Initiative Supports N.C. Community College System’s Vision to Lead the Nation in Diversity and Inclusion
The N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) was selected by Lumina Foundation to join the Racial Equity for Adult Credentials in Higher Education (REACH) Collaborative, a national initiative focused on helping thousands more Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Native American adults earn credentials. A total of 20 community colleges in North Carolina will participate in the collaborative, creating pathways from quality credentials to associates programs that embed culturally sustaining practices and sequenced student supports. This initiative is also supported by an investment from the John M. Belk Endowment.
Persistent structural barriers continue to limit education and training opportunities and outcomes for adults of color. Pathways created through the REACH Collaborative will lead to quality short-term credentials that align with associate degree programs, making it possible for Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Native American adults to pursue better job prospects while continuing to progress toward a degree. Colleges will implement a holistic approach to delivering support that combines comprehensive academic, advising, and financial supports tailored to the unique needs of adult learners of color. An intentional focus on weaving practices that honor and nurture students’ cultures, values, heritage, and language into each part of the student experience will ensure that the pathways are anchored in racial equity.
States were selected for their innovative, student-centered pathways efforts, supports for adult learners, and demonstrated commitment to equitable student success. North Carolina’s community colleges are focused on defining clear credential pathways with multiple on and off-ramps to the labor market and ensuring adult learners have the supports they need to successfully complete them.
Community colleges participating in the collaborative will develop between four and eight academic pathways that align with in-demand career fields. Equity champions, community partners, and workforce leaders will be engaged at the state and local levels to support colleges in designing the pathways and ensuring equitable economic outcomes.
North Carolina is committed to the REACH Collaborative’s goal of increasing credentials earned by Black, Latino, and Native American learners, ages 25-64, enrolled at participating community colleges by two percent over the next two years.
“One of the pillars of our community college vision is that we will become a national leader in diversity and inclusion,” said Thomas Stith, NCCCS president. “Our efforts are already underway, and the support from this initiative will help us to expand affordable and accessible education, leading to good jobs for all North Carolinians.”
As efforts to enroll and graduate more adult learners of color have intensified in recent years, deep systemic barriers in higher education have continued to stand in the way of their success. The adoption of widespread reform efforts at institutions across the country have shown some promising results in improving completion rates, but work remains to serve adults and close racial equity gaps more intentionally. Disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to widen the 17-point percentage gap between white and Black adults and further compound inequalities that have been laid bare. The REACH Collaborative will work to close the gap by expanding on the work of pathway reform efforts in a way that acknowledges and addresses the needs and lived experiences of adult learners of color.
“There is an urgent need to provide functional and equitable pathways to attainment for adults of color,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “Lumina is proud to support the REACH Collaborative, not only as a necessary effort to reach our own attainment goal but as a moral imperative. As diverse engines of social mobility that are deeply rooted in the needs of students and workforce, community colleges are uniquely suited to do this important work.”
Other states selected for the REACH Collaborative are California, Colorado, New York, Texas, and Virginia. Education Strategy Group (ESG) and the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) at the University of Illinois will lead the collaborative and coordinate technical assistance for participating community colleges, system offices, and student success centers. DVP-PRAXIS LTD is serving as the learning and evaluation partner.