A recent report by the Joint Center for Policy and Economic Studies on the sharp decline in the number of black male students at community colleges is a stark reminder that our sector must accelerate critical work to ensure the academic success of black male students.
In light of decades of declining enrollment and historically low enrollment among Black, Latino, and Indigenous students, our work is an uphill battle, but not an insurmountable one. The pandemic has deepened the need to transform our institutions to be more student-centered while mindful of the unique needs of racially marginalized students.
While it is tempting to look at all the external factors that affect each institution’s ability to address the larger societal issue of historical racism, our colleges will not make significant progress without systematically addressing their institutional structures and practices that perpetuate inequities.
Economist Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce makes a compelling case that American higher education, because of its prominence in economic life, is now “a keystone of an educational system that is the primary cause of the reproduction of racial and class privilege across generations.” Carnevale says , that postsecondary education and training “replicates and exacerbates the inequality inherited from the pre-K–12 system. It then projects this inequality into labor markets, housing markets, and local school districts, guaranteeing the intergenerational transmission of racial and class privilege.”
Since its inception, Achieving the Dream has focused on helping institutions achieve more equitable outcomes in student success. In recent years, we have realized the need to go beyond incremental change and help institutions recognize our country’s persistent racism in order to create more just institutions. Beginning in 2020, ATD partnered with the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center to create the Racial Equity Leadership Academy (RELA), an intensive institute that supports community college leadership teams in developing strategic plans for racial equity and consciously removing barriers to equity. in their institutions.
Over the past two years, the first cohort of 10 institutions implemented challenging racial equity change efforts and conversations to accelerate cultural change at their institutions, focusing on three key areas:
· Introducing inclusive pedagogy and classroom practice that provide more personalized, research-based approaches to teaching and learning that build on what students already know, introduce relevance, higher order thinking, real-world problem solving that helps students “own” what they are learning.
· Diversifying teacher hiring and increasing retention of racial minority teachers so that they are as racially and ethnically diverse as the students they serve. We also know that this can help further create a sense of belonging that leads to increased student achievement.
· Enhancing professional learning encourage staff and faculty to continually improve their practice by creating structures and opportunities for ongoing collaborative learning and research-based practice development that support student success.
What ATD Colleges do
Mott Community College (ME) seeks to be intentional about equity and inclusivity by encouraging all members of the community to be agents of change to address systemic racism, critique higher education systems to remove barriers for people of color, eliminate deficit mindsets that label minority students as problems, and implement inclusive practices . While MCC’s own equity audit showed that the college is taking significant steps to promote inclusivity in education, the audit found a perceived lack of infrastructure that formally institutionalizes systems, processes, communications, programming, and accountability metrics for diversity, equity, and inclusion. MCC is introducing a new framework for leaders to promote critical thinking, professional development and community accountability. This framework encourages decision makers to establish data goals for implementing programs and practices and measuring impact that reflect changes in access, retention, completion, and/or workforce statistics for staff and student groups.
Anne Arundel Community College (MD) creates ongoing opportunities and expectations for college staff to examine policies that adversely affect racial minority students, faculty, and staff. The institution aims to prevent discrimination and microaggressions by creating a clear understanding of what racial equality means, cultivating an environment for meaningful, respectful interactions across racial/ethnic groups; and helping faculty engage in justice-minded, culturally responsive pedagogical approaches and practices. A key focus to achieving these goals is to incorporate race-conscious and equitable criteria into annual performance reviews.
Pierce College (WA) is overhauling its faculty hiring and tenure process. The college implements cluster hiring of faculty with demonstrated experience and commitment to teaching, mentoring, and/or engaging in service to Black and Brown students; help these students navigate higher education; and implementing culturally relevant pedagogy, all with the goal of focusing excellence in black and brown students. The first-year faculty cohort participates in a community of practice with other tenured faculty and is encouraged to bring their lived experiences and authentic selves to contribute to discourse and action in support of all students, especially Black and Brown students.
Leadership for culture change
A critical foundation of this work was building broad leadership on campus committed to racial equity change. In the words of Austin Community College’s Racial Equity Leadership Team, culture change requires daily reinforcement; new structures, policies and procedures; strategic and symbolic action; and continually put questions of racial equity at the center of institutional transformation. Leadership also requires the ability to advance a multi-layered, actionable strategy through a series of short-term racial justice efforts that demonstrate what can be achieved through effective implementation and collaboration.
ATD is currently identifying a new cohort of institutions to participate in RELA. The next cohort will develop a new vision for their campus’s racial equity work and launch a racial equity change effort with a comprehensive action plan that aligns with their college’s strategic plan and student success initiatives.
Francesca I. Carpenter is Director of Equity Initiatives at Achieving the Dream.