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Celebrating Black History Month: How Community Colleges Can Continue Eliminating Barriers for Black Students

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of the Black community throughout history. In the realm of education, community colleges play a vital role in breaking down barriers and creating pathways to success for Black students, who can face unique challenges due to both historical and systemic factors.

Community colleges can serve as beacons of hope, offering accessible, affordable education that caters to diverse needs. They understand the intersectional challenges faced by Black students and implement targeted initiatives to address them. Community colleges were among the first institutions to address accessibility to food, housing, transportation and other basic needs. These programs are proven to help all students and are areas where community colleges distinguish themselves as innovators. By their very nature, many community colleges are best positioned to pursue comprehensive efforts that serve to dismantle systemic barriers, promote inclusive policies and foster equitable opportunities for all communities. Read on for our thoughts on why:

Dismantling Systemic Barriers – Before a student walks onto campus for their first day of school, they have already moved through myriad processes that require specific knowledge, ample amounts of time and certain skill sets. Community colleges lead the way in easing application to college by offering simplified applications, affordable classes and clear pathways to careers. These initiatives help students enter college, but barriers are rebuilt once students arrive on campus. Access to computers and internet connectivity to complete coursework are two areas where many colleges aim to address student needs, but they remain issues identified as barriers for students. Computer labs and loaner programs for laptops and hotspots aim to address these concerns, but the digital divide continues, while as many as 64% of students experience unstable internet connection because of the bandwidth required for online components. Implementing and maintaining adequate feedback loops surrounding programs showcase a school’s commitment to continuing to address barriers while also ensuring that the programs in place are providing the desired outcomes.

Promoting Inclusive Policies – There are multiple policy adjustments that colleges can make to ensure that their campuses are places of belonging for all students and staff.  Does your campus have recruitment and retention initiatives to ensure that students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds are targeted? Do retention initiatives include mentorship programs or support services for underrepresented groups? Campuses can adopt inclusive curriculum policies to support the idea that every classroom will reflect diverse perspectives and experiences. Implementing procedures for community engagement and dialogue surrounding belonging and inclusivity creates a feedback loop showcasing a campus that is committed to supporting all students, faculty and staff.

Fostering Equitable Opportunities for All Communities – Fostering equitable opportunities requires a commitment and focus to ensure that education and related support services are accessible, affordable and inclusive. Going beyond tuition and financial aid, open admission policies and flexible scheduling are two ways that colleges can ensure equitable opportunities for all students. Looking at the broader college experience, reinvesting in social engagement activities can help students connect with others who share common interests and backgrounds outside of the classroom. Fostering this sense of belonging on campus assists with retention and student success efforts.

Black History Month isn’t just about celebrating the past; it’s about shaping a more just future. By supporting community colleges as the nation’s leaders in higher education diversity, we can break down barriers and provide all students, especially those from marginalized communities, with the opportunity to reach their full potential. Working together, we can build a brighter future where every student, regardless of their background, has the chance to thrive and succeed.

About the Author

Dontrese Brown

Dontrese has created positive change throughout the state using a combination of business acumen, marketing, design, and strategic planning. He has a strong commitment to community development and social justice. Dontrese brings a distinguished educational background, including a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Georgetown College, a Master...

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