What colleges can learn about equity from a community-based organization


What colleges can learn about equity from a community-based organization

A conversation with the President of College Possible

Students and learning illustration

For decades, community-based organizations (CBOs) have focused their efforts on the consequences of racism – it's time we elevated their roles to achieve our shared goal of equitable student success.

Like many other college leaders, you are no doubt (re)crafting institutional and departmental plans in response to the plea for racial, gender, and other forms of equity on our college campuses. An EAB analysis found that while 82% of colleges have released solidarity statements with short-term actions, far fewer have provided long-term action steps, timelines, or success metrics. Local and community partnerships are often part of these plans; however, historically, the approach is often top-down.

We recently spoke with Craig Robinson, President of College Possible. Craig has spent most of his career working to ensure that Black, Latinx, and other underserved communities receive equitable support and guidance for their postsecondary academic pursuits. I chatted with him to discuss the roles of CBOs and how they are working alongside college leaders grappling with how to create inclusive institutions.

CBOs are privately funded nonprofits that work at the local level to meet community needs across education, health, social welfare, and other areas to ensure equity for all.

College Possible is a community-based organization founded in 2000 that uses a near-peer mentorship model to close the degree divide across race and income. Their research-based curriculum helps students to navigate institutional barriers to college preparation and persistence in seven communities across the nation.

Equity also includes minoritized identities: DACA students, adult learners, student parents, ESL, foster youth, LGBTQIA, ESL, veterans, students with disabilities, formerly and currently incarcerated.  

Craig's responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Why are CBOs so vital for our minoritized students?

Many students in these communities need advocates. Often, public schools in majority Black, Latinx, and Native areas are under-resourced and underfunded, so access to college tools, resources, knowledge, and personnel are limited. Many students choose among their best available options instead of making informed choices, which is where CBOs come in.

We show them that college is an opportunity, which is often not mentioned nor spoken about readily in homes, shelters, or fully operationalized in their schools. When there is a support need, we marshal all available resources to fulfill it.


of College Possible students progress to their second year of college versus 60% of Latinx, or 52% of Black students nationwide

How can colleges become more responsive to the needs of their minoritized students?

Do what we do: tailor your services and offerings to meet their needs. Be intentional. We partner with and are led by communities of color, so we are responsive to their needs, rather than having unrealistic expectations of what works for one type of student. We support them as a person (social, economic, and cultural), vital to student success. That is why our students are successful, and we, in turn, are as well.

Talk and listen to your students, alumni, and have thought partners who can provide a different perspective than your own. We are responsive to their needs, not reactive, and it goes a long way to building trust, especially when their voices are often still unheard in society.


What do you recommend college admissions staff do when tasked with diversifying their enrollment pipeline?

Diversity is not equity. College Possible seeks to place students in schools that will support them and have a track record that demonstrates their commitment to equitable success for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and low-income communities. If colleges tout diversity, they need to look at their student outcomes by population and determine if they are at odds with the college's aspirations and fix it. That way, CBOsand in turnparents, families, and communities of color will have more confidence sending their students your way.

Some college leaders hesitate to ask their advising staff to take on the "work" to support minoritized students. What is your take?

Colleges tend to approach supporting students in such siloed ways. I primarily view this hesitancy in two ways:

  1. They no longer understand who their students are, and
  2. They have failed to innovate their policies and practices to support them.

The reluctance isn't often about not wanting to do the work; it's usually about a lack of capacity, training, or support. This is an area of expertise for many CBOs. We can step in to complement and enhance the training, programming, and service supports provided to students.

Any words of advice for those who are entering into equity work for the first time?

  • 1. Acknowledge prior shortcomings

    Doing so will go a long way in building rapport. Otherwise, communities will know if you have been late to respond or tone-deaf and will actively disengage.

  • 2. Don't go at it alone

    A host of college, campus, and community leaders are further along in this work. If you can, become part of a cohort and community of practice with other leaders on similar journeys.

  • 3. Ask for input from, and listen to, faculty of color and student groups

    These groups have been elevating these issues, often for some time, yet…

  • 4. Beware of burning out your BIPOC employees assigned to task forces

    Be mindful of the physical and emotional bandwidth this work takes, and adjust workload and responsibilities accordingly.

  • 5. Be an honest collaborator

    Set up clear expectations for all roles and responsibilities to ensure all can continue to move the work forward. Give credit where it is due to those informing your work; however, do not expect BIPOC employees to resolve it for you

  • 6. Ensure that senior leaders in the college are accountable

    Put metrics in place that support the work. As equity experts note, insist on data disaggregation by race and ethnicity as a routine practice for all data reports to measure and evaluate progress.

CBOs have focused proficiency in creating relational support systems that value, engage, and support the student's identity and career aspirations, expanding the definition of student success.

EAB is proud to partner with College Possible through College Greenlight's role in the Moon Shot for Equity. If your college is interested in working with College Possible, you can contact them here. To find CBO partners in your local area, region, or state, visit the CCID Registry or the NCAN Member Directory.

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