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Study: Most Community Colleges

Study: Most Community Colleges
Not Fully Prepared for Demographic Shift

By David Pluviose

A majority of community college presidents say they are only “somewhat prepared” for the rise of the “minority majority” student population, according to survey results released at the 86th American Association of Community Colleges convention last month.

With minorities outnumbering or posed to outnumber Whites in several states, many community college presidents are concerned about how to meet the educational needs of the rapidly growing minority student body. That concern was among many cited in “Community Colleges Today: The Presidents Speak,” a survey of 251 AACC-member college leaders on the most pressing issues their colleges face.

Minorities now outnumber Whites in California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas, while Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, and New York are next in line with minority populations of about 40 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But, only 16 percent of community college leaders say they are “highly prepared” for America’s anticipated demographic shift, and 57 percent are “somewhat prepared” to meet the demands of this rising population. Ten percent say they are “not at all prepared,” while 16 percent say this phenomenon is “not relevant” to their institution.

Their chief concern — the lack of a diverse faculty that can educate the growing population of Hispanics who are fueling the demographic shift.

“The employees typically have one profile; the students have a different profile,” says Dr. Robert G. Templin Jr., president of Northern Virginia Community College. “If you look at community college faculty and administrators, they tend not to be drawn from the very populations that they’re serving.

“It’s no longer enough to have some Latino faculty. We need Latino faculty from Mexico, Central America, parts of South America, because those cultures are different — just as with Africans and African-Americans,” Templin says. “Our metrics of how we measure diversity among our faculty are out of date.”

Dr. Charlene R. Nunley, president of Montgomery College in Rockville, Md., says the lack of faculty diversity makes the search for faculty that much more competitive.

“You’ve got to have people on your campus that your diverse students can identify with. You’ve got to have people who understand their issues and their culture,” she says. “It’s tough, because there aren’t that many people coming out of the graduate programs that are Latino and African-American. It’s not good enough to say, ‘There’s nobody out there; I can’t find anyone.’ You’ve got to find them.”

Dr. Betty Young, president of Northwest State Community College in Archbold, Ohio, says the popularity of community colleges among some minority groups allows the colleges to create their own pipeline right on campus.

“Those students are entering our colleges, and so our biggest goal that we should have is to make sure that we expose that group of students early to the possibility of transfer and career paths in higher education,” she says. Once they earn their degrees, Young says their connections to community college will bring many of them back as faculty.

Nunley says that although her college’s student population has been mostly minority for years, preparing her school for this demographic shift has been a monumental undertaking.

“When you change in this diverse way, you have to fundamentally change your institution,” she says. “You have to change the language skills of your frontline people in admissions, registration and records. You have to create international student offices. You have to change the art so people feel their culture is represented. You have to change the food — fundamentally change the way you do business.”

The study also found that community college leaders are almost universally confident that their institutions provide high-quality educations, but 58 percent say a lack of state and local funding threatens that. 

Ninety percent of the leaders believe that “performance-based funding” isn’t an effective option for community colleges, with 38 percent of respondents calling the idea “very unreasonable.” Just more than 60 percent say it’s very likely that they will be able to keep their schools affordable, despite rising tuition costs and decreasing state and federal funding. Also, community colleges are at the vanguard of distance learning as 98 percent of respondents’ institutions offer online courses.

Though minority groups have become the majority at many community colleges, some non-urban schools say they have difficulty attracting minority students. Seventy-one percent of the leaders believe the enrollment gap between Whites and minorities will either shrink (39 percent) or hold steady (32 percent), as more community colleges become “minority majority” institutions.

Queensborough Community College President Eduardo J. Martí says public support for increasing community college funding is needed to close this enrollment gap.

“It’s an issue of capacity. What you’re really talking about is how willing is society to recognize the societal need for education and how willing is society, meaning taxpayers, to put their money where their mouth is in terms of funding community colleges, which is, after all, the place where most minorities and most of the immigrants are [coming,]” he says.

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