A new report on a series of new studies outlines strategies for supporting adult learners of color in college.
The report, released Wednesday, was produced by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University and commissioned by the Lumina Foundation. It notes that 42 percent of Black Americans, 58 percent of Latinx Americans and 50 percent of Native Americans age 25 and over have only a high school degree, compared to 31 percent of white Americans. About 27 percent of Black Americans and 19 percent of Latinx and Native Americans completed bachelor’s degrees, compared to 42 percent of their white counterparts.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of people age 25 and older enrolled in community college has dropped by 11 percent, according to the report.
“Community colleges are an obvious resource for adults who seek postsecondary credentials as a means to increase their employability and earn higher pay,” the report reads. “A key challenge for community colleges is how to attract and retain Black, Hispanic, and Native American adults, both in occupational programs that lead directly to good jobs and in transfer-related programs.”
The report consists of three studies focused on three different areas in which community colleges can better support Black, Latinx and Native American adult students through graduation.
One study recommends ways to create smooth pathways from short-term credentials to community college degree programs. Recommendations include extending financial aid to adults in short-term programs and aligning noncredit and credit programs in the same field.
Another study highlights the possible advantages of “bundling” and “sequencing” student supports; giving students information about nonacademic resources, such as health care or childcare, alongside academic advising; and offering them different kinds of counseling at different junctures in their academic journey.
The final study outlines strategies for creating “culturally sustaining” instruction techniques and supports for adult students of color. It suggests community colleges partner with community-based organizations to refer prospective students for recruitment and enrollment, make academic and nonacademic services available in one central hub, offer early career planning, give students assigned advisers, and establish regular mechanisms, such as surveys or faculty input, to check on how students’ needs may have changed. The study also recommends connecting with students’ families.
"Disparities by race arise from many sources and will not go away overnight, but with the right ideas and resources, and a sustained focus on equity, colleges can increase the number of credentials earned and improve employment outcomes for racially minoritized adult learners," the report reads.