Beyond Free College: Making Higher Education Work for 21st-Century Students

The Forum session entitled, “Beyond Free College: Making Higher Education Work for 21st-Century Students” covered a topic that resonates with many students.

Due to the increase in tuition for four-year colleges, community college has become the best option for many lower-income students. For many students, community college is the first step in their journey, as they hope to transfer into larger institutions, for others it is the only step due to the lack of focus those smaller institutions place on completion. Surprisingly, 36 million people have some college credit, but no degree or certificate.

Dr. Scott Evenbeck, president of Guttman Community College in New York, and Dr. Lloyd Holmes, president of De Anza College in California, are working to ensure that students have the necessary tools to succeed. During the session, they discussed how their respective schools place an emphasis on “wrap around services”. These are services that meet the needs of each student in and outside of the classroom, which were especially important during the pandemic. These services include drive through food pantries, housing support, transportation, and supplying toiletries. In addition, these community colleges are partnered with high schools in the local area that allow students to gain college credit while in high school. Students who come in with college credit are closer to that degree or certificate at no cost at all. It also enhances students’ confidence to attend college because they know they have already been performing on a college level and can continue to do so.

Placing an emphasis on completion in smaller institutions will generate change for millions of families. Providing students with the necessary tools to be successful has never been more important as students are facing challenging times due to the pandemic. The panelists in this forum session are innovators who are looking for any possible way to support students in and outside of the classroom to ensure they succeed. A central theme in this Forum session is that when people move into the middle class, they bring their children with them into college. As college tuition continues to increase, smaller institutions such as community colleges will be the only option for millions of students. Ensuring warp around services are in place will lead to a surge in graduation and ultimately a more secure future for those individuals and their families.