Helping Working Community College Students Succeed

Posted March 13, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog strategiestohelpcommunitycollegestudents 2018

Many com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents engage in a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act — work­ing to sup­port their fam­i­lies while also strug­gling to pay for school.

Com­mu­ni­ty col­leges have a pow­er­ful role to play in this jour­ney, accord­ing to a new report from Achiev­ing the Dream, a non­prof­it devot­ed to help­ing com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents thrive.

The report, Progress, Cam­pus Pro­files, and Pre­lim­i­nary Lessons from the Work­ing Stu­dents Suc­cess Net­work, checks in on 19 com­mu­ni­ty col­leges that are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Work­ing Stu­dents Suc­cess Net­work. Fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, this ini­tia­tive aims to bun­dle sup­port for stu­dents in three key areas. These areas are:

  1. Edu­ca­tion and career readiness.
  2. Income and work.
  3. Finan­cial ser­vices and assets.

When the par­tic­i­pat­ing col­leges bun­dled their sup­port ser­vices — instead of deliv­er­ing them piece­meal — low-income stu­dents ben­e­fit­ed and received both encour­age­ment and assis­tance with their most press­ing needs. Among the most promis­ing prac­tices iden­ti­fied in the report:

  • deliv­er­ing ser­vices one-on-one: pro­vid­ing indi­vid­ual atten­tion helped stu­dents with all man­ner of sup­ports, from basic needs to teach­ing finan­cial lit­er­a­cy tools; and
  • offer­ing ser­vices in a cen­tral loca­tion: a one-stop shop approach made infor­ma­tion easy to access and digest.

The research offers sol­id lessons for how we can help low-income stu­dents stay in school and com­plete their post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion with the finan­cial skills to thrive,” said Rosa Maria Cas­tañe­da, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion. By using this across-the-board approach, col­leges can place stu­dents on the path to success.”

While ear­ly find­ings have been promis­ing, the study high­lights some chal­lenges to sus­tain­ing this work. Hur­dles include:

  • lim­it­ed resources at col­leges, which can under­cut endur­ing change on a sys­tem-wide level;
  • a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between those deliv­er­ing the ser­vices and the aca­d­e­m­ic deci­sion-mak­ers; and
  • fac­ul­ty disengagement.

These col­leges have made impor­tant insti­tu­tion­al changes to ful­ly sup­port their stu­dents,” says Cas­tañe­da of the report’s find­ings. Their expe­ri­ences give us hope that when a holis­tic approach is tak­en, it tru­ly can help break down the bar­ri­ers that hin­der per­sis­tence and grad­u­a­tion, and it can put low-income stu­dents on bet­ter foot­ing for today’s job market.”

Read the report

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