Community colleges provide accessible and affordable education to students. Learners can earn credentials faster, at lower prices, using better flexible schedules than traditional four-year colleges. However, community colleges are experiencing enrollment and retention challenges, partly spurred by the pandemic. Many two-year colleges have responded to the immediate requirements of hybrid and virtual classes. However, more solutions are needed to meet the demands of this unique student population. Therefore, community college leaders can provide educational equity by making their colleges student-ready.
The Challenges That Community Colleges Face
For instance, like other colleges, community colleges students struggle with mental health challenges. Other issues include meeting the needs of single parents, health issues, and employment struggles. Therefore, community colleges should be student-ready colleges instead of focusing on college-ready students to safeguard retention rates.
Moreover, community colleges are experiencing a lack of enrollment. Before the pandemic, enrollment in two-year colleges was down 15%, and that gap is increasing. For instance, African American males are nearly absent from enrollment as new students. First-generation and first-in-family student enrollments are also down. Additionally, more students are taking a gap year between high school graduation and college enrollment. These students must find the resources to attend college or support their families. Consequently, the low enrollment means that community colleges are struggling with a lack of funding. Community colleges can utilize these three strategies to address these issues.
Community Colleges Leaders Must Be Responsive to Student Needs for Educational Equity
Therefore, community college leaders must actively pay attention to the social, mental, and emotional cues their students are giving. Community college students have unique challenges. These issues include having enough food to eat, a place to live, family support, a means of employment, and so on. Therefore, if students are not attending class, are missing assignments, or dropping in grades, leaders must reach out with help. Ignoring these issues is no longer an option. The lower professor-to-student ratio is an advantage of being at a community college. Besides that, the advantage allows leaders to call the student, the student advisor, and the student counselor. First-hand, they can understand the different barriers that a student is experiencing.
Create Wrap-Around Services to Support Educational Equity
Equally important, community college leaders must create wrap-around services to meet student needs. The services might include supplemental in-class tutoring and outside tutorial services. Additionally, wrap around services provide counseling to check if students need housing, food, school supplies, and basic needs. Most importantly, leaders must understand how to make these wrap-around services highly accessible to students. Thus, the services should go to the students instead of students going to the services. In essence, when more students have their needs met, the more successful they can be. Therefore, the more likely they are to continue with their education.
Provide First Day Services for Educational Equity and to be a Student-Ready School
Therefore, community college leaders can support students and raise retention rates by providing course materials at discounted prices. Community college students are more likely to drop out or opt-out of classes when they cannot afford books and other materials. The Box of Books Project at Onondaga Community College is one solution. The partnership with Barnes & Noble provides all course materials in one box at the start of the semester for nearly half the normal price. Students are offered Chromebooks at a discounted price too. The solution ensures all students have access to the materials they need to succeed in their classes. Also, it lets them know they are seen.
Essentially, students understand that the college knows them, is ready for them, and wants them to succeed. Additionally, the more students are prepared academically, the greater their success and retention. The Box of Books Project at Onondaga Community College and a similar program at Houston Community College help decrease the drop-out rates and improve course outcomes, especially for gateway courses.
In sum, community colleges are experiencing lower retention and enrollment rates, and students face mental health issues. To provide solutions, community college leaders can create educational equity. They can make their schools student-ready by being intentionally responsive and creating wrap-around services. They can also provide first-day services, providing access to all students.