Improving community college persistence has been an ongoing challenge for decades, but this is especially true for Black and Latino men who stop out at higher rates than white men. In fact, out of all associate’s degrees awarded in 2019, just 10.4% were awarded to Black and 23.4% were awarded to Latino male students compared to 54.7% awarded to white students. EAB recently spoke with more than 20 community college presidents to learn about the initiatives they've enacted to increase the retention of their Black and Latino male students. Read on to learn more about their most promising strategies.
1. Provide wraparound support through cohort programs
It’s well known that cohort programs provide social and academic support for students and can improve retention and graduation rates, particularly among Black and Latino men. These cohort programs do not need to be robust or expensive and can thrive even with limited institutional oversight and greater student involvement in day-to-day operations. One community college president mentioned that an event as simple as group bowling could provide a social benefit for students who tend to spend limited time on campus outside of classes.
Ensuring all Black and Latino men can reap the benefits of cohort programs at community colleges has proven challenging in an environment where the majority of students are enrolled part-time and spend less time on campus. Several community college presidents noted that students who participate in mentorship and cohort programming were more likely to be engaged on their campuses.
Fresno City College implemented a faculty-student mentorship program, PUENTE, in which the students then go on to mentor middle school students in their local community after graduating from a four-year institution. While aspects of cohort programs varied, their benefits for students are clear.
2. Encourage a balance between work and learning by aligning program structures to students' work and career goals
Many community college students pursue a higher education credential while working part or full-time. Several community college presidents told us that flexible credential options best serve working Black and Latino male students by allowing students to either work while earning credits through an apprenticeship or internship, or schedule classes around their work schedule.
Most community colleges already offer various opportunities more flexible than traditional degrees, like short-term and stackable credentials. We know that students want the opportunity to earn short-term credentials, but these can end up feeling like a “dead end” when job requirements are rapidly changing or when tasks are becoming automated, like medical billing.
To combat this cycle, our community college partners began thinking of ways to keep students enrolled long-term and working toward full degrees that provide a wider range of job opportunities. One such option is stackable credentials while another is “learn and earn” opportunities like for-credit internships and apprenticeships.
While these types of credentials aren't a new concept, community college presidents stress that these are critical tools for supporting their working Black and Latino male students. Creating clear frameworks for stacking credentials can help these students chart their paths to earning a degree.
3. Collaborate with community partners to mitigate staffing and resource gaps
The pandemic tightened up budgets across the higher ed landscape, particularly at community colleges. As a result, many mentorship and career prep initiatives designed specifically for Black and Latino men stalled at best and were abandoned at worst. The community college presidents EAB spoke to provide an alternative: collaborating with community organizations to fill in the gap.
One president described a collaboration with the local Chamber of Commerce and an economic development group that yielded $300,000 for a mentorship program. The program matches white-collar business professionals with Black and Latino men from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. New research indicates these types of relationships can help students climb the economic ladder.
Another president shared the benefits of collaborating with a local organization that served Black men in the community. The college was working with limited resources, but the organization—one similar to 100 Black Men—helped connect Black male students with Black business professionals leading to improved graduation rates for Black male students. This community partner works similarly with high school students, a demographic that community college presidents hope to engage more.
4. Don't just engage high school seniors—get students' attention earlier
Leaders emphasized the value of providing dual or concurrent enrollment opportunities for all levels of high school students. Riverland Community College President, Adenuga Atewologun, shared that his college’s dual enrollment program enrolls high numbers of Black and Latino boys from local high schools.
Students enroll in college classes, earning credit before their higher education careers officially begin. Riverland Community College also works with families throughout the program to make sure they know that the early college program comes at no cost to them, despite an average college course costing around $2,000. Atewologun stressed the increased importance of these cost savings in the current climate of inflation.
5. Make hiring practices more inclusive so tomorrow's students can learn from faculty who look like them
Nearly all of the presidents we spoke to agreed that the racial/ethnic makeup of faculty at two-year institutions isn’t diverse enough. Presidents fully understand the need for faculty of color and that their presence alone can increase sense of belonging for Black and Latino men. One community college leader shared that hiring diverse faculty can’t stop at an inclusive job ad or candidate diversity statement; hiring committees must also be diverse.
Departments with homogeneous faculty can outsource hiring committee members from another campus department to increase gender or racial/ethnic diversity. Every step of the hiring process should have a bias failsafe to widen the pipeline for faculty of color. Lastly, two-year leaders were also unanimous about hiring diverse faculty being only one side of the coin; equally as critical are practices to retain faculty of color, such as evaluating and measuring service workload as well as expanding teaching assessment criteria beyond student evaluation.
Practices like these ensure that Black and Latino male students at your college not only have a strong sense of belonging but opportunities to persist and thrive in higher education. Read EAB’s Streamline Onboarding and Promote First Year Student Success Roadmap to learn more about how to ensure continued student retention through the critical first year.
What we shared with community college leaders
EAB recently held a roundtable event for community college presidents to discuss their most pressing challenges. Uncover the highlights from the event and access the presentation we shared on The Crisis of Men in Higher Education.
More on community college student success
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