Carson Edifies South Africa on Academic Support

Carson Carr

Carson Carr was more than happy to make his and the University's expertise available internationally this summer. Carr, associate dean of Academic Support Services and assistant vice president for Academic Affairs, visited seven historically black universities in South Africa from Aug. 1 to 25 in order to share U.S. methods regarding academic support systems, developmental courses and programs in faculty mentoring, tutoring, and counseling.

In the Spring, the National Council on Education, in collaboration with United States Aid and the Ford Foundation, familiar with Carr's success as director of Albany's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), asked his assistance. "They asked me to visit South African schools and speak with administrators, staff, and faculty about what we do here in America and to see how we could assist them in duplicating our efforts," Carr said.

Carr stayed mostly in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and visited seven of the nation's 14 historically black universities, among them the University of the North, University of the North West, the University of the Western Cape, Peninsula of the Technicon, and the University of Fort Hare, which is the university that South African President Nelson Mandela attended.

"Most of the universities are located away from the cities" said Carr. "They're quite large, with 10,000 to 16,000 students at each. Most are residential. Up until the break-up of apartheid, most of the higher education funding went to historically white universities. The black schools are struggling to be more competitive now that the country is a democratic one."

Carr said the universities had a number of problems and one of the biggest was language. "Most students begin learning English in the third grade. However, their education is inferior and by the time they get to college, their first year is very difficult because they come from areas of different dialects and all university classes are taught in English." A number of these students, said Carr, have trouble avoiding failure their first year. "Many take courses in basic English while at the same time trying to pass classes taught in English," he said.

This was not Carr's first trip to Africa. Thirty years ago he was part of a team of six Presbyterian laymen who toured eight African countries to make sure missionary money was being spent wisely. That trip did not include South Africa.

"South Africa is a beautiful country physically," he said, but added that the economy is still controlled by the same people who were in control before the end of apartheid.

"The country also still has problems with racial conflict, especially among the young. They are very impatient and know they are not getting a quality education and want equality now. One of their hopes is to set up more EOP-type programs," he said, adding "I'm impressed with how many want to go to college."

As part of his assignment, Carr wrote a lengthy report which he submitted to the National Council on Education, which wants to use Carr's impressions to determine where monetary help and educational initiatives are needed most urgently.

One of the projects that have come about as a result of his trip is a book collection drive. "It would not cost any money, other than postage, to send books that we are no longer using to South Africa," said Carr, who added he would also like to set up an exchange program.

Carr said he enjoyed his trip but found it a very humbling experience. "It made me realize how fortunate we really are here in America," he said.

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