Tackling equity, diversity and success for all students


Editor’s note: This article is part of a bimonthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Equity, diversity and success for all students are key goals for the nation’s community colleges.

Because public two-year colleges are the most diverse and inclusive segment of U.S. higher education, they are “positioned uniquely to foster an environment that honors, respects, and embraces the variety of students attending the Nation’s colleges and universities,” according to a joint statement by AACC and the Association of Community College Trustees on their commitment to equity, diversity and excellence in student success and leadership development. It continues that “much work is required to provide programs for diverse students and equip current and future leaders with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in an increasingly diverse and demanding higher education environment.”

Here’s how three community colleges are implementing strategies to address equity, diversity and success for all students.

Open Door – Workforce Equity Initiative

An ambitious goal: provide 102 minority and low-income individuals with free, short-term career training and support services leading to local employment in less than one year — and recruit and place those students in these training programs within three months. Lincoln Land Community College (LLCC) in Springfield, Illinois, took on the challenge this fall with the help of a $1 million grant, part of an $18.7 million Workforce Equity Initiative through the Illinois Community College Board.

Upon receiving the grant in September, LLCC established the Open Door – Workforce Equity Initiative. It recruited participants through partnerships with organizations such as the Springfield Urban League, churches and high schools; public information sessions; social media and marketing initiatives. Eligible students will begin their training programs in January.

“Participants receive free tuition, a stipend, transportation and child care assistance, and other supports to accelerate their entry and success in postsecondary education/training programs that lead to employment in highly skilled and in-demand occupations,” said Michael Phelon, director of the program. “The initiative is designed to improve workforce equity and address identified workforce gaps. Our goal is 75 percent of participants coming from the African-American community.”

Participants can enter training programs in basic nurse assistant, basic nurse assistant bridge to clinical medical assistant, central sterile service technician, clinical medical assistant, dental assistant, electrocardiogram technician, emergency medical technician (basic), pharmacy technician, phlebotomy technician, truck driving, auto technology and welding.

The initiative is an expansion of LLCC’s Open Door Program, established in 2016 by LLCC President Charlotte Warren in partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce and businesses, which provides mentorship, academic and career-focused support to male students of color. In announcing the new Workforce Equity Initiative, Warren stated, “LLCC’s mission, values and goals are inclusive and reflect our desire to provide all of our constituency with opportunities and supports for success.”

Removing Barriers campaign

Skagit Valley College (SVC) in Mount Vernon, Washington, addressed inequities in student achievement via a successful fundraising campaign.

“We identified barriers, leveraged our creative marketing and people-connecting skills, and helped raise funds to remove those barriers,” said James Walters, SVC director of marketing and communications. He credits SVC President Thomas Keegan with setting the tone and long-term commitment to equity as a whole-systems approach with core themes of equity in access, achievement and community.

“One might see our job as opening the door and facilitating the connections between those that have the time, money and resources to assist and give, to those who may be disadvantaged, marginalized or need help in reaching their educational goals,” said Anne Clark, SVC vice president of college advancement. “This means meeting students where they are and finding out what they need to succeed, or finding who can help remove the barriers in front of them, to lift them to success.”

With the help of a campaign consulting firm, the SVC Foundation learned that 67 percent of SVC students were the first in their family to attend college, 52 percent cared for dependents at home, and 87 percent applying for financial aid showed significant need.

Using that data, three essential areas for student success were identified and became the pillars of the Removing Barriers campaign: emergency assistance, childcare assistance and opportunities for excellence. The campaign focused on non-traditional, working adults with dependents, a group that may stop out when emergencies or unforeseen financial circumstances arise.

During the silent phase of the campaign, the SVC Foundation and marketing team developed a creative plan to accomplish the $3 million goal, focusing on student and donor stories.

“One of the most successful elements of the campaign was our employee giving strategy,” Clark said. “We sent out one email a week for a month, featuring a student in need and a testimonial by a member of the SVC staff. The idea was to get other staff members to see who was investing in the campaign and inspire them to do the same.”

Campaign proceeds reached $3.1 million in December 2017, establishing ongoing funds to assist students in removing barriers to success.

Recruitment and retention of diverse employees

Harper College, located in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, is the recent recipient of multiple equity honors: AACT Central Region Equity Award, Illinois Community College Trustees Association Equity and Diversity Award, and for two years in a row, INSIGHT into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.

One initiative leading to these honors is the Diverse Faculty Fellow Program, which provides a paid fellowship for diverse individuals with doctorate or masters’ degrees to gain community college teaching experience. According to the Harper website, “The fellowship program was designed specifically to assist the college and community college academia in general, by providing experiential opportunities for potential future faculty members. The Diverse Faculty Fellow Program is an important part of the college’s focus on diversity and inclusion, which seeks to better reflect the increasing diversity of its student body and surrounding community.”

Pearl Ratunil, special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, oversees the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Harper.

“We host a Diversity Symposium every year focused on themes such as the Latinx student experience,” she said. “This provides employees with a unique opportunity to learn and discuss an important topic related to diversity and inclusion through a keynote speaker, breakout sessions and most importantly, conversations. Employees discuss issues such as unconscious bias, the veteran experience and Latinx student success. We also offer Diversity and Inclusion Dialogue Workshops to engage colleagues in conversations around concepts such as inclusive/exclusive behaviors, bias, privilege and unintended impacts of our communication styles.”

Also, Employee Resource Groups assist the college in creating a welcoming and supportive environment and culture, and faculty and staff can earn a Social Justice Leadership Certificate, a program coordinated through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of International Education.

About the Author

Lynn Whalen
is executive director of public relations and marketing at Lincoln Land Community College in Illinois, and president of the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.