When Henry Tisdale attended Claflin College, he was an honors math student with loads of potential and a few weaknesses.
He said when an English teacher pulled him aside to point out his weaknesses, it helped him become a better student, and he wants to extend that commitment to children while he's president of the state's oldest historically black college or university.
"I was a math major, but this woman followed me for four years. That's what it takes," Tisdale said.
Tisdale spoke in Greenville on recently about the school's nationally recognized retention and graduation rates and how 68 percent of its students graduate.
The school has been named by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best comprehensive colleges in the South for its America's Best Colleges 2007 edition.
"Beginning first with our recruitment program, we decide first on a profile of students that we believe that we can best serve," Tisdale said. "We include in that profile a mix of the best and the brightest, and we also consider our historical mission of access."
When students arrive on the Claflin University campus, they are admitted into the Freshman College, which serves as a school within a school.
Tisdale said the school looks to connect with parents as a way to help retain students.
"We have -- throughout the university -- outstanding teachers and faculty members who are excellent in the classroom and excellent in engaging students academically inside the classroom and outside the classroom," he said.
Tisdale said there are students at Claflin who have the academic profile to attend any school in the country, but they continue to choose the Orangeburg-based HBCU.
The university also makes room for those students who may struggle academically, but possess the potential to succeed.
That's why the school has hung its hat on bridge programs such as Upward Bound, Talent Search and Summer Enrichment Bridge.
The Summer Enrichment Bridge program could soon affect the Upstate as the university makes plans to target borderline students.
Greenville's 2005-2006 graduating class of 3,555 students lost more than 900 members from the time they entered high school four years ago.
A study by Education Week said the state's 2003 graduation rate was 53 percent -- the lowest in the nation.
To curb those numbers, Claflin's programs look to nurture students who may be failing in middle and high school by helping to improve their math and science skills as well as prepare them to take the SATs.
"If a student needs support, we have tutorial, counseling and mentoring services," Tisdale said. "Throughout the campus, we have doors open for the students to have access to whatever they need."