Voices and Viewpoints

“One Size Does Not Fit All”: Bringing Resources and Sharing High Impact Practices at Minority Serving Community Colleges.

by Edmund Graham III / Dec 16, 2015

Over the past couple of months students of color from campuses across the country have been raising concerns over issues related to campus climate, more specifically overt and covert forms of racism that impact their higher education experience. Many of these protests have taken place at selective, four-year colleges such as University of Missouri, Yale University, and our very own University of Illinois. At the most basic level the protests highlight flaws in one size fits all approaches to higher education. The protests also signal a need to acknowledge and engage different student groups in ways that directly support their persistence.

At the height of the student protests last month I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C., for the first national convening of Minority Serving Community Colleges (MSCC) hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. Although I’m sure the meeting was planned long before national attention to the student protests, it could not have come at a better time. Whereas, the protests highlight systemic and structural inequities experienced by students of color and other underserved student groups on four-year campuses, the convening focused on how to best serve students in a two-year context, at MSCCs. The convening supported the identification of practices and resources for better supporting student persistence of students attending MSCC’s. More specifically the purpose of the convening was to:

  1. Create a space for MSCCs to share high impact practices with their colleagues;
  2. Provide MSCC practitioners with information related to resources, funding opportunities, and research specifically related to their institutions and the students they serve;
  3. Establish communities of practices to share high impact practices across the institutions.

I specifically sought out sessions that focused on high impact practices supporting historically underserved populations. The following are some highlights some of the resources presented at the convening.

  • High Impact Practices Supporting Men of Color in Community Colleges: The first session on high impact practices largely focused on men of color in community colleges, however the practices were applicable to other student group on campuses. Many of the high impact practices outlined directly align with the work that OCCRL has built a reputation for over the years. For example, disaggregating student outcome data, redesigning curricular pathways, providing intrusive services, resources, practices, and integrating equity in to the strategic plans. Remnants of such practices can be found across the various OCCRL projects, including but not limited to, Pathways To Results, STEM College and Career Readiness, Programs of Study. Beyond practices identified, the presenters talked in great deal about getting institutional buy-in beginning with institutional leadership and moving onto others from there.
  • Resources to Support High Impact Practices: One particular session that many of the attendees seemed to find valuable was a speed networking session. Attendees were provided information on a number of resources (scholarships, grants, internships, funding opportunities etc.) for their institutions and their students from a number of federal organizations including, but not limited to NASA, Federal Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Labor. In addition to the speed networking sessions there were two separate panels of philanthropic foundations and funding organizations that discussed the type of projects that they are looking to fund, many of which noted investments in STEM education and high impact, high reach programming, with strong evaluation components. In addition to areas of interests for funders, panels provided insight on how institutions could make themselves more competitive for such funding.
  •  Communities of Practice: In an effort to sustain the work from the convening, communities of practices were established. On the first day of the meeting, attendees broke out by institution type (Predominantly Black Institutions, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges , etc.) and shared high impact practices from their own campuses with the larger group. On the second day, the groups established plans of action for how they intended to carry out the work over the next year.
  • Student Perspectives: Perhaps the most important and compelling session of the convening was the student panel. Students of varying backgrounds shared their experiences attending Minority Serving Institutions. The students shared their own experiences with respect to how and why they selected their institutions, aspirations, challenges, and successes while enrolled in community college. This session was particularly compelling as the student voice can often be missing during decision-making processes on campuses. The student panel provided the nearly two hundred attendees a face and voice to the purpose.

This convening was important for me in a number of ways. First it was an opportunity to revisit my purpose for wanting to work in this field, which was to have a positive impact on traditionally underserved students in often under resourced institutions like MSCCs. It was also important in informing how to approach new streams of research out of the OCCRL, more specifically the work that we are developing on STEM education pathways in MSCC in Illinois. OCCRL’s MSI project includes the student transition and pathways work along with the equity work that OCCRL has focused on for many years, but specifically focuses on the MSCC institutions.

What are some the high impact practices for supporting underserved student groups that have worked on your campus?

grahamEdmund Graham III, M.Ed., is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a specialization in Higher Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently works as a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL.

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