Changing the Student Success Narrative in Community Colleges

Community colleges are open admissions institutions, providing everyone with access to higher education. Everyone. And it should stay that way. Unfortunately, and probably unintentionally, with the focus now on completion (not just access) a collective narrative that is framed within a deficit perspective has developed around the myriad reasons students don’t finish college ( a well documented fact).

Listen between the lines of the national Completion Agenda and you will hear things like: students are not college ready; students are unmotivated; students won’t take responsibility. They’re entitled. They demand to be entertained. They don’t study. They don’t read. They don’t do optional. Or, maybe the narrative sounds like this: African American students are unsuccessful; part-time students don’t finish fast enough.

Challenges students face are also well documented. More than half of community college students begin college academically under-prepared. Many are impeded by very real, complex, and difficult life circumstances. Part-time students are far less likely to finish than full-time students. Students who don’t know that they are going to college by 7th grade probably won’t go at all. African American students have lower success rates.

What if the deficit narrative changed? Imagine if completion was not seen as an end, but rather as the beginning. Imagine if the narrative changed from what students can’t do now to what they can overcome and achieve for their future. Policies, processes, procedures, practices and pathways provide necessary transactional context for student success. To make the college experience transformative, colleges must intentionally and purposefully create experiences for students that enable them to develop healthy beliefs that will lead to actions that ensure successful results…before, during and after college.

How can colleges respect students’ choice to go to college, acknowledge that college, like life, is hard with challenges and difficulties, and help them choose to finish what they start? How can colleges help students grow their grit?

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