Continuing to Improve the Role Of Community College In Helping Address Racial Equity
Antoinette Newsome & Stephanie Breen
As higher education continues to grapple with the impact of COVID-19, a polarizing political climate, and ongoing racial tensions, students who have been institutionally oppressed and systematically excluded are still experiencing gruesome inequities throughout our campuses. Racially minoritized student populations encounter the brunt of these inequities with many attending community colleges.
While community colleges support the majority of our country’s Students of Color and those from low-income backgrounds, policymakers do not provide adequate funding for necessary resources to ensure degree completion that can eradicate disparities by race and income. For instance, the Community College Research Center reported that public-four year colleges receive almost double the revenue for education ($17,500) than public two-year colleges ($8,700). The discrepancy in funding impacts operational funds and campus resources that support the overall student experience and influence postsecondary outcomes. Examples of impacted resources can include student support services like supplemental academic instruction, tutoring, and wellness counseling. While we know that student services are important for all college going populations, these services are particularly important to assist in the eradication of racial disparities in completion rates which are prevalent at community colleges. According to the American Council on Education, 35% of Latinx students and 26% of Black students complete a certificate or degree within six years compared to 46.8% for Asian and 46.7% for white students.
With these inequities in mind, community college advocates have identified racial equity as a pressing issue with both state and federal legislatures attempting to create policies and programs to address racial disparities in outcomes.
At the federal level, the United States Department of Education (U.S. DOE) has implemented a racial equity plan to improve our P-20 school system in the post-pandemic era. The goal of this plan is to eliminate equity gaps that will increase postsecondary attainment and success for marginalized student populations.
According to the racial equity plan, the U.S. DOE plans to provide more equitable funding to under-resourced institutions like community colleges and other minority-serving institutions (e.g., HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs). By doing so, community colleges will have improved per-student spending and resources necessary to adequately support their students, who are predominantly Students of Color and those from low-income backgrounds.
While improved funding can support student outcomes and systemic reform in community colleges, reaching racial equity will require more practical and actionable steps from both federal and state-level governments.
At the State Level
At the state-level, there is more movement to improve racial equity at community colleges. For example, California is a leading actor in supporting racial equity efforts at the community college level. As the first state to date that has implemented state-wide policies for racial equity, California has provided a substantial amount of funding and programming to offset disparities in student outcomes at their community colleges.
In fact, the state has committed nearly $785 million dollars over the course of the last six years to racial equity practices at community colleges. The state has also established the Student Equity Achievement (SEA) Program. This program is designed to implement system wide initiatives to eliminate opportunity gaps for underrepresented groups at campuses in the California Community College system. In support of these state-wide efforts, the Race and Equity Center at University of Southern California (USC) conducts high-impact research and provides evidence-based professional development opportunities to campus leaders, staff, and faculty to advance equity. For instance, the USC Race and Equity Center developed the Equity Scorecard tool for institutions to engage in a organizational learning process that promotes institutional change with attention to eliminating race-based disparities. Studies on institutions who have engaged with the Equity Scorecard tool have revealed that use of the tool has resulted in a positive outcomes for student learning and success in classrooms, expanded access, and improved completion rates for marginalized students. The USC Race and Equity Center provides tremendous support to institutions across the country, and even within our own region.
In Our Region
Within our region, local community colleges have engaged in smaller-scaled efforts to promote racial equity on their campuses without direct financial or programmatic support from their states. In particular, we highlight efforts from New York and Maryland.
- Several institutions within the CUNY Community College System in New York have been participating in external racial equity initiatives and homegrown efforts to improve equity on their campuses. For example, at Queensborough Community College, staff and faculty are able to participate in the Equity Institute. The Equity Institute is an 8-week learning experience designed by the USC Race and Equity Center. Each week of the program, staff and faculty attend two-hour virtual sessions led by faculty at the USC Race and Equity Center to learn more about the role racial equity has in advancing the success of community college students. At the end of the program, participants develop an action plan to advance racial equity in several focus areas including: first-semester retention, process barriers, diversifying faculty, and enhancing BIPOC opportunity programs. Queensborough Community College also houses a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. Queensborough’s TRHT center provides inclusive, community-based programming to dismantle racism on campus through intergroup dialogue and restorative healing circles.
- Other community colleges in the CUNY system have been engaging in similar work like Kingsborough Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College
- In the state of Maryland, Anne Arundel Community College is a participant of the Racial Equity Leadership Academy by Achieving the Dream and the USC Race and Equity Center. The Racial Equity Leadership Academy provides a year-long training for campus leaders to support development and implementation of a racial equity change effort at their respective campuses. Other community colleges within our region are also participants in the academy such as Kingsborough Community College and Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.
These local efforts are just the beginning of transformation that is possible for NASPA’s Region II to actualize racial equity. Next, we will describe steps that you can take as local practitioners.
In addition to federal and state initiatives to address racial equity issues, community college stakeholders also play a vital role in the achievement of racial equity. Below we have outlined a list of action items and recommendations for practitioners, faculty, campus leaders, and community colleges in our region to consider:
- Use Your Voice - As higher education practitioners, we have on the ground knowledge about the issues and needs of a valuable population - college students! As engaged citizens, we have the right to communicate with our legislators about the needs of our community and students. You should consider writing to your state's legislators about support and resources needed for our most vulnerable student populations. Use https://www.govtrack.us/ to find contact information for your state legislators.
- Vote - Election season for Congress in November 2022 is quickly approaching with many states in our region up for re-election. It is important to know of candidates in your state for Senate and House seats. Be sure to look at candidate’s platforms and determine who is or is not supporting various higher education initiatives, specifically ones that focus on racial equity and funding for such efforts. You can read more about the 2022 U.S. House elections and Senate elections.
- Engage & Connect With Regional Campuses - Despite community colleges having limited funding and support, these institutions are making great strides to achieve racial equity. It is important for community colleges within Region II to connect with one another about their racial equity practices and to share resources with one another to avoid siloed efforts. Focusing on connections and making a collective effort to support the same work to achieve similar outcomes will not only benefit the institution but the students as well. Some regional efforts include the aforementioned initiatives at the CUNY Community College System in New York and Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland.
While community colleges are some of the most diverse institutions, they receive less resources and funding than more selective and exclusive institutions to support their student populations. These action items ensure that legislators and higher education stakeholders have the ability to prioritize racial equity efforts at community colleges with the success of Students of Color in mind.