Community colleges lay lifelines for people of color


Yashana Rivera believed that a tough freshman year 10 years ago ended her college days. But a community college gave him confidence and empowered him to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse.

Why is this important: As tuition and application fees skyrocket, community colleges are offering working class students, immigrants and students of color like Rivera are more affordable, flexible path to middle-class careers.

Details: From the Navajo Nation to the struggling old industrial towns of New England, community colleges are the front line in helping people lift themselves out of poverty.

  • Their programs offer a diverse faculty and quickly prepare students for jobs in healthcare, technology and education.
  • Community college students enter four-year universities with less debt only if they paid the full tuition fees at the university from the start of the first year.
  • Flexible class schedules and online classes allow working students and single parents to attend part-time, take classes in the evenings, and around childcare needs.
  • It is a world that gave Rivera, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who raised their family in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a stimulating environment for continuing nursing care.

Develop the graph

Data: NCES (IPEDS); Adapted from AACC; Graphic: Axios Visuals

In numbers : People of color today make up the majority of students attending about 1,000 community colleges in the United States, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

  • The average tuition fee in the state for a public community college is $ 3,770 per year, compared to $ 10,560 at a four-year public university, based on 2020-2021 data.
  • About 2.4 million community college students attend full-time, while 4.4 million are part-time.

How it works: Many community colleges have open enrollment, which allows students to forgo expensive entrance exam preparation courses and lengthy application processes – systemic barriers that to put college out of reach for some students of color.

  • Schools partner with local businesses, tribal governments and nearby high-tech labs offer students internships and jobs during and after graduation.
  • They have dedicated departments that facilitate the process of transferring students to four-year colleges, although some now also offer four-year degrees.
Yashana Rivera, Nursing graduate from Northern Essex Community College in 2021. Photo: NECC

What they say : “They provide the support we need. And they fill those gaps. Some of us have knowledge deficits. Some of us are learning English. Rivera, a graduate of Essex Community College, told Axios.

  • Rivera received her associate’s degree in nursing at the age of 29, while working. “There is no timeline for success here.”
  • “I don’t feel like I’m being judged for where I’m from. I can just focus on being a student,” said Miguel Eagle, a 22-year-old student at Oglala Lakota College, a school on Oglala Sioux. tribal land in South Dakota that offers associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
  • Eagle is seeking a degree in Lakota Studies with a focus on Cultural Tourism and wishes to pursue graduate studies at Stanford.
Vlad Ventura and Miguel Eagle. Photos: Courtesy of the students

Yes, but: Historically unfunded community colleges sometimes serve areas facing population declines and population reductions, highlighting fragile financial models of schools based on enrollment growth, a 2021 report of the Association of Community College Trustees found.

  • Tribal community colleges may struggle to find regular local funding sources, and other community colleges have come under fire for not updating curricula to meet career needs in the tech-driven economy.

What to watch: Community colleges are actively address labor shortages in the country in education, law enforcement and technology, and find workers in these jobs as quickly as possible.

  • Vlad Ventura, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, took advantage of a program at Northern Essex Community College which recently placed him Liberty Mutual IT internship.
  • “I don’t know if I could have done it without them,” Ventura told Axios. He plans to move to UMass-Lowell.


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