Educational Equity: An Interview with Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher

by Jason L. Taylor, OCCRL

Dr. Eboni M. Zamani-Gallaher is a Professor and Coordinator of the Graduate Certificate Program in Community College Leadership in the Department of Leadership and Counseling at Eastern Michigan University and is the incoming President of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges, an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges. Her teaching, research, and consulting activities largely include psychosocial adjustment of marginalized collegians, transfer between two- and four-year institutions, and access policies. In addition to dozens of articles and book chapters, Dr. Zamani-Gallaher is currently co-editing the 4th Edition of the ASHE Reader on Community Colleges with Drs. Jamie Lester, Debra Bragg and Linda Hagedorn. She also co-authored The Case for Affirmative Action on Campus with Denise O’Neil Green, M. Christopher Brown II, and David Stovall (Stylus Publishing) and co-edited, The State of the African American Male: A Courageous Conversation with Vernon Polite (Michigan State University Press). In October, OCCRL’s Jason Taylor interviewed Dr. Zamani-Gallaher on her work related to educational equity.

Mr. Taylor:  How do you think about equity and what does equity mean to you?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: Well, I have a couple different replies. In terms of what equity means to me, I think of this contrast between equality and equity. One example I often use is, let’s say I caught a cold and you have a cold, but let’s say I also have Lupus and we both go to the doctor.  And the doctor says “Well, here is some Robitussin DM for both of you.” We’ve been treated equally, however, because of my preexisting condition [Lupus], being treated equally does not necessarily speak to equity; the Robitussin DM treatment is not equitable. We talk about treating people equally and expect that if we treat them equally then we are promoting equity, but we are not.

When I think about the issue of educational equity, to me that means that we need to take a hard look at the disparities across different types of institutions. It is a systemic pipeline issue for me. We see disparities in K-12 education when you look at per student expenditures, student-teacher ratio, school resources, funding, and other indicators. This is something that extends from one tier of education to the next, and we see it play out in students’ college readiness, which students are able to compete, and which students have access to postsecondary education.

When I think about the issue of educational equity in higher education, I don’t think of it in a vacuum. It is something that is far-reaching and very connected to the other educational tiers. And so, for me, equity is about how you reconfigure things. It’s about how you shake up the status quo, how you talk about meeting the needs of specific learners, and how you can accommodate folks.

Mr. Taylor:  You are currently editing the 4th Edition of the ASHE Reader on Community Colleges and sifting through literature on the community college published in the most recent decade. What conversations and ideas are emerging in this literature related to equity?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: This iteration of the ASHE reader has a separate section that deals with diversity issues. But equity is not just relegated to that section. You’ll see issues around equity bubble up in the sections on transfer and general education, remediation, and faculty, for example. There are some intersections in terms of race and ethnicity and gender, but there are also articles related to different types of subpopulations of students in community colleges that don’t get a lot of attention—athletes, veterans, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students, for example. Our goal with the ASHE Reader was to expand upon the previous Reader with regard to those types of readings.

Mr. Taylor:  Your personal scholarship contributes to our understandings of educational equity. Could you introduce us to some of the current equity-focused projects that you are working on?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: Recently I have spent time looking at issues pertaining to LGBTQ students within community colleges, as well as a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) transfer students, both related to educational equity.  There are two pieces I’m working on relative to transfer STEM majors and looking at the intersections between race, gender and class with STEM. Another project, something that is in the early stages, is a piece with two colleagues looking at African-American and Hispanic males in study abroad at community colleges to understand to what extent study abroad could provide self-authorship for students who participate.

Mr. Taylor:  You have written extensively on the topic of race in higher education, so I am interested in your work on STEM transfer. Can you describe your current research in this area and what issues are emerging from your research?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher:  In our study, we found significant associations for race/ethnicity with STEM major, transfer hours earned, and two-year credit hours earned in terms of positive relationships for White and nonresident alien/race unknown students. However, there was a negative association of transfer type by race/ethnicity illustrating the relationship between multiple institutional attendance and increased swirling among students of color in STEM. Additionally, we found significant between group differences in transfer type, GPA, and transfer credit hours earned by gender and race/ethnicity among transfer STEM majors. Case in point, transfer credit hours earned was predictive of transfer shock for STEM students of color.

Mr. Taylor:  You also mentioned your work on LGBTQ students. In a 2011 New Directions for Community Colleges, you co-authored a piece on LGBTQ students and argued that very little is known about this student population in community colleges. Can you comment on your work in this area and what you’re learning?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: Let me give you some context for my work in this area. A few years ago, I told a colleague, Dibya Choudhuri, a counseling faculty member who subsequently co-authored the article with me, about a student that had come to see me during office hours. My student mentioned that she witnessed a colleague who was a college counselor refuse care and advisement to a community college student client. My student shared how the counseling colleague asked the student, ‘Well are you sure you’re gay? And if you are then, you know, I can find somebody else to work with you now, because I can’t.” Hearing that just floored me, and I thought well, she’s at a community college so let me see if I can find her some resources. At the time I could find only one article, and it wasn’t a data-driven piece. I wondered how this could happen, so I began stock piling anything and everything I could on LGBTQ students, much of which was written from a four-year institution context.

In my recent research, we interviewed students from six different community colleges, but in each case their LGBTQ student organizations were fairly new. It was only after students galvanized and made it known that they were not invisible that some of the administrators paid attention; Only one of the six colleges had an established LGBTQ student organization for a while; other colleges had LGBTQ organizations for a couple of years only.

What emerged from the data we felt related to performativity and this phenomenon illustrated conceptual underpinnings of performance theory to our work. I think of performativity in this study given that students were being themselves on campus but unable to be ‘free to be me’ when they left campus. In our study, we interviewed traditional aged LGBTQ college students, many of whom were still dependents of their parents and fearful that they would not have support to complete school or gain access to resources available to them. Many of them had transfer aspirations and needed support beyond transfer. They talked about, ‘When I get to the Big U, then I’m going to come out.’ Therefore, they lived dual lives [on and off campus]. There was no antipathy or overt push back toward LGBTQ students on the community college campuses, but at the same time, it was like the pink elephant in the room, overlooked or an afterthought. So, to the extent that the students weren’t initiating efforts, then an organization wasn’t taking root. But once faculty and staff started to get on board, safe zone rosters and other kinds of programming started.

Another tension is there’s a real challenge in trying to keep students engaged. Students who are most engaged move on and organized efforts to recognize and support LBGTQ students lose momentum. While these student organizations are still in early developmental stages, it is hard to see how sustainable these efforts will be if folks aren’t being groomed for the changing of the guard. Who is going to step up and provide leadership for the LGBTQ organization?

Mr. Taylor:  Given what you are learning, do you have recommendations for community college administrators and faculty members?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: There are some considerations specifically for community college student services. There are certain needs and challenges that LGBTQ students have and student services personnel can be intentional in terms of how they go about sharing information, promoting a welcoming environment, providing socialization opportunities and support groups, for example. These things do not all have to be student initiated, but faculty and staff can actively explore providing these opportunities—things like clubs, social organizations, mentoring programs, ally programs, protocols and actual policies related to gender expression, gender identity, and hate crime protocols. So those are a few things that stand out.

Another important piece is putting your money where your mouth is and finding some fiscal resources, dedicated to human resources, so there can be a stand-alone LGBTQ resource center or office. I think this would be a big step and there is a way that, even in our resource-strapped times, that institutions can reconsider how they can take advantage and leverage technology by trying to create a virtual sense of belonging or sense of community, so that students know how to select institutions. Prospective students could sense if the hallways are hostile or that the campus climate is chilly.  There are also opportunities for some social networking, blogs, and websites.  I think having some sources of information as it relates to LGBTQ concerns will go a long way to demonstrating an inclusive climate.

Mr. Taylor:  What motivates you as a scholar to engage in research on marginalized students and educational equity in the community college context?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: That is a good question. I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, and I remember my very first semester taking the community college course that was actually co-taught with Debra Bragg of University of Illinois and Jim Palmer of Illinois State University. They decided to team teach since Dr. Palmer’s campus was so close to U of I, so I had the great honor of having both of them at once. The interesting thing is that I was in that class against my will. I had no interest in community colleges, and I actually was one of those folks that would probably perpetuate the stereotype of community college; I definitely had a deficit lens coming into the program.  I went in to see my advisor for an advising meeting and he suggested I take the community college course, and I asked, “Why?” He said, “Well, you know, if you’re interested in being a higher education scholar, it would probably be a good idea to look at two- and four-year institutions.”

I registered for the course. Drs. Bragg and Palmer had us do a literature review assignment, and they gave us a lot of liberty to choose a topic related to the community college, and I learned more about community colleges. At that time, nearly two thirds of Latinos were in community colleges and a little over half of all Blacks in college were at community colleges. For whatever reason, that just is like, “DANG!” You know? The lights went on and I started reading more and more and I just thought, “No wonder community colleges are called ‘peoples’ colleges.”  I had kind of thought of myself as somebody who was egalitarian and fair-minded but then I realized this is an actual tier of education that is really kind of putting its money where its mouth is for different people from different walks of life. They provide access for folks who otherwise may not have had any other kind of postsecondary opportunity. And so, I just, I was turned on and I actually shifted focus and switched advisors; everything changed after that one class. That was 17 years ago.

I also think there is something about studying community colleges that I find to be empowering. When I think about myself in terms of what makes me who I am—being black, being female, being a first generation student, coming from a working class family—I know a little bit about what it is like to be on the margins and I can’t help but ask why everybody can’t be in the full fold of participation.  I have very little tolerance for seeing any aspects of education where any segment of students are not in the full fold of participation. That’s how I ended up doing affirmative action policy work, for example. So I guess when you asked why is it that I like to study this, it is because I actually see myself in each of those populations.

Mr. Taylor:  What do you see as the biggest threats or challenges to equity in higher education? As educational scholars and practitioners and policymakers, why should we be concerned about equity?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: One reason why we all need to be proponents for and foster educational equity is because we can’t afford to have a throwaway group. I mean, there is going to be a new majority that is comprised collectively of people of color, so racial and ethnic minorities are going to be the new majority. That’s already happened in some states like California, particularly when you look at school-aged children, which is our future. And so, when we think about a call to action for embracing equitable outcomes, the only way we’re going to be able to compete in terms of this global knowledge economy is to foster educational equity.

When I think about what‘s going on in my own state of Michigan, it’s pretty scary to not have an equity agenda. You have to have the equity agenda because we have lost roughly 20% of our jobs in the last 10 years. In fact, the Census Bureau talks about how Michigan experienced a decade of decline between 2000-2010. We rank in the bottom quartile among the 50 states for postsecondary attainment. Michigan has been an outlier, an anomaly, because of the automobile industry.  While the domestic auto industry is back on track now; it all but died just three years ago; it literally almost came to a crash if not for the government bailout. So for Michiganders, we definitely have to get behind an equity agenda because when we look at the highest level of education or educational attainment of our adults and we compare it to what’s going on nationwide, we have more citizens who have only a high school diploma and no college than most states.

There is also a pendulum swing in terms of shifting realities and opportunities for higher education. Relative to a generation ago, fewer students find postsecondary education within reach. This is the case from a financial standpoint but also in terms of who participates relative to other background characteristics. There is a case to be made for higher skill and higher demand labor, but student outcomes on college and career readiness are pretty dismal. You can’t have a conversation about equity and not talk about access and affordability. So, we have these challenges to access, which makes attaining an equity agenda much more challenging and cumbersome than is desirable.

Mr. Taylor:  What opportunities exist that can support educational scholars, practitioners, and policy makers who wish to promote and implement an equity agenda?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher:  There are ways in which we can, at a local level and at a state level, press reset and think about how to revitalize our higher education institutions. Community colleges in particular can be well positioned to help revitalize local and/or state economies. We’ve just got to figure out some ways to mitigate the variation in our economic circumstances right now and to circumvent some of the disadvantages that we see, because they compound barriers to access. I know in my state, one of the things we definitely need to develop is the college-bound culture. There has long been a disincentive to go on to postsecondary education in Michigan because you could get a good job on the automobile manufacturing line, for example. There are some ways in which all of us have to be reflective and think about how we can encourage agency in students at a time when policies and appropriations are being streamlined.

Mr. Taylor:  Can you comment on existing innovative practices and strategies that promote equity?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: When we think about how we can improve equity and access, one opportunity is to think about translating what is equitable access into retention and success. So, for instance, I think that we have an opportunity to have a dialogue and to shift the paradigm on our roles and responsibilities as administrators and faculty, but also on how our individual institutions can improve access. And so, I believe there are ways in which we’ve got to be more creative around financial mechanisms to support students. There are opportunities to address certain inequities. For instance, with our current STEM transfer work, we’re looking at addressing the confluence between race and gender inequities. So, I think there can be opportunities for targeting institutional responses to address access issues and hopefully to propel more students to be successful.

Mr. Taylor:  You have a lot of experience teaching and engaging with community college leaders, and a large proportion of OCCRL’s newsletter audience is community college leaders. Can you reflect on what you have learned from community college faculty and administrators about educational equity?

Dr. Zamani-Gallaher: One thing I have learned is that what might be considered an issue of inequity in one college might actually be moot someplace else. When I consider what the primary mission is of community colleges, while most institutions want local economic growth, they are still looking to prepare folks to be globally competitive through the kind of training that they get there.  But based on the institution, there are different levels of commitment relative to how institutions create these campus communities that are responsive and that promote equity and foster inclusion.

There are definitely differences in terms of the number of disadvantaged populations in various communities; so, there are some things we can learn as we look at all those nuances. What is thought of as a meaningful kind of academic inclusive intellectual environment, is not necessarily the same at all colleges because of different academic cultures. I think about how we can champion different initiatives that support and recognize an equity agenda. For instance, just because a community is fairly homogenous, that doesn’t mean community college leaders and faculty can’t champion educational equity, that they can’t support initiatives that foster individual expression concerning gender, identity, disability, learning style, political expression, veteran service, etc. Even though community colleges tend to mirror their immediate communities, it is important to provide inclusive curricular and co-curricular programming that will facilitate a worldview beyond that which is localized. That way people can be prepared if they leave their local community, so they are able to thrive in a global economy. Even if they choose to stay in the community, they can have an understanding of and embrace equity and understand how it is a public good.



Eboni M. Zamani-Gallaher may be reached at

Jason L. Taylor is a Ph.D. Candidate in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently works as a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. He may be reached at

Rethinking College and Career Readiness: A Call for Understanding Context to Address Racial Inequality

by Erin L. Castro, University of Utah

In March of 2010, the Obama administration released its Blueprint for revising the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Administration’s goal is clear: “Every student should graduate from high school ready for college and a career, regardless of their income, race, ethnic or language background, or disability status” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010, p. 3). As a result, programming for college and career readiness has increased dramatically. Institutional alignment efforts, state-wide core standards, and bridge programs to streamline transition are all part of a larger movement to increase the overall enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates of postsecondary students.

Complicating the readiness agenda, however, are two important concerns. The first, and most pressing, is persistent and increasing educational inequality evident throughout all levels of education. Socio-structural inequality, including poverty, racial segregation, and unequal access to high-quality schools, plays a significant role in determining academic access, performance, experience, and outcomes (Hogrebe, & Tate 2010; Hoxby, 2002; Rumberger & Palardy, 2005). The second challenge is continued ambiguity over the meaning and measurement of national readiness benchmarks (Camara & Quenemoen, 2012; Dounay Zinth, 2012; Maruyama, 2012; Yamamura, Martinez & Seanz, 2010). While metrics such as high school graduation, grade point average (GPA), and standardized test scores are routinely used to determine a student’s readiness for college and career, researchers such as Maruyama (2012) and Somerville and Yi (2002) have criticized the limited predictive value in using such metrics when estimating postsecondary academic success. ACT scores continue to garner attention as a popular benchmark indicating readiness for college and career, as does a student’s ability to test out of remedial coursework in core academic subjects such as math and reading (Conley, 2010). Thus, it is important that we ask, what is it that we are actually measuring?

What I’d like to suggest in this essay is that we cannot adequately answer the measurement question without attention to context, and thoughtful regard for the world in which we live. The call for every student to graduate high school with the requisite knowledge and skills to be successful in postsecondary education is a noble one, but this policy platform becomes nothing more than seductive rhetoric without consideration of the challenges that underserved students face in becoming ready for college and career. The current discourse of college and career readiness fails to account for issues of equity, as there is little to no mention of how poverty and structural racism functions within this policy context.[1] In order to design appropriate solutions to a complex problem, it is imperative that we rethink our notion of a “college and career readiness intervention” and ask, quite simply, upon what are we intervening?

Differential Readiness for College and Career: A Racialized Phenomenon

The field of higher education is familiar with the following reality: students of color, lower-income students, undocumented students, and other underserved students are at a disadvantage in achieving readiness for college and career. Widespread use of the ACT as an one indicator of readiness illuminates this reality, where only 1 in 4 students meet readiness benchmarks in all four subjects: English, Reading, Writing, and Mathematics (ACT, 2011). When data are disaggregated by race, the picture becomes more telling of structural inequality than individual failure. Figure 1 shows the percentage of students who met all four benchmarks in 2011 disaggregated by race. Of students who took the ACT in 2011, benchmarks were met by at least 50% of Asian and White students, whereas none of the benchmarks were met by at least 50% of African American, American Indian, or Hispanic students.

How do policymakers and practitioners make sense of these results? What explains racialized differences in test scores among these student groups?  Much deeper understanding of how context and socio-structural forces contribute to lower test scores and consequently limit opportunities for underserved student groups to demonstrate college readiness is needed.

To properly contextualize differential readiness for college and career it is necessary to take into account how structural racism and poverty operate. Current data on K-12 school segregation and funding illustrates how these social forces create, maintain, and reinforce educational inequality. For example, according to their latest report, the Center for American Progress (Spatig-Amerikaner, 2012) found that K-12 schools are as segregated today as they were in the 1960s.[2] Nearly 40% of Black and Latin@ students attend schools where over 90% of the students are not White, compared to the average White student who attends a school where 77% of her or his peers are also White. Exacerbating racial isolation are discriminatory spending practices. In the same report, the Center documented that schools with 90% or more students of color spend $733 less per student annually than schools with 90% or more White students. On average, schools spend $344 more on each White students than they do on each student of color per year. These realities place students of color at a disadvantage in achieving college readiness.

Our current separate-but-equal reality in education is part of a larger system of inequality, manifest in disproportionate poverty rates for people of color.  According to the 2010 Census, 46.2 million people in the United States live below the federal poverty level, a threshold of $22,314 per year for a family of four, and the percentage of Blacks (27.4) and Latin@s (26.6) living in poverty double that of Whites (13.0). Relatedly, communities of color are disproportionately targeted for incarceration. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with almost 1.6 million people behind bars and an overwhelming majority of these persons are young, Black and Latin@ (U.S. Department of Justice, 2011). The rate of incarceration is directly linked to educational attainment, exemplified in research conducted by the Prison Studies Project at Harvard University (Western & Pettit, 2010), which documents that incarcerated individuals are the least educated among us. In 2008, for example, 37% of young Black men without a high school diploma were in jail or prison (Pettit, Sykes & Western, 2009).

Contextualizing low ACT scores among students of color within this larger context, one that accounts for segregated schooling, disparate funding, as well as the impact of poverty and mass incarceration on communities of color, is imperative because there are the forces that pose obstacles for students in achieving readiness for college and career. Policymakers, practitioners, educators, and evaluators can work against these institutional obstacles by thoughtfully recognizing that low ACT scores among students are influenced by these larger social factors.

Intervention Programming for College and Career Readiness Reconsidered

So what does this mean for intervention programming for college and career readiness? First and foremost, it means that we need to be very clear about what, exactly, needs intervening. The use of and reliance upon individual student test scores as a barometer of need for intervention programming should be examined and contextualized by colleges. Achieving the Dream (ATD) is but one initiative that is leading efforts to move away from such testing and states like Virginia, Connecticut, and North Carolina are showing progress in developing optimal placement policies (Lawrence Collins, 2008). Efforts to examine and reduce reliance on testing are beginning, but more needs to be done to properly situate low college readiness rates within a larger socio-political context.

In my own dissertation research (Castro, 2012), I found that chronically underserved high school students had difficulty envisioning themselves in a postsecondary environment. They were targeted for intervention programming offered by the local community college because of their low standardized test scores. The students were offered a free remedial math course, but they had difficulty making the connection between successfully completing the math course and enrolling in postsecondary education. The math course did not create a realistic picture of postsecondary education for students, one that contested decades of inadequate schooling. Intervention programming that targets students without accounting for the larger context fails to account for the fact that college may be a mythical place, one in which, because of previous experiences, students believe is not designed to serve them.

Part of the work in grounding the college and career readiness conversation within a larger framework of equity is paying attention to this context. All of the remedial coursework in the world cannot disaffirm a lack of understanding on behalf of students. If intervention programing is going to be successful for underserved students, then it must account for systemic educational neglect and the associated barriers that these students face, including the lack of preparation that enables them to realistically imagine oneself in college.

While not yet the norm, some college readiness programs do account for context. One such program begins working with students in elementary school by emphasizing the importance of students envisioning themselves in a postsecondary environment. Adelante Partnership, at the University of Utah, describes itself as a college awareness and preparatory partnership (Alemán, Perez & Oliva, in press; Delgado Bernal, Alemán, & Garavito, 2009). The partnership seeks to raise awareness of higher education opportunities and to increase expectations of university attendance and success among students of color, their families, and their teachers (Casto, 2007). By exposing students to extra educational opportunities through the university, engaging in cultural programming, and providing University of Utah mentors and role models who are first-generation, bilingual or students of color, Adelante takes an holistic approach to college readiness. It recognizes the multiple environmental factors that contribute to students being able to see themselves in higher education. The partnership reinforces the idea that students are expected to attend college so that when college becomes a reality, it is not something unfamiliar.[3]


As the U.S. moves forward with the college readiness agenda, the nation needs to rethink the notion of intervention by focusing less on “fixing” individual students and more on the socio-structural dynamics that reinforce their status. The college and career readiness policy platform occurs within a larger context of inequality and, because institutional structures provide disparate opportunities to students, interventions need to account for differential readiness by situating them in a context that takes into account racial inequality. Any conversation we have about how best to make college completion a reality for all must acknowledge the world in which we live; it must acknowledge that students of color are at a disadvantage in achieving readiness for college and career not because of something they did, but because of what they have been denied.

No one universal model exists for college and career readiness, but we should be asking a set of essential questions:  What is being imagined in the design of intervention programming, and what assumptions are being made about what students need? How is the larger context of inequality, including unequal schools, poverty, and incarceration practices, being considered? What is being done to enable students of color to envision themselves as college students who are capable and deserving of postsecondary opportunities? Of parallel importance, what are colleges doing to create an environment whereby students of color are an integral part of the campus community? These are difficult questions with which to engage, but all students deserve the dignity and respect that comes with acknowledging the reality in which we live.



ACT. (2011). The Condition of College and Career Readiness. Retrieved online:

Alemán, E., Jr., Perez, J., & Oliva, N. (in press). Adelante en Utah: Dilemmas of Latina/o leadership and Chicana/o college student access in a university-school-community partnership. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership.

Camara, W., & Quenemoen, R. (2012). Defining and Measuring College and Career Readiness and Informing the Development of Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs). Paper Commissioned by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Retrieved online:

Casto, C. (2007). Building a Pathway to the U: The Adelante partnership helps underrepresented students see a future for themselves in higher education. Continuum Magazine. Retrieved online:

Castro, E. L. (2012). “First I’d Put Some Windows In This School”: A critical race ethnography of the Illinois College and Career Readiness Pilot Program. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation.) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Conley, D. (2010). College and Career Ready: Helping all students succeed beyond high school. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Delgado Bernal, D., Alemán, E., Jr., & Garavito, A. (2009). Latina/o undergraduate students mentoring Latina/o elementary students:  A borderlands analysis of shifting identities and college persistence. Harvard Educational Review79(4), 560-585.

Dounay Zinth, J. (2012). Defining College Readiness: Where are we now, and where do we need to be? The Progress of Education Reform, 13(2), 107.

Hogrebe, M. C., & Tate, W. F., IV. (2010, April). School composition and context factors that moderate and predict 10th-grade science proficiency. Teachers College Record, 112(4), 1096-1136.

Hoxby, C. M. (2002, Summer). The power of peers. Education Next, 2(2), 57-63.

Lawrence Collins, M. (2008). It’s Not About the Cut Score: Redesigning Placement Assessment Policy to Improve Student Success. An Achieving the Dream Policy Brief. Retrieved online:

Maruyama, G. (2012). Assessing College Readiness: Should we be satisfied with ACT or other threshold scores? Educational Researcher, 41(7), 252-261.

Orfield, G. (2009), Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge. Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA.

Orfield, G., Kucsera, J., & Siegel-Hawley, G. (2012). E Pluribus…Separation Deepening Double Segregation for More Students. Executive Summary. Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA.

Pettit, B., Sykes, B., & Western, B. (2009). Technical Report on Revised Population Estimates and NLSY79 Analysis Tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Pollock, M. (2008). Because of race: How Americans debate harm and opportunity in and out of schools. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rumberger, R. W., & Palardy, G. J. (2005). Does segregation still matter? The impact of social composition on academic achievement in high school. Teachers College Record, 107, 1999-2045.

Somerville, J., & Yi, Y. (2002). Aligning K-12 and post-secondary expectations: State policy in transition. Washington, DC: National Association of System Heads.

Spatig-Amerikaner, A. (2012, August). Unequal Education: Federal loophole enables lower spending on students of color. Center for American Progress. Retrieved online:

United States Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy. (2010). ESEA Blueprint for Reform. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2011, December). Correctional Population in the United States, 2010. Retrieved online:

Western, B., & Pettit, B. (2010). Incarceration and Social Inequality. Daedalus, 139 (3), 8-19.

Yamamura, E. K., Martinez, M. A., & Saenz, V. B. (2010). Moving Beyond High School Expectations: Examining Stakeholders’ Responsibility for Increasing Latina/o Students’ College Readiness. The High School Journal, 93(3), 126-148.



Erin L. Castro, Ph.D., is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy at the University of Utah. She may be reached at

Figure 1: Percent of ACT-Tested High School Graduates Meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks by Race/Ethnicity, 2011

[1]See, for example, the free webinar series sponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education in March of 2011 titled, College and Career Readiness: What does it really mean?, where discussions about equity are wholly absent. Moreover, discussions of racial inequity and poverty are absent in the guiding principles of leading organizations in the field, such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers as well as the Coalition for a College and Career Ready America. Lastly, some of the invited lectures given by David Conley in the last two years support my claim that discussions of equity are not occurring within the college and career readiness conversation:

Conley, D. T. (2011, February 24th). Exploring Innovative Schools and Policies that Prepare Students to be College and Career Ready. APF Study Tour. Retrieved online:

Conley, D. T. (2011). Defining and Measuring College and Career Readiness. Council of Chief State School Officers Annual Policy Forum. Retrieved online:

Conley, D. T. (2011). Beyond Business as Usual: Key Actions to Boost College and Career Readiness. Adult Education State Directors Meeting. Retrieved online:

[2] Research conducted by Gary Orfield (2009; 2012) with the UCLA Civil Rights Project and Mica Pollack (2008) with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights support this claim as well. Please see reference list for full citations.

[3] Additional information about Adelante partnership can be found on their Facebook page:

How Policy Affects Access in the Context of the College Completion Agenda

by Brian L. Durham, Illinois Community College Board

Policymakers, higher education leaders, foundations, and others, including President Obama, have touted the completion agenda as a requirement to maintaining the nation’s economic and intellectual dominance across the world (see, for example, Lumina Foundation, 2010). Indeed, President Obama and his administration have advanced completion as the primary measure of community college performance (Obama, 2009).  Though well meaning, this environment creates a danger of institutions increasing student completions by limiting access, particularly for those who lack readiness for postsecondary education.  If community colleges sacrifice access in lieu of completion, greater inequity is certain to emerge. If policy leaders fail to recognize the link between access and completion, the community college is potentially jeopardized in the public dialogue (Goldrick-Rab, 2010).  This is particularly troubling because of the role community colleges play as the primary entry point for diverse learners and the traditionally underserved (Bailey & Morest, 2006).

Within this context, I recently co-authored an article with Debra Bragg that examined how policy affects access in the context of the nation’s completion agenda.  In this article, we argue that making explicit this link between access and completion is necessary to fulfilling the community college’s historic mission of open access. By examining three equity and outcomes focused efforts [Achieving the Dream (ATD); the critical assessments designed by the Center for Urban Education (CUE), University of Southern California; and the Pathways to ResultsTM (PTR) project developed by the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) at the University of Illinois], it is possible to engage practitioners in equity agendas that advance successful outcomes for all learners.

All three of these projects tie student success to access and do so through a critical assessment of data and examination of program impact on student subgroups.  As noted in our article, these initiatives focus on strategic activities that align policy and practice. Achieving the Dream (ATD) examines developmental education program effectiveness with student subgroups and seeks for its affiliated institutions to create a culture of evidence on campus and to focus on state-level policy change that can support campus level change.

The Center for Urban Education (CUE) utilizes participatory action research to work with community colleges and state systems where practitioners are viewed as the lynchpin for changing the equity conversation from one of deficit- to asset-thinking. CUE works with practitioners and policy leaders to investigate inequitable outcomes among sub-groups of students, utilizing the Equity ScorecardTM, and use these data to engage in deep and sustained dialogue about how changes can be made to address systemic inequities.

Grounded in participatory action inquiry and continuous improvement, Pathways to ResultsTM (PTR) was developed by OCCRL through the commitment of funding from several state agencies, most particularly the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB). OCCRL designed and developed PTR in an effort to facilitate data intensive inquiry processes utilizing practitioner teams to identify and alleviate barriers in programs of study for all students.  In PTR, practitioner groups map curricular pathways from high school through postsecondary education, and into employment.  Inquiry teams examine curriculum alignment and program quality across this spectrum.  Of particular note is the focus on students that are traditionally underrepresented to better understand how they navigate transitions across the P-20 spectrum.  Also notable is PTR’s focus on outcomes and equity assessment that disaggregates outcomes by student subgroups.  Cross-site meetings bring together PTR teams for broader sharing of common issues and identification of patterns across institutions that should inform state-level policy agendas.  PTR is also unique in its focus on reflection and storytelling consistent with double-loop learning (Argyis, 1993).  Across Illinois, most of the community college system has had some involvement in the PTR process.  A total of 37 PTR inquiry projects were funded through the 2011-2012 academic year.

As we suggest in the beginning of this discussion, understanding the policy context is a critical element to ensuring that access and completion remained linked. Coupling access and completion is a necessity for ensuring greater equity across the P-20 system. Achieving the Dream (ATD), CUE’s Equity ScorecardTM, and Pathways to ResultsTM (PTR) are three ways in which links can be made to ensure that equity is always a consideration when discussions on campus or in system offices turn to the college completion agenda.  Making equity and outcomes central to these conversations is critically important when we consider the students that community colleges have served historically and the students for whom the nation needs to continue to educate in order to secure a safe and prosperous future.

To read the full article referenced in this newsletter piece, see:  Bragg, D. D., & Durham, B. (2012). Perspectives on access and equity in the era of (community) college completion. Community College Review, 40(2), 106-125.  doi: 10.1177/0091552112444724


Other References

Argyris, C. (1993). Knowledge for action. A guide to overcoming barriers to organizational change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Bailey, T., & Morest, V. S. (Eds.). (2006). Defending the community college equity agenda. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Goldrick-Rab, S. (2010). Challenges and opportunities for improving community college student success. Review of Educational Research, 80, 437-469.

Lumina Foundation for Education. (2010). A stronger nation through higher education. Indianapolis, IN: Author.

Obama, B. (2009, Tuesday, February 24). Remarks of President Barack Obama, As prepared for delivery Address to Joint Session of Congress. Retrieved from



Brian L. Durham is Senior Director for Academic Affairs & CTE at the Illinois Community College Board in Springfield, Illinois.  He is also a doctoral candidate in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He may be reached at

Past Failure, Future Opportunity: Lessons Learned about the Experiences and Perceptions of Males of Color in College and Career Readiness Programs

by Lorenzo D. Baber, OCCRL


In addressing inequalities in postsecondary outcomes, educators have become increasingly focused on low achievement rates for males of color, most notably African American and Latino men. Just over the past year, The College Board, The Center for Latino Policy Research, The Institute for Higher Education Policy, and Lumina Foundation released reports on males of color in higher education. This research highlights low enrollment rates, disproportionate levels of judicial discipline, and stagnant degree completion rates. These reports make clear that current practices in higher education are failing males of color. New policies must develop, as the United States can no longer afford to lose the intellectual skills and talent possessed by underserved populations.

Unfortunately, research highlighting the troubled status of male of color students has yielded few practice-centered solutions. Often, research on males of color is limited to highlighting outcome patterns at an institution or state level. Whereas understanding this general landscape is valuable, this information does not reveal the personal experiences of males of color as they interact with the postsecondary environment. Policy-based strategies to address persistent access and attainment gaps could benefit from the insights of male students of color, but these insights are missing from the literature and policy-making. Personal narratives that provide in-depth reflection on how institutional practices influence the experiences and perceptions of males of color are needed to inform, improve and enhance current and new policy and practice.

As part of the College and Career Readiness (CCR) Evaluation[1], the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) has been working with interested pilot sites on a sub-study examining the educational experiences and perceptions of males of color. In August 2010, OCCRL submitted an initial report to the Illinois Community College Board, “Keep Seeing the Options… Don’t Give Up”: How Males of Color in a College and Career Readiness Intervention Portray their High School-to-College Transition Experience. Based on 14 interviews at three institutions, the report identified areas of support critical for males of color as they pursue postsecondary opportunities. Since that report was published, two additional sites were added and a total of 18 additional students agreed to participate in focus groups and individual interviews (see Table 1 for participant information). Students in the second wave of interviews continued to discuss many of the themes detailed in the 2010 report, including the importance of information about postsecondary opportunities; the desire for unfiltered assessment of current knowledge and skills; the need for acknowledgement from college administrators and instructors about potential as a college student; and the necessity to connect with ‘like-minded’ peer networks where males of color are welcomed. Subsequent interviews revealed two additional themes: College and Career Readiness programs as a ‘second chance’ for postsecondary preparation and unique experiences of males from immigrant families.

Table 1: Sub-Study Participants by Institution and Race


Number of Participants

African American


Asian American

College of Lake County





Moraine Valley










South Suburban





Southwestern Illinois










Key Themes

Information about Postsecondary Options – refers to access to details about multiple pathways in postsecondary education. This includes two-year and four-year options, federal and state financial aid information, and admissions criteria for specific institutions.

Unfiltered Assessment of Current Knowledge and Skills – refers to accurate feedback from education professionals (teachers, guidance counselors, administrators) on current academic status based on high school curriculum taken, grades, and college readiness testing outcomes.

Acknowledgment of Potential to be a College Student – refers to support for postsecondary aspirations. This includes confidence-building affirmation that the student has the ability to overcome current and future challenges.

Necessity to Connect with Peer Networks – refers to knowledge gained from similar-aged peers who are successfully navigating the postsecondary system. Information from this source tends to be viewed as more ‘authentic’ than formal institutional sources.

College and Career Readiness as “Second Chance” Programs – CCR is an opportunity for students to avoid limited long-term educational opportunities because of poor academic decision-making during late adolescence.

Unique Experiences of Males from Immigrant Families – Avoiding a monolithic perspective of males of color in education, this theme acknowledges specific challenges for males from immigrant families.

Directions for Future Research

Whereas the College and Career Readiness (CCR) sub-study on males of color has contributed to the understanding of some issues related to males of color, more research is needed including interviews to capture the experiences of participants from diverse demographic backgrounds – ethnicity (including Asian American and Native American males), socioeconomic class, immigrant status, and geographic location. Researchers who are concerned about viewing students of color in higher education as a homogenous group should be especially concerned about the ways  African American and Latino males are portrayed or missing altogether from the literature. Researchers should consider moving beyond purposeful selection of high-achieving students and include in their studies young men with low-to-moderate levels of academic success who are looking to reshape their educational aspirations and experiences.

It is especially important that future studies identify and examine institutional practices that positively shape enrollment and success of males of color.  Previous research has illuminated the various ways males of color are marginalized within educational contexts as a result of institutional norms that are incongruent between the identity of males of color and academic achievement. Examining innovative, campus-supported mentoring programs such as Brother 2 Brother at Parkland College or Men of Impact at Southwestern Illinois College offers an opportunity to gain insight into how males of color can be supported to persist and complete college.  Insights on the development and evaluation of these initiatives may also lead to program sustainability over time and scalability across community colleges.

Lastly, research should be informed by conceptual frameworks that highlight the unique position of African American and Latino males in American society. For example, socially constructed male-dominant ideology has created a set of expectations about how males should behave and act (Harris & Harper, 2008). From this framework, males become concerned with how other males view them – driven by a fear of ridicule or social exclusion.  Hence, they tend to avoid actions that others might perceive as weak or submissive. Majors and Billson (1992) refer to this phenomenon as the ‘cool pose’ culture, a strategic posturing that promotes hyper-masculinity, that is the overcompensation for insecure gender identity through aggressive behavior (Harper & Harris, 2010), as the way to combat negative experiences. African American and Latino males are particularly susceptible to the ‘cool pose’ as the increasingly influential popular media promotes hyper-masculinity as a cultural norm for males of color.


Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl (2010) report that by 2018, the United States economy will need an additional 22 million people with college degrees to fill positions requiring education beyond high school. African American and Latino male adults currently have higher unemployment rates than the national average (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). Current educational trends, coupled with the necessity for Americans to acquire credentials to obtain family-wage employment, does not bode well for males of color in the future. Beyond economic development, African American and Latino males have to overcome disparities that have led to inequities of access and opportunity within the educational system. As Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson (2009) state, shared confidence among all citizens that opportunity for upward mobility exists through education is critical to the long-term viability of the United States. Given the coupling of economic and equity concerns, community college leaders should use insights provided by males of color participating in the CCR sub-study to plan and implement new policies and practices that support their success.  Further, these results point to additional research that is needed to understand how policies and programs can be designed to account for the larger cultural pressures that influence males of color.


Baber, L. D., & Common, B. (2010). “Keep seeing the options… Don’t give up”: How males of color in a college and career readiness intervention portray their high school-to-college transition experiences. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from

Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., & McPherson, M. S. (2009). Crossing the finish line: Completing college at America’s public universities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Current employment status. Washington, DC: Division of Current Employment Statistics. Retrieved from

Carnevale, A., Smith, N., and Stohl, J. (2010). Help wanted: Projections of job and education requirements through 2018. Washington, DC: Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University. Retrieved from

Harper, S. R., & Harris, F., III. (Eds.). (2010). College Men and Masculinities: Theory, research and implications for practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Harris, F., III., & Harper, S. R. (2008). Masculinities go to community college: Understanding male identity socialization and gender role conflict.  In J. Lester (Ed.), Gendered Perspectives on Community Colleges: New Directions for Community Colleges, 142 (pp. 25-35). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Majors, R., & Billson, J. M. (1992). Cool Pose: The dilemmas of Black manhood in America. New York, NY: Touchstone.


Lorenzo D. Baber, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He may be reached at


[1] The College and Career Readiness (CCR) Pilot Act was passed in Illinois in 2007 and this legislation funded 7 pilot sites located in the northern and southern regions of the state to plan and implement programs that would assist high school juniors and seniors to prepare for college in areas that were assessed to be lacking in preparation to enroll in community colleges ready to learn.  Math and English were the main areas in which students were assessed. The CCR Evaluation was conducted by an OCCRL research team from the beginning of the project through the present. Results of this multi-year project are published in numerous reports available on the OCCRL website, with an abstract of the project available at:




Siguiendo Tu Sueno “Chasing Your Dream”: What Research Says about Barriers and Supports to Latino Student Community College Persistence

by Randi M. Congleton, OCCRL

By 2018, it is estimated that nearly two-thirds of new jobs created in the U.S. economy will require workers to pursue education beyond high school (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010). According to a recent report from the Lumina Foundation for Education (2010), only 37.9% of the American adult population currently holds a college degree or credential. To address this gap, President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative challenges states to contribute to the goal of helping 5 million additional Americans earn college degrees and certificates by 2020 (Obama, 2009). Community colleges in particular have been identified as the “gateway to good jobs and a better life,” emphasizing the important role that these institutions fill in providing college access and job retraining (Obama & Biden, 2010).

When considering the role that community colleges play in educating the U.S. population, it is essential to consider the student populations that they serve. Nationally, about 2 million Latino students’ ages 18-24 enrolled in colleges (Lopez, 2009), and a disproportionate number of these students (58%) enroll in two-year institutions as compared to four-year institutions (Piedra, Reynaga-Abko, & Schiffner, 2011). Latino’s make up 25% of 18-24 years olds enrolled in two-year colleges (Fry, 2011; Fry & Lopez, 2012).

The state of Illinois provides an interesting case in which to consider the American Graduation Initiative and Latino student participation in higher education. Illinois accepted the challenge of increasing college credential attainment, as illustrated by their participation in programs such as Complete College America and Race to the Top, signaling the state’s commitment to improve college access and success for Illinois residents. Yet, the challenges are particularly great for the Latino student population. In Illinois, 57% of Latino students graduate from high school compared to 83% of White students (Advance Illinois, 2010). Many Latino students, who graduate from high school, are underprepared to make the transition to postsecondary education. Only 8% of Hispanic students that do graduate are considered college ready, meaning their ACT composite score is greater than 21 (Advance Illinois, 2010). As a consequence, many of these students begin their higher education at community colleges where they must take developmental education to prepare them for college-level course work. Such inequities in high school graduation and college preparation for Latino students creates a disparity between the dream of earning a college credential and college access. In Illinois, during the year 2010, Latino students made up 16.6% of all students enrolled in community colleges, with an associate’s degree completion rate of 12% compared to 21% overall in the state (Illinois Community College Board, 2010).

Lagging behind in associate degrees received compared to other ethnic groups, there has been an increased emphasis placed on narrowing the achievement gap through improved programs and policies (Complete College America, 2011). A lack of college aspiration is not the barrier to success for Latino students but rather the lack of preparation and access to college opportunities. According to the Pew Hispanic Center (Lopez, 2009), nearly 88% of Latino high school student’s surveyed agreed that college credentials are necessary for upward mobility. Similarly, 77% of these high school students indicated that they believe this sentiment is shared among their parents, indicating familial support for the decision to pursue a college credential (Lopez, 2009).

To that end, if most Latino high school students and their family members recognize the need to attain college credentials, then the barriers to success and degree completion need to be determined and resolved. Higher education institutions should consider what prevents Latino students who enroll in community colleges from succeeding in transfer to the baccalaureate. This article provides an overview of a few pre-college, institutional, and environmental factors shown to influence Latino student transfer and baccalaureate degree completion. The article also offers several practices to assist Latino students through the community college pipeline to the baccalaureate degree level.


Empirical studies have cited overarching barriers to degree completion including pre-college, institutional, and environmental factors. This section of the article briefly introduces each influence on degree completion.

Pre-College Factors

Arbona and Nora (2007), studied college degree attainment among Hispanic students, and found that student’s background characteristics such as demographics, skills, and attitudes influence their achievement and college persistence.  Furthermore, they found that Hispanic/Latino students who began at a community college and transferred to a four-year institution shared the same pre-college characteristics with Hispanic or Latino students who began at a four-year institution. This includes completing a rigorous high school curriculum and early intention to enroll and complete a bachelor’s degree. English proficiency and academic preparedness have also been studied as pre-college barriers to degree completion or transfer for Latino students (Hagedorn, Cypers, & Lester, 2011; Piedra et al., 2011). These studies confirm that students who demonstrated lack of English proficiency are often placed in developmental courses, and enrollment in these courses tends to delay time to degree completion as well as decrease the self-efficacy of students who are repeating similar courses that were taken in high school (Nakajima, Dembo, & Mossler, 2012).

Institutional Factors

When studying college experiences that promote persistence among community college students, Barnett (2010) found that higher levels of academic integration strongly predicted higher levels of persistence. Integration refers to shared attitudes, values, and experiences that shape how students make meaning out of what they are learning and how they see themselves within an academic or social environment (Rendon, 1994). Academic integration includes performance in the classroom and connections with faculty and staff. Barnett’s study shows that, when students are meeting the requirements of the institution, they are more likely to feel like a valued and contributing member than when they are unable to meet institutional expectations (Barnett, 2010). This finding was particularly relevant to Latino students who expressed intent to return to college for the following semester.

Studies conducted by Rendon and others (see, for example, Rendon et al., 2011; Arbona & Nora, 2007) who emphasize validation by faculty as an influence on Latino student persistence and success support the previous findings. Faculty validate students’ academic potential by offering verbal encouragement, helping with coursework after class, and exhibiting patience to students who speak English as a second language.

Latino students who enroll full time and attend college continuously show higher levels of persistence than students who attend and enroll sporadically (Arbona & Nora, 2007). Nakajima et al. (2012) found that 70% of students who did not persist were enrolled part-time, compared to 29% enrolled full-time. Factors that may contribute to part-time enrollment and persistence include full- or part-time work and family responsibilities.

Latino students experience barriers to course progression that delay transfer from two-year to the four-year degree programs of study.  Barriers to creating a convenient course schedule, lack of information about transfer policies, lack of understanding about students’ cultural needs and poor academic advising have been found to impact the ability of Latino students in urban community college settings to transfer (Hagedorn et al., 2011). In their study of urban community college students, Hagedorn et al. found that the majority of students took classes on weekends and evenings when access to academic advising was non-existent.

Environmental Factors

When studying minority student retention in community colleges, Rendon et al. (2011) found several shared characteristics of Latino students who found it difficult to be socially and academically integrated within the community college. Environmental barriers such as family responsibilities and working off campus keep students away from connecting with faculty and staff, and peers outside of the classroom. Arbona and Nora (2007) demonstrated that Latino women who reported taking care of a family member were 83% more likely to leave college than others without the same responsibility.

Students who struggle with integration on campus tend to seek outside support; however the support they receive may not lead to persistence. Family responsibilities or struggles balancing school with off campus employment may draw students away from educational pursuits. The more hours a student works off-campus, the less likely they are to persist. Arbona and Nora (2007) found that students who rely on employment outside of the campus community were 36% more likely to stop out from an academic program.


Many variables impact the persistence and success of Latino students, and this article discussed a few pre-college, institutional, and environmental factors shown to influence Latino student transfer and baccalaureate degree completion. There are several practices to assist Latino students through the community college pipeline to the baccalaureate degree level, such as:

Connecting students with on- campus jobs to help them meet financial needs in an environment that is supportive to their learning needs and goals (Nakajimaet al., 2012).

Offering alternative times (e.g., nights and weekends) for academic services such as advising to help students to connect with staff to obtain advice about coursework, career opportunities, and transfer policies (Hagedorn et al., 2011).

Providing emotional support services though culturally-sensitive counseling and mentorship programs to help students make successful transitions as well as to promote social integration by providing an environment  in which they feel welcomed and valued (Crisp & Nora, 2009; Piedraet al., 2011).

Providing opportunities for students to connect with faculty outside of class time (Arbona & Nora, 2007; Barnett, 2010) helps them learn campus values and, build personal connections to academic groups on campus, which ultimately contributes to persistence.

Integrating campus academic support services into developmental coursework helps students build partnerships between support services and coursework. This enhances awareness of the needs of students who encounter barriers that place them at high-risk for dropping out of college, allowing support services professionals to anticipate and proactively address students’ needs (Nakajima et al., 2012).

Providing faculty and staff training on diverse student needs in the community college setting offers resources to support students in a culturally-relevant way. Furthermore, it encourages new ways of thinking about how institutional practices and structures can be shifted to reduce barriers to student success (Rendon, 1994).

Research demonstrates that Latino students and their families believe in the value of an education. Yet, institutional and structural inequalities, often encountered in early education experiences, place Latino students at a considerable disadvantage for accessing and succeeding in higher education environments. Community colleges have traditionally served as an entry point for these students. These institutions are well-positioned to continue offering job retraining and education credentialing opportunities that not only help individuals build lifelong skills, but that also strengthen local and national economies in ways that are called for by efforts such as the American Graduation Initiative. However, institutional and policy transformations, such as those recommended in this article, are needed to help Latino students achieve their potential – to turn their dreams into reality.



Advance Illinois. (2010). The state we’re in 2010: A report card on education in Illinois. Chicago, IL: Author. Retrieved from

Arbona, C., & Nora, A. (2007, Spring). The influence of academic and environmental factors on Hispanic college degree attainment. The Review of Higher Education, 30(3), 247-269.

Barnett, E. A. (2010, Winter). Validation experiences and persistence among community college students. The Review of Higher Education, 34(2), 193-230.

Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2010). Help wanted: Projections of jobs and education requirements through 2018. Washington, DC: Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University. Retrieved from

Complete College America. (2011). Illinois State Profile. Washington, DC: Author.  Retrieved from

Crisp, G., & Nora, A. (2009). Hispanic student success: Factors influencing the persistence and transfer decisions of Latino community college students enrolled in developmental education. Research in Higher Education, 51, 175-194.

Fry, R. (2011). Hispanic college enrollment spikes, narrowing gaps with other groups. Washington, D.C.: Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved from

Fry, R., & Lopez, M. H. (2012). Hispanic student enrollment reach new highs in 2011. Washington, D.C.: Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved from

Hagedorn, L. S., Cypers, S., & Lester, J. (2011). Looking in the rearview mirror: factors affecting transfer for urban community college students. In S. R. Harper& J. F. Jackson (Eds.), Introduction to American higher education (pp. 213-228). New York, NY: Routledge.

Illinois Community College Board. (2011). Summary of annual unduplicated headcount enrollment by ethnic origin for fiscal year 2010. Springfield, IL: Author. Retrieved from

Lopez, M. H. (2009). Latinos and education: Explaining the attainment gap. Washington, D.C.: Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved from

Lumina Foundation for Education. (2010). A stronger nation through higher education: How and why Americans must achieve a “big goal” for college attainment. Indianapolis, IN: Author. Retrieved from

Nakajma, M. A., Dembo, M. H., & Mossler, R.(2012). Student persistence in community colleges. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 36(8), 591-613.

Obama, B. H. (2009, July 14). Remarks by the President on the American Graduation Initiative. Retrieved from

Obama, B. H., & Biden, J. (2010). Community college summit. Retrieved from

Piedra, L. M., Schiffner, T. A., & Reynaga-Abiko, G. (2011). Investing in the future: expanding educational opportunities for first-generation Latino college students.  In L. P. Buki & L. M. Piedra (Eds.), Creating infrastructures for Latino mental health (pp. 118-137). New York: Springer Publications.

Rendon, L. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19(1), 33-51.

Rendon, L. I., Jalomo, R. E., & Nora, A. (2011). Theoretical consideration in the study of minority student retention in higher education. In S. R. Harper & J. F. Jackson (Eds.), Introduction to American higher education (pp.229-245). New York, NY: Routledge.


Randi M. Congleton, M.S., is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a specialization in Higher Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently works as a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. She may be reached at