Reach the underserved through faith-based institutions

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Religious institutions provide a powerful link to underserved neighborhoods. By partnering with faith-based communities, you can make higher education accessible to families often missed by traditional recruitment programs. Churches can be a key resource in opening new academic opportunities for residents and in giving you insights into the community you serve.

Thirteen years ago, Hillsborough Community College (HCC) launched HCC LIFE, an initiative to partner with faith groups. Here are some suggested steps based on our experience.

Recognize the potential

Review your outreach efforts and determine if religious institutions are being included. Even the most conscientious recruitment and community relations programs may overlook how churches — respected institutions with a ready audience — offer an organized conduit to families needing education services.

This article is an excerpt from the new issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.

Consider: HCC LIFE originated when a local pastor met with HCC President Ken Atwater to discuss including African American churches in the college’s well-established minority recruitment priorities. HCC quickly responded and launched the church partnership program.

If you find religious institutions in your region are an untapped resource, consider a collaboration. But you should understand it will entail much more than setting up a display booth and passing out brochures.

Reach out, listen and go

A large part of the effort will involve helping make the transition to higher education less daunting, particularly for first-generation students. Workshops on tuition assistance and scholarship strategies are essential. We offer numerous scholarships through HCC LIFE.

You will move faster and more efficiently if you view the partnership as a community service initiative, not a new academic venture requiring extensive data collection.

Pastors know the needs of, and are trusted by, their congregants. Rely on their advice rather than undertaking time-consuming surveys.

Assign a team to oversee the partnership that includes your financial aid and academic officers. They can develop an array of resources to meet the unique needs of the population you will be targeting.

Also valuable are sessions that teach high school students the work habits they will need to succeed and presentations that prepare parents for what to expect when their children go to college.

Read the full CC Journal article.

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Ashley Arthur Thomas is executive director of marketing and public relations at Hillsborough Community College in Plant City, Florida. Joe Guidry is a copywriter in Florida.