Promoting equity in CTE


Community college career and technical education (CTE) programs are increasingly committed to achieving equity goals and are finding creative ways to do so, according to a new MDRC report.

MDRC’s Center for Effective CTE evaluated 17 notable community college CTE programs in 2019 to identify promising practices and common challenges around equity. Many of those practices are outlined in the new report.

Authors Hannah Dalporto and Betsy Tessler found practices aimed at increasing opportunity and reducing gaps in outcomes between social groups are being conducted at various points along the education pathway, from outreach and recruitment, to post-employment support.

Recruiting for equity

A key challenge in ensuring equitable access to CTE programs is the need to address systemic, institutional and internalized barriers and biases, the report says.

As an example, the report notes that the IT field is generally composed of white males. It quotes a female IT student at Austin Community College (ACC) in Texas who faced that reality and said, “When I first got into the classroom, it was almost like a mental shutdown.”

To respond to such systemic challenges, colleges could actively recruit students from underrepresented groups by targeting marketing and outreach efforts and providing extra support to students from those groups, the report recommends.

As an example, Valencia College in Florida produces marketing materials for an accelerated skills training program in advanced manufacturing in Spanish and highlights its already diverse student body.

The report also recommends using role models and “near-peer contacts.” IT students at ACC can get paid internships at a local housing authority, where they can interact with public housing residents and let them know about career opportunities. In one case, an intern talked to a child who wanted to design video games and explained how ACC could make that dream a reality.

Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in Michigan used grant funds to hire a recruiter who is bilingual and does outreach in communities with high unemployment. “You have to be feet on the ground in the community. You have to be there and know people,” a staff member told MRDC researchers.

GRCC also uses its community partners – such as the Urban League and the Hispanic Center of West Michigan – to help with equity-related recruitment.

Boosting persistence

Students from underrepresented groups are less likely to have a network of family and friends to help them navigate the course registration process and financial aid application than more privileged students.

As a result, the report recommends that colleges re-examine their screening criteria for CTE admissions to determine whether they are effective in predicting student success and whether they unfairly keep out certain populations.

Lengthy, multistep admissions and enrollment processes can be especially intimidating for nontraditional students. To overcome that barrier, Valencia College administrators found that two 45-minute skills tests for incoming students were just as effective as the four-hour test they previously used.

To improve equity in persistence and completion in CTE programs, MDRC says some colleges:

  • Create learning communities.
  • Provide financial support.
  • Create block schedules with predictable class meeting times.
  • Offer shorter programs.
  • Provide coaching and case management.

Students at Valencia and Monroe Community College in New York report that cohort structures and small-class sizes enabled them to support one another academically.

Students face barriers when they can’t get into the class they need or when classes are spread out over multiple campuses, the report states, and that’s an especially big obstacle when students have jobs or rely on public transportation.

ACC addressed the problem by employing a part-time staff member for its IT training program who serves as an in-house advocate and coordinates scheduling issues.

Reducing the time it takes for students to complete CTE programs reduced the burden on students while also ensuring programs are more responsive to local labor demands.

Monroe accelerated its for-credit CTE track from 30 to 22 weeks by eliminating general education classes for its accelerated precision tooling program after finding that graduates were just as successful on the job without those courses.

Other ways colleges can reduce the equity gap in CTE:

  • Provide financial support for non-tuition costs, such as textbooks, transportation and childcare.
  • Customize math and English instruction to the skills needed on the job.
  • Establish a co-requisite model for developmental education.

Key takeaways

Other findings in the report:

• Colleges may be able to promote equitable and diverse enrollment in CTE programs by adjusting their outreach and by finding creative recruitment strategies, including the use of peer recruiters and community partners.

• Targeted and individually tailored coaching, support networks and nontuition financial support may help students stay in and complete programs, reducing inequitable disparities in outcomes.

• Post-graduation support services could help underrepresented students persist in the labor market and increase their earnings, thereby reducing wage disparities.

• As colleges continue to become more sensitive to equity goals, they can aim to uncover otherwise hidden inequities by analyzing outcomes according to race, ethnicity, gender and other characteristics relevant to their local contexts.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.