Helping More Minority Students Get To Community College

Helping More Minority Students Get To Community College

By Maya White.

Maya White is a graduate student at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, pursuing a MPS in Legislative Affairs. This fall, she worked as the Outreach and Advocacy fellow for the College Promise Campaign.

This post was previously posted on Forbes.com


Far too few minority students pursue or complete their education beyond high school. Instead of dreaming about where they want to attend college, or what they want to study, many believe the cost of a degree is beyond their means.

Tragically, minorities who do enroll in college graduate at lower rates than their white peers. So many minority students are the first in their families to attend college and lack the academic or social support they need to succeed once they do enroll. African American, Latino, and Native American students have always lagged behind their white counterparts in finishing their college degrees, especially students from low-income households.

As a woman of color from Tennessee, I grew up with family and friends who abandoned their dream of earning a college degree. Some thought they couldn’t afford college. Others struggled in their classes and dropped out because they couldn’t get the mentoring, tutoring, or academic counseling they needed to succeed. Still more stopped going to school because of sheer exhaustion. It was simply too hard to work a full-time job while trying to study. Too many students must work full-time to put food on the table, pay their rent, and cover all the other costs of attending school like textbooks, transportation, and childcare.

Student enrolled in Detroit Promise meet with the Detroit Chamber Foundation.
Students enrolled in Detroit Promise meet with the Detroit Chamber Foundation.

In a study released by the  Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Association of Community College Trustees half of community college students reported they lack secure housing; a staggering 13-14% said they are homeless. Hunger is also a big problem. More than two-thirds of students taking part in the study reported that they are food insecure. It’s no wonder so many college students find it hard to finish their degrees while trying to meet day-to-day needs.

I think of my childhood best friend, Aaron, who always dreamed of becoming a professional trumpet player and music teacher. Though he was musically gifted, he had a hard time with other academic subjects. Lacking the academic and social support he needed as a first-generation college student, Aaron decided to leave college. I wish he hadn’t been forced to make that decision. Aaron’s socioeconomic background should not hinder his aspirations.

Something must change. If the cost of college keeps climbing and students don’t get the support they need, more minorities will give up their college dreams altogether. This would further widen the education gap between whites and minorities. In the 21st century, a high school education is no longer enough to prepare students with the education and skills they need for a good job and a decent quality of life.

That’s why I am passionate about my work as a fellow on the College Promise Campaign,  which encourages communities and states to make the first two years of community or technical college as universal and free as high school.

Across the country, more than 200 local and state leaders have launched free community college programs to make higher education more affordable and accessible. And many are adding features to ensure that students not only get to college but also complete their studies. Here are some examples of College Promise programs making great strides in boosting success for minority students.


Detroit Promise Path, Detroit, MI: The Detroit Promise Path provides a broad range of mentoring and other social services to boost the success of students enrolled in the Detroit Promise, a free community college program that’s been underway since 2013. A vast majority of students enrolled identify as minorities; during its first year, 81.1% identified as Black or African American and 10.6% as Hispanic. The program was created after city officials grew concerned that so many Detroit Promise students were dropping out of school after just one semester even though their tuition and fees were covered. To combat this attrition, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce partnered with MDRC, a social education policy research group to provide both academic and social support for Promise students. By establishing campus coaching, a monthly stipend, summer enrollment opportunities, and data to track participation, the Detroit Promise Path has had great success helping more minority students remain enrolled in school. In its first year of providing services, the Detroit Promise saw a 15% increase the number of students enrolled full-time during their second semester. This innovative program serves as a great model for how other communities can boost the success of minority students.

MATC Promise, Milwaukee, WI:

Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) currently serves Wisconsin’s largest urban population, where a number of local high school students live at or below the poverty level. During the end of the recession, enrollment at MATC began to decline, with only 7-9% of their students enrolling directly from high school. So, the college decided to build its MATC Promise to encourage more students to pursue higher education. Over three-quarters of their newest class of Promise students are from racial and ethnic minority groups. “We support our Promise students with a case-management approach to provide specific guidance with career counseling, academic advising, mentoring, and access to on- and off-campus resources,” said Dr. Vicki J. Martin, President of MATC. “We recognize the need to support our students holistically and are committed to the success of our students of color throughout the college.”

Oakland Promise, Oakland, CA:

The City of Oakland wants to triple the number of college graduates within the next decade. That’s why the East Bay College Fund partnered with the City to launch the Oakland Promise, making community college free for their students. With over 75 %of these students identifying as African American or Latinx, the Fund uses mentoring to ensure these students are well-prepared for college. The results are impressive: their students graduate at four times the national average for their demographic. “90 % of our scholars are the first in their families to go to college and the additional support of an individual mentor who has been where they are, helps scholars navigate college life,” says Diane Dodge, Executive Director of the East Bay College Fund. “Our goal is to see each of our students get into college and cross the graduation stage.”


These are just three examples of innovative ways free community colleges can help minority students complete the college education they need to succeed. By providing students with effective mentoring and other support, these programs serve both students and their communities.I’m blessed to come from a family of teachers, including my great grandmother who taught in a one-room schoolhouse. I’m also thankful that I’ve had so many high-quality mentors and teachers in my life. Because of these women in my family—and the other mentors I’ve had along the way—I’m where I stand today. But it saddens me that many people in my community don’t have the same support and encouragement. I’m glad Promise programs are building that kind of support so that more minority students can earn their college degree and have a fair shot at the American Dream.

Find out more about the College Promise movement today!

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