Community Colleges | OP-ED
Offer Essential Steppingstones to BIPOC Students
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Over the last several years, we’ve seen the nationwide conversation around inequities in our society take on new emphasis and urgency. More people are talking about disparities and grappling with the systemic forces that limit opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Yet the fact remains: Significant inequality still exists in America.
National Community College Month serves as an important reminder that our nation’s community colleges should be an area of focus. Giving BIPOC students the assistance they need to attend community college and increasing funding for colleges to provide enhanced education services and related resources would deepen a proven path forward for these students.
America’s community colleges serve as a vital connector for a diverse cross section of America to greater prosperity and happiness through education, support services and employment opportunities. That’s especially true of the robust network of community colleges here in the Greater Philadelphia area.
More BIPOC students than ever are pursuing higher education, according to research from the Institute for College Access & Success. Yet “long-term disinvestment in public colleges and universities, in addition to longstanding racial and economic injustice, continue to disproportionately harm BIPOC students,” the group concludes.
Community colleges can help students overcome barriers to pursuing higher education by fostering a broad range of education experiences. The first is a more workable balance of the realities of education and daily life. Through flexible scheduling and hybrid course loads, students can continue learning without putting the other aspects of their life on hold. At Montgomery County Community College, we support those non-academic parts of a student’s life further through extensive wellness and mental health support as well as a one-of-a-kind partnership with Benefits Data Trust. BDT is a national nonprofit based in Philadelphia that connects people in need to critical public benefits to help them afford food, healthcare, housing, and more.
The second shift in perspective is a more practical approach to preparing students to enter the workforce. Community colleges work to connect students with engaged business leaders and employers.
Finally, community college offers an affordable path to deeper knowledge and a degree.
We should not overlook the impact community college is already having in enhancing access and opportunity for BIPOC students. Community college campuses are naturally diverse spaces, embracing a wide range of perspectives and lived experiences. We have an opportunity to build on these prospects by giving students greater financial assistance to attend community college and funding the institutions where they can thrive.
(*) Chair of the Board of Trustees at Montgomery County Community College