Dalelorenzo's GDI Blog

Community colleges need an equity-focused agenda (opinion)

When one considers recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data exhibition a COVID-related 10 percent enrollment nosedive from tumble 2019 to fall 2020, a 19 percent slump of first-year students this year and a 30 percentage drop in enrollment for Black, Indigenous and Latinx first-year students, it is evident that community colleges need a new game plan for stable enrollment and serving the community.

As with the issues of health care, employment and housing, the pandemic has uncovered larger systemic questions that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our communities. And just as with those other issues, our goal should not be to return to how things were before COVID but to create a holistic method and set of policies that allow us to best serve the students who need us. We need a brand-new access plan that is embedded in communities and that has brought together schools, community organizations and supervisors as spouses to think comprehensively about the requirements of our students and communities.

For example, the recent reincarnated push to doubled the Pell Grant is vitally important, especially given that, over the last four decades, we have seen the purchasing power of the Pell Grant drop from shielding roughly 80 percent of a four-year degree at a public university to now exclusively 28 percent. But as important as double-dealing the Pell Grant is, it will simply matter to those students who need it the most if they have the knowledge and ability to access that resource.

Moreover, reports show significant decreases in the number of students filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. As a recent EAB survey acquired, that’s because many of those who would most benefit from financial aid find the FAFSA difficult to complete -- and are all too often filling it out by themselves without the help of a parent, coach or counselor. Thus, while the recent congressional action to simplify the FAFSA is a welcome step, as Brett Schraeder, principal of financial aid optimization at EAB , memorandum, "If we ever doubted the need to have a broad network help students, including teachers, consultants, community-based syndicates, and college representatives, our examination should place that fear to rest."

The take-home message: as parish college chairwomen, we must look at the character our own academies must play in these efforts and reimagine access. We cannot assume that access is in our institutional DNA by virtue of being open-admission universities, economical and conveniently pinpointed. Nor can we rely on traditional admissions arrangements that mimic those of four-year practices. Reimagining access also requires that we abandon the notion that this work is about marketing, recruitment and optimizing “yields” from enrollment management.

Just as community colleges invests in culturally accept pedagogy, we must develop culturally responsive outreach strategies to help more disconnected learners accompany college as an option that can significantly improve their lived experiences. We too need to rethink access as more than entrance into a discrete academic or civilizing work and offering it through a far broader set of supports -- both academic and nonacademic -- that we are familiar students need. This agenda must place a fee on extended and continuing booking, structured around a portfolio of programs that coincide the life cycle of the education and training needs of our students, workers and trade supervisors. Fundamentally, we need an access schedule that is equity-centered and purported squarely on dismantling arrangements and practices, such as placement testing and guidelines for entry into selective programs, that have maintained inequities in our institutions.

Leveraging Localness in New Ways

Several community colleges are pointing the way to addressing key elements of the brand-new access agenda. For precedent, Broward College has made a hard look at where the institution is physically located in relationship to enrollment and demographics in specific ZIP codes. It is working with community leaders to provide free educational opportunities, personnel training and support services in these places, including 15 new community centers in areas where unemployment is highest. Since 2018, more than 2,500 students accomplished free courses and shops in Broward UP communities.

Recognizing that privation was the most powerful barrier to student access and success, Amarillo College has become an integral part of a community economic development partnership working to reduce poverty and increase educational attainment to promote financial diversity and start better-paying chores. The college integrates accelerated learning, predictive analytics and wraparound social services to overcome poverty barriers. It has been working with over 60 regional nonprofits that have federal, commonwealth and private funding sources, and it offers numerous involvements -- from fellowships and tuition assistance to emergency aid funds.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is demonstrating the need to know the whole student in order to get the right services to the right students at the right time, even before they enroll. By asking students as part of registration and orientation to self-identify any obstacles they think they might have -- from transportation to childcare to work-life balance -- the college has been able to not only pinpoint needed resources but likewise collecting data on how to support the community and increase its outreach.

Community colleges likewise need to build a portfolio of programs that join the education and training needs of students and employers over their life cycle. Recent debates over short-term credential programs( and whether it is possible Pell Grants should be expanded to cover them) promote legitimate concerns that college access is more than something we do formerly at the beginning of the student experience. We must create an ongoing credentialing plan in which students gain and load short-term credentials as they move between college and work.

At Cuyahoga Community College, or Tri-C, institutional governors understood that some students didn’t need college so they could get a job; they needed a place so they could go to college. Consequently, Tri-C is looking at ways to better align employment with education and training opportunities as such matters of access to college. Similarly, Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina is taking a “ladder fiscals” approach that is focused on building and sustaining society and bos partnerships as well as aligning curricula from high school through college and further training programs to increase opportunities for stacking credentials.

Community colleges will recover from the pandemic. Those that thrive will be those that are beginning to move on from the boom demographic years and the enrollment and conduct apparatus of past success. We must begin to build a brand-new pipe for the ability that is being lost in our communities. The forte of community colleges has traditionally been regional, and we can leverage our localness in new ways. By helping others, we will pave the way not only to sustainability for our campuses but to a long-term economic recovery in the neighborhoods that need it most.

Karen A. Stout is president and CEO of Achieving the Dream.

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Read more: insidehighered.com

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