Over the last decade, numerous reports have documented very low graduation rates among community college students, and proposed strategies to address the problem (Billings, 2018, Bailey, Smith Jaggars and Jenkins 2015, Scrivener and Coghlan, 2011.) Nationally, fewer than 40 percent of community college students earn a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment (Bailey et al. 2015) Streamlining developmental or remedial courses, intensifying academic advising, encouraging students to attend full-time and guiding students into clear career pathways have been identified as intervention strategies.
There has been less commentary about the effects of poverty and the resulting non-academic barriers that prevent students from achieving academic success. Nationally, approximately 36 percent of community college students come from low-income families (earning $20,000 or less, Community College Research Center, Teachers College). At Capital, nearly 65 percent receive financial assistance. The percentage of students attending college full-time at Capital is low, approximately 80 percent. It can be assumed that most Capital students attend part-time because of economic and family responsibilities. As a result, the retention strategy of fostering full-time attendance is untenable for many Capital students. Until the time that free tuition is offered, we must focus on the other strategies to increase student success.
The challenges of poverty do not disappear when a student enrolls in college. Unlike the K-12 system, higher education, while one of the pathways out of poverty, is not designed to support the basic needs of students experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, physical and mental health as well as the lack of childcare and reliable transportation. As a result, an initiative to address these needs is an essential part of a comprehensive approach to increasing student academic success.
According to Temple University higher education policy professor, Sara Goldrick-Rab, “There are no nationally representative studies available to look at these problems. The federal government is the only one who collects that sort of information on college students, and they don’t ask a single question about food or housing insecurity. So the only way we can get information about this is by asking colleges’ permission to survey their students. This is an area of research that receives almost no funding.” This grant opportunity will allow us to acquire this information, so we can better meet the needs of our students, as well as provide much needed data from which sound policy decisions can be made.
Extensive evidence indicates that completing a credential or degree beyond a high school diploma improves employment outcomes and earnings for individuals (Carnevale, Anthony P., Jeff Strohl, Ban Cheah, and Neil Ridley 2017, Belfield and Bailey 2017). Community colleges have the potential to play a pivotal role in providing a pathway to upward economic mobility because of their ability to reach a large population of low-income and minority students. In 2017, Connecticut community colleges enrolled 52 percent of all undergraduates in the state (2017 Connecticut Higher Education System Data and Trends Report) Furthermore, community colleges serve a large share of the country’s non-white and non-native English speaking undergraduates; 56 percent of Native Americans, 52 percent of Hispanics, 43 percent of African-Americans, and 40 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders (Mann Levesque 2018). At Capital, less than 1 percent identify as Native American, 30 percent identify as Hispanic, 40 percent as Black or African-American and 5 percent as Asian. Therefore, improving credentialing rates among Capital Community College students is not only an economic issue for the Greater Hartford region, but an issue of equity. Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.