FRAMINGHAM — Brotherhood is a common theme on college campuses, where fraternities, clubs, and athletic teams promote togetherness and lifelong bonds among members.
But on Friday morning at Framingham State University, brotherhood was not represented by 20-year-olds wearing Greek letters. It was embodied by 100 eager high school students joining together for 100 Males to College, a new state initiative designed to provide academic support, mentoring, and guidance to help young men get into college and earn a degree.
“What does it take to get to be in a brotherhood?” asked Sean Huddleston, Framingham State’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Trust. You have to feel like you trust each other and you have to feel like you are supportive of each other. It’s not just a group of people, it’s an action.”
The state Department of Higher Education launched the program — a partnership among local school districts, Framingham State, MassBay Community College and community groups — to help close achievement and opportunity gaps for low-income and minority males and boost the state’s shrinking workforce.
Significantly more low-income female students in Massachusetts move directly on to college from high school than their male counterparts, according to the state. Thirty-six percent of low-income females who graduated in 2010 immediately enrolled in college after high school and moved on to a second year, compared with just 24 percent of low-income males.
“At a time when Massachusetts employers face critical shortages of college graduates, it is both an economic imperative and a matter of social justice that we help more young men achieve the dream of a higher education and the chance to pursue a career of their choice,’’ said Carlos Santiago, the state’s commissioner of higher education.
For the 70 students from Framingham High School and 30 students from Keefe Regional Technical School, Friday’s kick-off event offered not only support, but a first-hand view into college life and the importance of education.
“It’s for your future, so it’s good to see where you might end up and to see what life is going to be like in college,” said Quenio Batista, a Keefe Tech sophomore from Holliston. “It’s just good to open your eyes to see what you have to look forward to.”
The day also offered a wake-up call for many of the students that they need to be proactive about planning for their futures.
“I just want to see what college is all about because I haven’t looked much into it,” said Niko McLaughlin, a sophomore at Framingham High. “I want to see what opportunities I have to help me in my process.”
The Framingham initiative was modeled after a pilot program now underway in the Springfield public schools, and Santiago said it is being considered by other communities around the state, including Brockton.
According to state data, 42 percent of all Massachusetts high school students who graduated in 2008 obtained a certificate or college degree within six years — compared with just 19 percent of low-income males, 15 percent of African-American males, and 17 percent of Latino males.
“It’s a population that needs this kind of support and the Commonwealth can’t afford to leave these students behind,’’ Santiago said. “If Massachusetts is to remain competitive economically, it really has to make an effort to bring new populations into the mainstream of education and ensure their success.”
The Department of Higher Education recently awarded a $100,000 grant to help fund the Framingham initiative, which will provide a comprehensive support structure to the 100 sophomore and juniors through partner organizations. The students were selected based on grade point average and attendance rates.
“We didn’t want the high achieving students, but the next layer of students that could perform well but didn’t have the experience or support structures to help them succeed,’’ Santiago said.
The students are divided into groups of 10, led by a “success coach” who will meet with them every other week for lessons around identity, career planning, and paying for college. They will also participate in activities based on their individual needs, such as tutoring or test preparation.
This summer, students will take part in college tours and job shadowing, and the program will continue next school year.
After hearing from speakers Friday, the 100 students invited to Framingham State broke up into groups to participate in activities and speak together with their mentors. Throughout it all, the theme of brotherhood held strong.
“I want you to take a look at the person to the right and to the left of you,” Huddleston said in his final remarks. “Can you commit to those people? Can you be brothers?”
The question was met with enthusiastic cheers as the crowd of young men began pointing at friends across the room, fist-bumping members at their table, and delivering playful jabs to one another’s shoulders, much like brothers do.