Complete College America Helping Black Community College Students

Posted November 8, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Five community college students gather on a lawn, with laptops and papers in front of them. They are seated and are reviewing both the laptop screens and papers. Four students are female, and one is male.

Look­ing to improve post­sec­ondary out­comes for Black stu­dents, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has made a $500,000 grant to the non­prof­it Com­plete Col­lege Amer­i­ca (CCA) to work with com­mu­ni­ty col­lege lead­ers to strength­en pro­grams and improve stu­dent retention.

Com­mu­ni­ty col­leges have faced deep declines in enroll­ment as a result of the pan­dem­ic. For Black stu­dents — espe­cial­ly Black males — who have dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly suf­fered ill­ness­es, finan­cial strain and job loss­es, the num­bers have been par­tic­u­lar­ly stark. Accord­ing to Inside High­er Ed, the num­ber of Black male stu­dents enrolled in pub­lic two-year insti­tu­tions plunged 21.5% from the spring of 2020 to spring 2021.

Hop­ing to reverse these trends, Com­plete Col­lege Amer­i­ca will pro­vide tech­ni­cal assis­tance to two dozen com­mu­ni­ty col­leges serv­ing pre­dom­i­nant­ly Black stu­dents with the goal of improv­ing grad­u­a­tion rates and giv­ing stu­dents a bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ty to move into well-pay­ing jobs. Most of these com­mu­ni­ty col­leges are in the South — includ­ing a group of eight in Alaba­ma, four in South Car­oli­na, four in Louisiana and three in Arkansas. Oth­er col­leges tak­ing part are locat­ed in Illi­nois, Mass­a­chu­setts and Michigan.

A key focus of CCA’s work will be improv­ing how col­leges meet stu­dents’ basic needs, includ­ing hous­ing, health care, child care and trans­porta­tion, to help them over­come obsta­cles that can derail their col­lege stud­ies. CCA will also work with col­leges to align their aca­d­e­m­ic and train­ing pro­grams with local work­force opportunities. 

A Focus on Data and Peer Learn­ing to Boost Stu­dent Achievement

As part of the ini­tia­tive, par­tic­i­pat­ing col­leges will receive help to shore up their data sys­tems and prac­tices — includ­ing to dis­ag­gre­gate by race and eth­nic­i­ty — so they’re bet­ter able to devel­op strate­gies that address under­ly­ing gaps. 

Com­plete Col­lege Amer­i­ca will also facil­i­tate peer learn­ing among the col­leges, enabling offi­cials from each insti­tu­tion to share chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties and, ulti­mate­ly, strength­en how their respec­tive cam­pus­es serve stu­dents. With­in their states, par­tic­i­pat­ing col­leges will come togeth­er to advo­cate for greater pub­lic fund­ing to serve their students. 

This invest­ment will cre­ate even greater oppor­tu­ni­ties for [stu­dents] to meet their goals and posi­tion them to have increased eco­nom­ic and social mobil­i­ty,” says Dr. Yolan­da Wat­son Spi­va, pres­i­dent of CCA. The work we are embark­ing upon is tru­ly remark­able, and we hope it will serve as a mod­el for insti­tu­tion­al trans­for­ma­tion in the two-year sector.”

The part­ner­ship with Com­plete Col­lege Amer­i­ca is part of Casey’s broad­er invest­ments to improve low-income stu­dents’ post­sec­ondary outcomes.

Com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents are often jug­gling their edu­ca­tion with work and fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties, mak­ing it a chal­lenge to stay enrolled and grad­u­ate,” says Quanic Fullard, a pro­gram asso­ciate who over­sees many of the Casey Foundation’s two-gen­er­a­tion invest­ments. This ini­tia­tive can pro­vide com­mu­ni­ty col­lege lead­ers with new tools to sup­port these stu­dents and keep them on track to grad­u­a­tion and stronger oppor­tu­ni­ties in the workplace.”

Learn more about efforts to help com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents succeed

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