August 26, 2011

Forum to look at impact of changes in education

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Higher education leaders from across the state will meet next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to discuss critical issues facing education in Illinois and their impact on African American families and students.

The roundtable discussion, “The Changing Educational Landscape: Issues and Implications for African American Families and Students,” will include an afternoon exercise where the audience breaks into four separate working groups to discuss and formulate recommendations that will go to legislators and policymakers.  Recommendations will be presented as part of a statewide strategy in response to the concerns.

The discussion is from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 29, in the Student Center Auditorium.  Admission is free, and the public is encouraged to attend and participate.  There is a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m., and the luncheon is free.

SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng; Paul D. Sarvela, SIU vice president for academic affairs; state Rep. Mary E. Flowers, D-Chicago; Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a former assistant clinical professor at the SIU School of Law; Michael Toney, president of the Illinois Commitment on Black Concerns in Higher Education; and Terry Solomon, director, Illinois African American Family Commission, are among the featured presenters during the morning session.  Other presenters are Arthur Sutton, deputy director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Clara S. Fitzpatrick, a long-time educator and adjunct faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago.

Seymour Bryson, SIUC’s retired associate chancellor for diversity and a special assistant to Chancellor Rita Cheng, said Illinois is currently reviewing its educational policies and programs, which also comes during a time of declining national and state resources.  Two years ago the Illinois Board of Higher Education issued a report noting that black and Latino students represent about 50 percent of elementary and high school students in the state and that an increasing number of students will enroll in post-secondary educational settings.

Bryson is also a member of the Illinois African American Family Commission.

The findings also come during a time when the nation’s economic problems can prohibit some students from enrolling or remaining in college, while other students find themselves educationally unprepared to attend, Bryson said.

“There are a lot of competing forces,” he said.  “Some institutions are doing a very good job of graduating minority students but others are not.”

Bryson also points to a recent report by the Illinois Board of Higher Education that concludes that “faculty and staff of color is decreasing, and the academic performance of black males is a major challenge.”

“If the needs of the black communities are to be appropriately addressed, all segments of society, particularly the black community, must be involved in the discussion and help shape state policies and programs,” he said.

The four afternoon working groups will focus on: public policy and leadership; academic preparation; access to college; and retention and program completion, Bryson said.  Each of the four groups will present their recommendations on how to address these issues.

Bryson said it is important for the community, including students, to also participate and provide input.  He notes that President Barack Obama told Congress in February 2009 that America will again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

 “We would like people with different points of view,” he said.

For more information contact Bryson by email at, or Alfred L. Jackson, the University’s housing program coordinator, at