- More than half of community college students struggle to balance school with their family and work responsibilities, according to a new survey from Ithaka S+R and Northern Virginia Community College.
- Other top concerns include paying for basic needs such as housing and food, being able to afford their courses, time management, writing research papers and accessing child care, according to nearly 11,000 respondents across seven institutions.
- The researchers call on colleges to enhance their services, such as by offering learners a single point of contact for help navigating the institution, expanding the availability of on-site technologies and allowing students to borrow electronics.
In response, many community colleges are adopting the guided pathways model, in which they provide students a clear roadmap of which classes they need to take to earn a credential or to transfer to a four-year institution. At the same time, many are also adding or improving services to remove barriers that could prevent a student from completing college.
For example, Monroe Community College, in New York, recently opened a food pantry and started offering emergency loans after learning that 53% of surveyed students ran out of food in the prior month and couldn't afford to buy more.
And others, such as New York's Jefferson Community College, have set up centers where students can access an array of services, including a food pantry, help with SNAP applications and mental health support.
Providing such services can be especially critical to the success of historically underserved students, the report notes.
For instance, black and Hispanic students reported more difficulty balancing their responsibilities, paying for their courses and accessing course materials than Asian and white students, according to the survey. Asian students reported the most difficulty, relative to the other groups, in adjusting to a new community and mastering English.
Gender nonbinary students face additional challenges. Roughly 40% say they have trouble adjusting to a new community, compared to 23% and 21% of students who identify as women and men, respectively.
Addressing such differences in the college experience can help close equity gaps in student outcomes. To do so, institutions may consider targeting their resources, the report's authors write.
To that end, the researchers put forward eight possible services that colleges looking to tailor their offerings to the needs of individual students and groups of students can offer. They are listed in order of the value that the researchers expect them to bring:
- Establish a point person to connect students with the right services.
- Loan technology to students and provide more in-person assistance with equipment.
- Employ a "personal librarian," accessible in-person or through email, phone or chat, who helps students find the books, journals and other materials they need.
- Hire a social worker to help students' with their nonacademic needs, such as finding child care or securing public assistance.
- Offer either regular or emergency child care services.
- Run workshops about how to use digital media safely and effectively.
- Create more opportunities to encourage students to be engaged citizens.
- Provide a space in which students can showcase their classwork and personal and professional expertise.