Published on 2016/03/01

The Landscape Has Shifted: Finding New Ways To Serve Underserved Demographics

The EvoLLLution | The Landscape Has Shifted: Finding New Ways To Serve Underserved Demographics
With the switch in focus from access to outcomes, two-year colleges need to work even harder to create pathways to success for underserved students.

Everyone knows that the paradigm has shifted in the last few years. We went from the language of access to the language and practices of student success. At Hudson County Community College (HCCC), an urban community college in the heart of Hudson County with a majority-minority student body, we have been deeply engaged with the completion agenda and the public demand for greater student success. For us—and I hope for you—it’s a deeply moral issue as much as anything else. Getting students on track to graduation and meaningful careers matters.

What does all of this mean for real people? How can we connect this macro-level education rhetoric with real human beings down on the ground? Perhaps by two examples you can begin to see some of the connections.

Take STEM education as an example. Many Hudson County residents don’t have STEM careers on their radar; it just hasn’t shown up as a possibility for them. Engineering and technology pathways don’t exist on their maps. Our college is the gateway into higher education for many county residents and there are real jobs in STEM in New Jersey. Many of those go unfilled because qualified candidates from New Jersey aren’t available. The question becomes, how can we at the college make a difference in these trends? How can we live up to our responsibility to provide access to high-quality programming to all aspiring students?

If we can move the needle and increase minority participation in STEM career fields, we’ll have accomplished something really big, something meaningful with lasting impact for individuals and their families, something bigger than any one one of us. Isn’t that why we’re in this game?

After hearing University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski speak on the under-representation of minority students in STEM at a seminar at Harvard University a few years ago, I decided to forge a strategic initiative between HCCC and New Jersey City University to make a real difference in students’ lives. It’s one thing to learn about strategic thinking and planning, but it’s an entirely different thing—filled with lots of stuff you don’t learn at Harvard Business School—to implement strategic action. For leaders at community colleges, honing your relationship-building skills is essential. Spending quality time on outreach makes the difference.

Having a strong alignment with an external four-year partner institution makes things possible in STEM programming that the community college can’t achieve on its own. Building strong relationships with partner institutions matters. Also, internally, it was immensely helpful to build a stronger partnership with our own College Foundation and donors to support the initiatives that we know are important. They provide funding for the academic bridge programs that students need in order to place into college-level coursework, they fund professional development programs, and they helped us to access a grant to create a developmental math lab for success in foundations math classes. All of this is important at a school where a high percentage of aspiring engineers and chemists can’t place into college-level math.

One of the really big lessons I’ve learned from working at a community college is to keep alignment and partnership issues front and center. Alignment skills are so important for leaders since the temptation for staff is to work in separate domains. The need to transfer and continue on is greater than ever before; students need to be prepared well at the community college so that they can flourish at the baccalaureate institution.

Having robust partnerships with baccalaureate partners and graduate degree institutions has become increasingly important and much of my time is spent on these relationships. The end result is that students benefit and lives are changed. Recently HCCC and NJCU announced a new set of Provost’s scholarships whereby Hispanic students can apply for one of ten full-tuition scholarships. This takes collaboration and mutual goal-setting. We have innovative agreements with NJCU, Rutgers University, Saint Peter’s University, Fairleigh Dickenson University, NJIT and others that lead to BSN degrees, MBA’s, and even Ph.D.’s in STEM areas.

Here’s another example: K-20 pathways. Today’s higher education leaders need to innovate. That’s a given. I created a task force to revisit our articulations and to find ways to make the agreements more tangible and real for students. Having an agreement in a binder on a shelf is not going to support student success. Our focus is beyond articulation, we are pressing the K-20 continuum and creating dual-admit agreements and pathways programs so that students can see themselves down the path beyond the associate’s degree towards a BA or BS degree and beyond. We have also partnered with colleges who offer bachelors degree completion on our campus. By dually-admitting students into post-community-college programs, we make it much harder for students to drop out and give up on their dreams. And we start it all before college by offering college courses to hundreds of students while they are still in high school. In the fall, we will be launching a complete Environmental Studies associate’s degree program at the Hudson County Schools of Technology, a high school partner.

Coming to a community college means much more than completing a couple of years of coursework at a reduced tuition rate. It means planting your feet firmly on a path to advanced degrees and a life previously unimagined. Providing scholarship opportunities that didn’t exist before keeps the dream alive. Partnering with other institutions to offer credits to students that help cut down on the time to completion makes the difference between going and not going to college.

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