Palm Beach State College is planning to establish a Cross-Cultural Equity Institute this year to improve retention and help close the graduation gap for minority students.
The institute will be named after Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler, a local philanthropist and former longtime educator and elected official, whose gift to the college is making it possible. The Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler Cross-Cultural Equity Institute is expected to be the first of its kind in the Florida College System to address an issue facing community colleges across the state and nation.
Overall, the graduation rate for PBSC first-time students is 41.8 percent, which is higher than the 40 percent rate for their counterparts in the Florida College System. However, the college wants to ensure that all segments of its student population complete their education at equal rates. The graduation rate is 38.6 percent for black students at PBSC and 41 percent for Hispanic students, while it is 43.9 percent for white students. Greater inequities exist at PBSC for black male students, whose graduation rate is 29.3 percent, while it is 41 percent for Hispanic males and white males. The graduation rate for black females is 44.4 percent, while it is 40.9 percent for Hispanic females and 47.5 percent for white females.
“We all agree that this is something we can improve,’’ said Carey-Shuler, a Boynton Beach resident who served as assistant superintendent for Miami-Dade County public schools and is a former Miami-Dade County commissioner. “I want Palm Beach State College to be a leader in this area because this is not only happening at the college, but it is something you can find around the nation.”
A portion of the second floor of the library will be reconfigured to house the institute, which will centralize services that the college already offers, including academic advising, life coaching, peer mentoring and personal counseling, to give the populations of students whose graduation rates lag behind their counterparts more one-on-one, tailored support to help them overcome barriers to graduation.
As part of the initiative, the PBSC Foundation will invest $50,000 to create a scholarship in Carey-Shuler’s name to support students that the institute will serve.
Improving equity for all students is a key focus in the college’s strategic plan.
“The disparities in our graduation rates are an issue that I have been grappling with since I arrived at Palm Beach State,’’ said PBSC President Ava L. Parker, who took the helm in 2015. “I am committed to ensuring that all of our students receive equal opportunities to excel.”
Carey-Shuler said she joined the college in this initiative because Parker indicated that it is a high area of need, and she feels that there are best practices for increasing retention and graduation rates. “There are reasons for the disparities that we must identify and address,” she said. “The college is going to address this issue in a holistic way.”