Q&A: Courtney Witherspoon

Courtney Witherspoon has a tough job. As the director of HEOP (Educationally and Economically disadvantaged Students) she has to do everything she can to keep Hilbert students from becoming a statistical College Dropout, a task that is particularly challenging as on-time college completion rates have decrease. The Scribe caught up with her to talk about the major obstacles to getting students through to graduation.

The Scribe: Data shows that graduation rates are lower among low-income students. What particular challenges do they face?

Courtney Witherspoon: I think at this point in time there is a change in the demographic of students that are going to college. If we go back to previous years, college students were mostly of Caucasian origins and middle upper class and that has changed in recent years, colleges are being asked to be accountable for accommodating more students. College in and of itself wasn’t made for minority students historically, so that’s a lot of history to overcome. It is about access to education, how much money it costs, and the support that the student is going to get when they get to college that determines whether that student is going to be able to stay and persist threw to graduate.

TS: What underlining factor or factors are causing low-income minorities to drop out before they get their bachelor’s degrees?

CW: So again I think it is about access to resources and a lot of the time its finances. College is expensive and because we have issues around resources including money often that is a barrier that students cannot overcome. College is expensive and it is only getting more expensive. I mean there are lots of initiative to help students. I am the director of HEOP for (educationally and economically disadvantaged students). It helps but we can’t fund everyone. There is “SAY YES Education” which is for Buffalo Public School graduates and doesn’t fund everyone either. A lot of the time the thing that I hear the most is that the underlining factor, money is the Issue.

TS: According to the National Student Clearing House, about a one third of the students who enroll in college still haven’t earned their bachelor’s degree at the six-year mark. Is that true of Hilbert’s black and Hispanic students?

CW: I think that the Population at Hilbert is a little different. I will give you a contrast. I worked at UB in my previous Job which had a completely different population in terms of it being a selective school. So already you are drawing from students that have had a lot more preparation and were probably more affluent in a lot more respects because they had access to more resources, so they were prepared to do better in school due to that advantage in order to get into UB which is a selective university. Because of that it is sometimes easier to make a distinction between your black and Latino students which are the underserved students as opposed, to an affluent white student. That is why it’s a little easier to tell at a place like UB, I think. Here at Hilbert we have students that live in rural area that don’t have a lot of resources.

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