LSU is looking to expand educational opportunities and success for African-American boys and men in Louisiana, and a Thursday panel of experts weighed in on what works and the complex hurdles that exist.

Based on U.S. Department of Education statistics, African-American males lag significantly behind their white counterparts, white females and black females in obtaining college degrees.

Several dozen McKinley High School students were on hand Thursday for the “Summit on African American Male Educational Success,” which was sponsored by the School of Education’s higher education program.

Many of the students nodded their heads and snapped their fingers in support of the panelists’ remarks on preparing African-American males for college.

Among those who participated in the event: Baton Rouge native and deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges & Universities Ivory Toldson; Rutgers University professor Fred Bonner; and University of Illinois-Chicago assistant professor David Stovall.

Toldson noted that Louisiana has the lowest rate in the country of African-American males with college degrees.

“We have to try to figure out why Louisiana is the worst of the worst,” he said.

LSU’s plans include reaching out more to the church community and getting clear information in the hands of families, President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said.

“This is a national crisis that is not getting the attention it deserves,” he said. “It’s a national issue, a national crisis.”

Alexander said that with the diversification of the U.S. population, he hopes some day Louisiana “looks like the United Nations.”

“I’d like us to be a leader in that,” he said.

Alexander came to LSU just over a year ago from the University of California-Long Beach. He said in the diverse Southern California area, he and other college leaders formed a coalition and reached out to more than 100 churches a year — setting up information booths before service or after.

“We’d love to do the same thing in Louisiana,” he said.

LSU on Thursday announced its fall enrollment for the Baton Rouge campus: 30,451. It’s the first time the school has topped 30,000 students since 2005.

In the spring, LSU celebrated the diversity of its graduating class, noting that it was the highest percentage of female graduates and Hispanic graduates ever.

“Student success is an issue near and dear to everyone’s heart,” Alexander said.

Thursday’s summit, which was planned by School of Education Associate Director Roland Mitchell, brought together national educational policy experts, teachers, students and other community members.

“The issues are so deep,” said Toldson, a graduate of Istrouma High School who grew up in the Glen Oaks neighborhood in north Baton Rouge. “The first thing we have to do is understand the neighborhoods on a level that is not superficial.”

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