Community colleges and HBCUs forge partnerships to elevate students

“Racial, social and economic inequalities are not new, they go back to how our country was founded. After the decimation of Native Americans and after slavery, the way of life was separate and unequal.

This was Dr. Monica Parrish Trent speaking at the virtual DREAM 2022 convention, hosted by Achieving the Dream (ATD), a network of 300 community colleges including HBCUs and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).

Trent, ATD Vice President for Network Engagement, participated in a conversation with community college and HBCU stakeholders about the challenges they face due to historical underfunding and how , despite their small size and endowments, they continued to bring social and economic improvement. out of poverty, not only for their students but also for the communities around them.

“We find that students in community colleges, HBCUs, TCUs have complex lives, they work one or more jobs, take care of themselves and children, or other family members. They have little time and resources for education,” Trent said. “Shifting the focus from outcomes to inputs is essential to ensure that students are equally supported in achieving their goals.”

During a panel discussion, three college presidents from North Carolina institutions shared exactly how they needed to be creative despite budget constraints.

Dr. Lawrence Rouse, president of Pitt Community College.“Seventy-five percent (75%) of our budget is for staff,” said Dr. Lawrence Rouse, president of Pitt Community College in Winterville. “If there is a vacancy, we ask if there is a need to fill it, or if we can redistribute or redesign the position.”

The three institutions represented are located near or in areas of high poverty, where many residents are people of color. Suzanne Walsh, president of Bennett College, a women-only HBCU in Greensboro, said 75% of her students receive Pell scholarships. Bennett used funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to redistribute their budget, allowing them to establish a robust mental health support program for students, much needed during the pandemic.

“When you have a lot of first-generation Pell recipients, having wraparound supports is key,” Walsh said. “It’s not just what we do in the classroom, we have to wrap ourselves around our students. Without the CARES Act, [I don’t know] what we will do next year, and what compromises will we make, how will we stay nimble.

Staying nimble, being able to pivot and think flexibly on a limited budget, allows these community colleges and HBCUs to support their students and the communities around them.

“Our motto is ‘educate and empower to succeed’. We really believe in it,” Rouse said. “We’re making sure to reach out to these underserved communities, making sure we go into these communities and say, ‘You belong in Pitt. And we are starting to see results.

Dr. Janet Spriggs, president of Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, said her institution has made it a strategic goal that 80% of graduating students continue to a four-year partner institution or gain employment in the area. It’s a conscious effort to “help eradicate poverty”, she said.

“We have to be close to the people we are trying to lift. We need to change cycles of poverty that have existed for generations,” Spriggs said. “Equitable economic mobility focuses on access. The rest is about making students successful members of society who can help make a difference in their community. Don’t give them a degree that just propels them.

Suzanne Walsh, president of Bennett College.Suzanne Walsh, president of Bennett College.Pitt Community College has established a program designed to interact with justice-related members of its local population. Its “Re-Entry” program ensures that newly released students are fully supported with comprehensive services, providing the guidance needed for a successful and productive new life.

Walsh said one of the few silver linings to come from the pandemic was how she opened Bennett College to the public. The college became a welcoming site for black doctors coming to North Carolina, and testing and vaccinations were offered to the community on their campus.

“The community trusts us,” Walsh said. “We don’t have high walls or gates. It inspired us to engage with people in our immediate neighborhood, a way for us to focus on being a whole, healthy community. »

Spriggs said every day her staff, faculty, and administration make the choice to connect their work with “a sense of responsibility, accepting the role of leaders, of catalysts in advancing social mobility. [We work] to create that culture of belonging that not only says, “We’re going to help you do better than before,” but, “We invite and welcome you to this high-quality public institution, where we’re your partner on this journey. learning you are, in the classroom and outside of the classroom.

Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected]

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