The following was originally published by the Sun Community News.

ESSEX | Representatives from CFES Brilliant Pathways, the University of Vermont, community-minded business and government leaders celebrated the successful inaugural year of Young Men of Talent (YMT), a program that strives to increase graduation rates in higher education for males of color, at a summit in Essex, N.Y. on June 6.

Rick Dalton, president and CEO of CFES, said the YMT pilot program exceeded expectations in its first year and will be expanded in Year 2, which begins in August. The initiative provides male students of color with both peer and adult mentors, paid summer internships in career areas of interest, as well as additional academic and career support.

“In just one year, Young Men of Talent has shown the power of mentoring, networking, and other tiers of support. We plan to bring YMT to other colleges across the country and to also implement YMT programs in high schools,” Dalton said.

YMT was launched to address the alarming drop-off in college enrollment among men of color, part of the larger trend of males falling behind at every rung of the educational ladder. In 1970, three of every five college students were male, but by 2025 those numbers will be reversed, with 2.4 million more women than men attending two- and four-year colleges. In recent years, undergraduate enrollment for Black and Latino men has dropped by more than 12 percent, what Dalton called “a crushing statistic.”

Young men of color are falling behind for a variety of reasons, including cost, a lack of role models, and inadequate support when they most need it. Young Men of Talent responds to these needs to increase the odds of a successful college experience for young men of color. YMT provides not just mentoring, but regular check-ins with students to be sure they are doing well academically, financially, and socially. Students attend regular dinners with corporate and academic leaders and explore professions that may be new to them, such as finance, healthcare, and sciences.

In its first year, 18 University of Vermont students participated in the YMT program, with all 18 expressing confidence they will graduate on time. This contrasts with the experience of males of color in higher education as a whole, where 40 percent struggle to complete their degrees.

“We work with a population of students that are falling through the cracks,” said Manny Tejeda, director of special programs for CFES. “YMT gives them a network they can rely on.” As YMT helps produce more college grads, Tejeda said he envisions young men returning to their neighborhoods and becoming role models themselves, making future classes of high school males of color comfortable with the idea of college attendance. The program also exposes students to professional networks that can help place them in successful careers.

“YMT has helped me start to think about my future in a concrete and realistic sense,” said Nikolai, a junior at UVM interested in fisheries biology. “This has greatly improved my confidence and motivation to succeed. Because of YMT, I feel more prepared for life after college.”

Jaydeen Santos, assistant director for UVM’s Mosaic Center for Students of Color, said the program has offered important and much-needed support for male students of color, “who are especially slow to ask for help.”

“We cultivate a supportive environment,” said Tara Smith, CFES’ chief operating officer. For instance, networking dinners help students build confidence and learn to advocate for themselves. “Students voice their aspirations and their needs. They meet with financial managers, entrepreneurs, other professionals and even the UVM president and provost to talk about careers and their own goals,” Smith said. “Over the first year, there’s been a profound transformation from initial tentativeness to a comfortable, flourishing community.”