned columnist for Gospel Today magazine and frequent guest on Trinity Broadcasting Network, blessed the event with a prayer before discussing the psychological barriers that “enslaves” the African American community from rising above. “Education is what can heal the inequalities faced by the African American community. Church leaders and educators can be the healers of our community,“ said Jones.

Other issues raised during the meeting include the rising number of denied eligible students, the need for ongoing student support programs, such as football, and mentoring for student success. Church partners also expressed a willingness to help advocate for more state funding in order to serve the increasing number of eligible college students.

“Our message coming from the pulpit holds great influence towards the community of faith,” said Reverend Carolyn Baskin-Bell of Second African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. “Churches have a responsibility to serve as a community resource that educates parents on the importance of a college education while also instilling the idea into our youth early on.”

For more information on the CSU’s African American Initiative, visit http://www.calstate.edu/externalrelations/partnerships/african-american.shtml