Community colleges across the nation are implementing successful strategies to recruit more male students and support their efforts to attain a degree or certificate.
Several such programs – from getting men to set foot on campus, to outlining in tangible terms the value of higher education – were highlighted this week at the National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., which was hosted by the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) in collaboration with the American Association of Community Colleges. Additional strategies were included in two new briefs released by ACCT with support from the Strada Education Network.
Males comprise 45 percent of community college students, and that percentage is much lower at some colleges, particularly in rural and urban areas, ACCT reports. In 2015, just 39 percent of men in urban areas earned an associate degree or higher compared to 41 percent of women. Only 25 percent of men in rural areas, compared to 30 percent of women, had earned an associate degree or higher.
The long game
Many men think they are better off if they can get a job right after high school and start earning money, said Ben Wildavsky, senior vice president of national engagement at Strada. To get them to see the horizon, he advised colleges to show them a clear pathway, spelling out how much more money they could earn in specific careers that require some college, the time required to earn a credential and the financial cost.
Eugene Giovannini, chancellor of Tarrant County College in Texas (TCC), noted the importance of getting men to understand “the long game,” something female students seem to better understand. TCC used to have an 18 percent participation rate for males among first-time students. This past fall, the college saw a 65 percent increase among male students, Giovannini said.
TCC has an Intercultural Network on each of its campuses, which encourages academic achievement, inclusiveness and cultural awareness. The college’s Men of Color Collaborative supports academic success for all male students.
To build a sense of community among that group, “we had to do a lot of intensive work to understand them from a cultural standpoint,” Giovannini said. Many young people today don’t understand the meaning of work. They have no frame of reference; they don’t even know the importance of showing up every day, he said.
Discussing programs and degrees isn’t relevant to many young men, but jobs are, Giovannini said. “You have to talk about jobs and earning money,” he said.
To reach these students, TCC focuses on five pillars of engagement that lead to positive outcomes:
- academic support (tutoring and advising)
- social and emotional support (mentoring and safe spaces to interact with peers and staff)
- career competency development (university and industry tours)
- leadership skill development (conferences and community and civic engagement)
- personal growth and development (educational, cultural and social multicultural programming, cultural student organizations and success planning)
One novel approach that worked for TCC was to reach out to club promotors in urban areas and convince them to advise patrons to consider community college. Another strategy called for reaching out to churches. Young men might not be sitting in the pews, but their grandmothers can pass along information about a great community college they heard about in church, Giovannini said.
By making inroads with influencers, “We are seeing good feedback and enrollment is up,” he said.
To reach African-American males who don’t have the mindset that college is attainable, Louisiana Community and Technical College System spokesperson Quentin Taylor said “influencers are the ones who can really make a difference” in getting them to see what’s at the end – a job and a family-sustaining income. He suggested recruiting alumni and young people who work at the college to serve as role models.
One strategy adopted by the Louisiana system to recruit more male students was to eliminate the requirement for a high school diploma for admittance to college, although students do need to pass an equivalency exam to earn a degree.
“The biggest deterrent for people is time and money,” Taylor said, so the system’s Work Ready U program provides free online classes to help students prepare for their high school equivalency diploma.
Get men on campus
One of the key obstacles to encouraging men to consider community college is to get them to set foot on campus. They don’t come to open houses, Taylor said, but they would come to see a country music star.
The system partnered with Country Music Television (CMT) to have concerts at eight community colleges where recording artists pitched the value of higher education. Those who enrolled after one of those events qualified for a $1,000 scholarship funded by CMT and the Louisiana system.
To get to the concert venue, people had to walk by large signs stating what kinds of jobs a person who completed a particular program would qualify for. By the time they got to the show, they learned, for example, they could earn $55,000 as a welder, which would go a long way toward meeting their mortgage payments, pay their bills and afford childcare, Taylor said.
Here are some other strategies from the ACCT briefs for increasing male enrollment in rural and urban areas:
- Provide more remote classrooms and online learning for students who don’t live near a college.
- Partner with high school students to support dual enrollment and encourage young students to consider college.
- Increase internship and apprenticeship opportunities.
- Foster a sense of community among male students.
- Provide opportunities to connect college and career and recognize students’ skills from prior work experience.
- Ensure students have access to all available financial resources and support services.
If colleges are going to succeed in increasing male enrollment, they will need more resources – which will benefit all students, the panelists agreed.
A key advocacy goal for the Louisiana system is getting Congress to approve Pell grants for short-term workforce training, said Taylor. “That is an absolute must.”
Colleges need more funding for workforce training, along with strong partnerships with employers, Giovannini said. But colleges also need additional funding to help reduce barriers for lower-income students.
Each TCC campus has a food bank, and the college helps with childcare and transportation. TCC gives every student a bus pass – worth $60 a month – that they can use to get to campus, work and elsewhere. Next fall, another government agency will begin paying for it.
In rural Louisiana, access to the Internet is a challenge, Taylor noted, so online provider Cox agreed to offer Internet service for a $10 monthly charge to anyone who receives federal SNAP benefits and intends to enroll in college.
Despite all the assistance to get men into college, he said, “nothing will ever trump self-motivation.”