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Inner-city students 'nudged' toward college Hilbert partnering with two Buffalo congregations in summer program

African-American high school students in Buffalo are getting a nudge toward higher education under a new initiative at Hilbert College.

The small liberal arts college in Hamburg is partnering with two Buffalo churches to bring high school juniors to the Hamburg school. The students will stay for three weeks during the summer, get a dose of campus life and receive tutoring to sharpen the academic skills they will need for college.

Hilbert will work with the Rev. Richard Stenhouse of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Rev. Darius Pridgen of True Bethel Baptist Church to select more than a dozen black students whose grades are average, but who may not have considered pursuing a college degree or would find the transition from high school to college difficult.

"Many midlevel, inner-city students have great academic potential but oftentimes don't aspire to attend college," Hilbert President Cynthia A. Zane said in a statement. "With this program, Hilbert will play a role in enabling more young persons in Buffalo to go to college."

Hilbert was awarded a three-year, $450,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation to fund the program, "From High School to Hilbert."

Not only is it a recruiting tool for Hilbert, where 8 percent of the 1,100 students are minority or foreign-born, but it addresses two critical issues in higher education: increasing minority access to college and better preparing high school students to succeed in higher education.

More than 26 percent of whites 25 and older in the United States held at least a bachelor's degree in 2000, compared with 14 percent of blacks, according to the Census Bureau. The figures were 24 percent for whites and 11 percent for blacks in the Buffalo Niagara region, according to the census.

While many young people at Bethel AME are aware of the larger colleges in the area, they're not as familiar with Hilbert, where the smaller setting and individual attention could be more of a benefit to them, Stenhouse said.

"I think all of them are aware they need to get a higher education," Stenhouse said. "What happens with most of them is they're inadequately prepared for the SATs or to do college work -- reading at grade level, math proficiency, writing skills."

Fifteen high school juniors will be selected for the three-week pilot project in July. They will live in campus housing, take math and writing tutorials, enjoy recreational and cultural activities and learn about applying to colleges and securing financial aid.

They'll also receive a small weekly stipend as an incentive and to help offset lost wages from summer jobs.

Cheyenne Jumanah, Hilbert's director of multicultural affairs, said the college hopes that giving the students this exposure will inspire them to want to attend college -- preferably Hilbert.

If not Hilbert, she said, "That's perfectly fine. Wherever they decide to go is OK."


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