Strengthening College Readiness, Access, and Success: Community College Roles

Kay McClenney – July 2015

Community colleges enroll nearly half—46 percent—of all undergraduate students. Over half of community colleges are located in rural areas. They have a critical role to play in increasing the number of rural Americans who earn a post-secondary credential and ensuring that those credentials hold value in the labor market. This is especially true for Idaho, a state with low-wage industries, ambitious college attainment goals, but low postsecondary participation rates.

In Strengthening College Readiness, Access, and Success, Kay McClenney looks at how community colleges can help. She uses a wide array of examples, both from Idaho colleges and institutions in other states, to illustrate innovative ways that community colleges can strengthen postsecondary readiness and participation.

McClenney also emphasizes the importance of pairing postsecondary education with career prospects. In particular, community colleges have the potential to establish partnerships that support local industries while providing students with marketable skills and stackable credentials.

She concludes with eight recommendations for the state of Idaho:

1. Dual-enrollment programs for high school students should include mandatory support activities.

2. Community colleges must focus dual-enrollment services and other efforts on the populations that are less likely to be college-bound.

3. Advising for high school and college students should focus on career pathways, necessary educational attainment, and potential earnings.

4. Idaho should support models that place community-college-success coaches on-site in high schools.

5. Institutions should design clear, structured academic and career pathways for students that explicitly lead to transfer and/or careers providing family-supporting wages.

6. The community college pathways should extend into high schools through collaboration with K–12 systems—with attention to Common Core standards alignment.

7. Students must have clear pathways that allow them to transfer credits and continue their major at a four-year college or university.

8. Community college pathways must align with the Idaho economy and with state and local strategies for economic and workforce development.

McClenney acknowledges that none of these recommendations can be implemented cost-free. Community college leaders (along with their K–12 colleagues) must examine the effectiveness of existing programs, consider high-impact programs in other colleges, and reallocate existing resources in order to implement effective practices at scale. Meanwhile, policymakers and the philanthropic community must create policy and fiscal conditions within which community colleges can do the work their students, communities, and state need them to do.

Op-Ed in The Idaho Statesman