This morning, I learned some new information about community colleges that surprised me. While fewer students that come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds attend community colleges than before, those with lower socioeconomic backgrounds are increasing.
The Century Foundation released key findings on Bridging the Higher Education Divide. According to the report, only a staggering 11% who enter community college with the hope of graduating with a BA actually do. I knew the figures were low, having spent a good deal of time reading and analyzing community colleges when I took an adult basic literacy class when I was in grad school. But I didn't know that they were this low.
To meet the demands on community colleges to pass out more than 5 million new degrees by 2020, the Century Foundation recommends that more federal dollars be spent to fund them, particularly giving more money to the colleges where high needs students are enrolled. Most of the recommendations were aimed at decreasing social and racial stratification.
Although I do agree that these suggestions could in fact decrease the stratification, most recommendations merely looked at how to better integrate or rearrange the distribution of honors and/or wealthy students in community and four year colleges. Few suggestions were made on how to actually help those high needs students rather than provide more funding, offer honors programs, make transferring credits easier, and allow high school students to get college credit. These are valuable ways to start to implement change, but high needs students are going to need more support. These are structural suggestions. But what can be done on an individual student level to make sure more than 11.6% earn a BA?
I think we have to look at the critical role that teachers play. It seems to me that in community colleges, when advisor or counselors are overwhelmed, the instructors need to go the extra mile to make sure their students have a goal and a plan for how to get there. Until each student has someone helping and looking out for them, only incremental change will happen.