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A recent study published by The Joint Center found that Black student enrollment at community colleges across the U.S. has steadily declined in the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. From Fall 2019 to Fall 2021, enrollment fell 18 percent for all Black students. That’s 23.5 percent and 15 percent for Black men and Black women, respectively. As a result, graduation rates for students of color also staggered. The gap between Black and white graduation rates more than doubled from a four percentage point gap in 2007 to an 11 percentage point divide in 2020.

Conversely, Black community college students who did graduate between 2019 and 2021, faced inequitable outcomes after graduation. According to the report, Black grads earned 20,000 less per year than their white peers. The difficult reality is a tough pill to swallow for the 67 percent of Black students who borrowed money to pay for education at their local community college, compared to 51, 36, and 30 percent of white, Hispanic, and Asian students, respectively.

“Black workers are struggling to make ends meet during this health and economic crisis. Community colleges provide a path forward to ensure workforce readiness for all, but there are barriers holding back Black students from reaching their full potential,” said Dr. Alex Camardelle, director of Workforce Policy, Joint Center in a press release. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Here’s how to close the enrollment gap

Community colleges are essential to the economic and educational futures of young Black Americans across the nation. With the COVID-19 pandemic increasing the unemployment rate to 6.5 percent this year, its imperative for leaders to take action in order to help community colleges provide equitable education and job opportunities to Black communities. In order to address the disparity, The Joint Center listed a few ways policymakers can build a brighter future for community college students.

One initiative could entail making basic needs for Black students easily and readily accessible. This means quickly addressing issues like housing and food insecurity. Though many Black students enroll in community college, the lack of support for parents makes it more challenging to complete a credential. The Washington D.C. based nonprofit argues that improving access to on-campus child care could help parents who struggle to juggle their schooling and family needs.

The organization also notes that strengthening transfer pathways could help to tear down barriers that often hinder students from receiving credit for courses taken for their general education core or associate degree. Community colleges should constantly monitor data and graduation outcomes by race and ethnicity. Analyzing data to reveal inequities among students can help uncover barriers to racial equity in higher education, the organization said.


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