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California State University Seeks Black Students From The Pews

At church on Sundays, African-American students are hearing a possibly unexpected pitch alongside the familiar sermon: Come to Cal State University.

Officials from the California State University system have been pioneering a program of seeking new prospective African-American students in church pews — a program that's serving as a model for similar efforts elsewhere.

Blacks make up about 6.6 percent of California's population, according to 2011 census data. Jorge Haynes, a Cal State spokesman, said the university system's African-American population is 5 percent.

California is at the leading edge of a demographic shift affecting the country. The state's Hispanic population is slated to become its majority ethnic group by 2014.

Given this shift, according to the Los Angeles Times, "colleges have to work harder to attract African-American, Latino and other underrepresented students." And last year, a federal court upheld a ban of race-based admissions in the state's school system.

Cal State's outreach is part of "Super Sunday," a program that sends top university officials to predominantly black churches to talk about admissions requirements and financial aid. Started in 2006, Super Sunday has contributed to a steady rise in African-American students over the last decade, according to the Times.

First-generation students might not be as familiar with college admissions as those whose parents have attended, Cal State spokesperson Erik Fallis tells us. "We're trying to bridge that knowledge gap."

The program now has more than 100 churches in its network and has served as a recruitment model for Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Officials from Cal State say they're also in talks with universities from Texas and Tennessee.

Sarah Hines-Thompson, a data clerk at one of the participating congregations, told us Super Sunday helped her daughter Marissa, a Cal State-Northridge graduate, pursue her bachelor's degree. She said the program taught her daughter about scholarships and funding.

"It encouraged her to step forward into the state university realm," Hines-Thompson said.

(Kat Chow is a part of NPR's race, ethnicity and culture desk.)

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