Good Reads on Community Colleges

Diversifying the student body is on the academic radar when examining the student population at colleges and universities across the nation. But diversity is not just about race. It involves the whole sector of students we see on the campuses of community colleges across the nation.

These students may include ones who are first generation college students, ones who dropped out or were not encouraged to continue their education beyond high school. It includes students who come from poverty, crime-ridden urban areas, or depressed rural spaces. It may include working adults returning to school to try and improve their income potential, a stay-at-home mother who needed to develop job skills to return to the workforce, or the factory worker whose job was outsourced to China. And it also includes students whose parents may be concerned about their child’s ability to stand up on their own far from the family support system. Whatever the reason that brings a student here, community colleges provide educational opportunities for some of the most diverse learners in higher education.

With that in mind, three recent articles are worthy of your attention and are shared with you here.

Why Elite Institutions Need to Welcome Students From Community Colleges

This is an opinion piece written by Laura Huober who made the auspicious transfer from Santa Monica (Community) College to Amherst College, an elite private liberal arts college. Her story demonstrates how, with the right supports, community college transfer students not only can thrive, they can make a valuable contribution to the learning environment.

The Challenge of the First-Generation Student

In this article, the First Generation student includes many who are also first generation Americans, as well as the first in their families to go to college. The article examines the tension regarding the stories of first-generation students who reach elite institutions, and the majority who are served by community colleges.

When elite institutions like Smith, Amherst College, or Harvard University enroll significant numbers of first-generation students, their stories are often splashed across the news. But regional state universities and community colleges have been identifying and supporting these students for decades, through federal TRIO programs, a collection of outreach and student-services efforts geared toward low-income students.”

Looking Beyond the Data to Help Students Succeed

In this article, Katherine Mangan addresses one of the hottest topics at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention held this week – predictive analytics and retention strategies. What makes this article a good read is the recognition that numbers alone don’t tell us what to do and are only part of the equation on predicting success. Examining best practices, reinventing success strategies to work with our community college student demographics, and implementing them in a thoughtful way – these all help frame data as a reference tool to inform the choices made on how to support students. Those choices may include mentoring, i.e. creating a social connection to help support the student, addressing grit and other noncognitive traits that can make or break a student’s ability to succeed. Tools such as SuccessNavigator can help identify the characteristics that can undermine a student as they manage the intricate balance of academics and life.

Two Simultaneous Conversations in Education – Part I – The Completion Conversation

There are two simultaneous conversations that have a direct impact on community colleges: College Completion, and General Education. These two topics are often discussed under the general area of College Pathways, the latest in a series of reforms aimed at improving college completion for community college students.

In two recent articles, the cross-over relationship between college completion and general (aka liberal) education begin to emerge. The first article is discussed here in Part I. A discussion about the second article will be shared in Part II.

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The League for Innovation in the Community College published a Learning Abstract titled “Community College Voices in the National Completion Conversation” that shared the compilation of a discussion during a session at one of their Learning Summits in order to bring faculty to the national conversation. They posed what seemed like a simple question:

What does completion mean to you?

This lead to a discussion not unlike those that have occurred at Mott Community College, and many other community colleges across the nation. And the results were just as diverse but fell into two themes:

1) Students fulfilling their own goals.

2) Students earning credentials.

For the first major theme above, the goals could be broken down into smaller increments such as “students accomplish what they came to do” or even “good grades” or “success at each increment.” The second major theme was more direct referencing the certificate, degree or transfer, but also mentioned issues related to employment and “workforce preparedness”.

Some members of the group addressed a third category labeled “Other Approaches” which looked at completion from the perspective of different stakeholders.

Another question that was posed included:

What Issues and Concerns to you have about the completion agenda?

The themes that resulted from the conversation on this question were:

1) Academic Rigor and Relevance.

2) Student Support.

3) Student Preparedness.

4) Student Funding.

5) Institutional Funding.

6) Employability.

7) Driving the Agenda.

8) Defining Terms.

9) Completion Goals.

10) Data.


11) College Challenges

The themes, as you might expect, address a variety of sometimes contentious issues with the element of “definition” being a recurring underlying theme. For instance, there was concern about the inconsistency of who defines completion, especially when different stakeholders and external organizations impact the conversation.

When the question changed to one about promise, a stronger consensus emerged.

What promise do you see in the national focus on completion?

A sub-question that followed was: “Why are we doing this if there are no promises?” The resulting conversation seemed more positive.

1) The national conversation.

2) Collaboration.

3) Retention.

4) Benefits for Students.

5) Benefits for Community.

6) Benefits for the College.

What are the big questions you have regarding student success and completion?

The participants were asked to come up with their own “Big Questions” which then were grouped into five categories:

1) The definition of completion.

2) Engaging and Supporting students to completion and careers.

3) Employability and a Living Wage.

4) Joining the conversation.

5) College needs.

To read about these themes and the conversations and questions that swirled within them, see the full article at the League for Innovations website at this link.