Underserved students’ greatest barriers to equitable outcomes

Expert Insight

Underserved students’ greatest barriers to equitable outcomes

Community colleges have been tasked to fill the country’s growing workforce need. To do so, they must address the achievement gaps that hinder student completion. As the number of underserved student populations attending two-year institutions continues to grow, community college leaders have expressed their resolution to serve these students by providing equitable opportunities that will lead to viable career options.

Wanted: Wrap-around advising services

Because equity initiatives strive to promote better academic outcomes and encourage completion, they are typically evaluated in terms of academic performance. But when we asked administrators where they would like to focus their solutions, the most common answer was non-academic support. Of all possible solutions, advising services have been the most frequently cited practices in need of expansion and revision.

College leaders know that recruiting underrepresented students is key to promoting equity; however, the need to provide additional support reaches far beyond enrollment. These students continue to face a host of unique challenges after they’ve arrived on campus. Many colleges are working to equip students with the information and tools necessary to navigate existing policies and procedures via holistic advising and dedicated support for special populations.

The double-edged sword of workforce demand

Booming labor markets can act as both an equity driver and detriment. The rising need for educated workers presents an opportunity for community colleges to advance student outcomes, yet high workforce demand can come at a surprising cost. We’ve heard from several college presidents that workforce growth and competitive wages are convincing students to stop out prior to completion. Unknowingly, these students risk their future financial stability by foregoing a credential.

Colleges are working to promote success for their underserved students by highlighting the value of completion as a driver of long-term job security—not just near-term job placement. Some colleges have relied on partnerships with local employers and experiential learning opportunities, such as apprenticeships, to incentivize students to earn a credential and help them become more competitive candidates in the workforce.

Recognize the unique challenges of part-time students

Part-time students must often manage demands beyond their academic coursework, leaving them with fewer opportunities to fully immerse themselves in the campus environment. Without strong ties to the college, their motivation to complete can diminish over time. Leaders find this especially challenging since the typical ways of promoting student affinity—such as cohort initiatives and co-curricular activities—are not as accessible to part-time students.

As we continue exploring this topic over the next few months, we look forward to hearing from you about the biggest challenges and priorities when it comes to promoting equitable student outcomes on your campus.

12 practices to guide students from application to first-year success

For more information on promoting student completion, explore our best practice research study Preventing Early Attrition. Download the study.

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