Setting record straight on community colleges
Schools should not be judged using wrong measurements
IN RESPONSE to the recent op-ed written by Juma Crawford and Marisa Meldonian, Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) and Roxbury Community College (RCC) would like to offer a few points that accurately display the success of our students and our institutions. The measures included in this particular opinion article are from IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System), which include only first-time, full-time students. For the past three years, that has represented only 8 to 10 percent of Bunker Hill’s overall student body each fall, and only 3 to 7 percent of Roxbury’s enrollment each fall. IPEDS is structured for and has historically catered to a four-year institution paradigm (where most students begin their college career at an institution, and most stay and remain full-time). It does not accurately measure who community college students are and how they experience college.
Combined, Bunker Hill and Roxbury serve 20,000 students annually. Of the students enrolled at Bunker Hill in fall 2018, 35 percent were full-time, 65 percent were part-time, 75 percent or more worked part-time or full-time jobs, and the average age was 26. Of the students enrolled at Roxbury in fall 2018, the average age was 31 and 72 percent of students attended on a part-time basis.
With the overwhelming majority of the students at community colleges attending part-time, a measurement of success defined as graduation within two years does not account for most of our students. By using a voluntary framework of accountability (VFA), a six-year time frame measurement, and accounting for the complex lives of our students, we are more able to understand and evaluate their success. Measures of success include: completion of a certificate or degree, continued enrollment, transfer to another institution, or completion of 30 or more college credits. With these measures in mind, over 65 percent of Roxbury and Bunker Hill students are successful in six years.
As open-access institutions, where the only requirement for entry is a high school or general equivalency diploma, it’s in our mission to understand that students enter college with various needs. At Bunker Hill, 70 percent or more of new students place into one or more developmental courses. These courses are intentionally credit-bearing so that Pell-eligible and state financial aid-eligible students can access the courses and use financial aid towards the payment of the courses.
Just like all community colleges in Massachusetts, Bunker Hill and Roxbury also offer high-quality and affordable programs that prepare students to rapidly enter the workforce. More than 65 percent of credential-bearing community college programs in Massachusetts are career technical education: public safety, allied health, technical training programs for computer systems, culinary arts, among many more. Unlike other career occupational colleges, community colleges are open to all, thus not selective in their admissions. And remember, some career occupational colleges cost nearly $20,000 per year – three times more than the cost of community college education.
Equity is a core value for students, faculty, and staff at both Bunker Hill and Roxbury. Bunker Hill ranks ninth in the nation for the most racially and ethnic diverse community college. At Bunker Hill, 65 percent of students are people of color. At Roxbury, 88 percent of the student body is comprised of students of color and 70 percent identify as female. In 2018, Roxbury was proud to be recognized as a Top 100 Producer of Associate Degrees awarded to minority students in 13 unique categories by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. Both Bunker Hill and Roxbury are proud of our diverse campuses, but we are also faced with the challenging reality of the financial need for historically underrepresented students.
Overall, we all want our students to be successful. As one may expect, we find that completion rates have better outcomes when the financial needs of students are adequately funded. Although tuition and fees at Bunker Hill and Roxbury are lower than many of the state-supported institutions in the Commonwealth, the cost of living in the Boston area is high and the income level of our student body is low. Over time, state support of community college students has shifted to a point where the burden of college payment falls mostly on the student. For example, the average unmet need of a Bunker Hill student receiving the maximum amount of state or federal support is more than $5,000. This includes tuition and fees, books, housing, food, childcare, and transportation.
However, it’s important to remember that the financial aid process was designed for a student who is 17 to 22 years old, a dependent of their parents, able to take classes at a full-time rate of 12 credits or more, does not have dependents of their own, and does not work. As mentioned before, students in this category represent a small portion of our student body. However, more resources are desperately needed to continue the positive work by the institutions. For example, the BHCC Foundation raises money for scholarships to students who demonstrate need under the “total cost of attendance” scholarship program. Since its inception in 2014, 150 students have received scholarships totaling $1.2 million. An astounding 95 percent have completed their studies or are on track to do so within the next year or two. The average GPA of all students is nearly 3.6. With the right resources, students can achieve anything.To produce better outcomes for Boston Public School graduates and all students that enter community college education, the gap in funding needs to be closed. Therefore, financial support from organizations like the Lewis Family Foundation would be happily welcomed to meet these needs. When a student is not burdened with the cost of housing, childcare, food, and transportation (all items where costs are increasing), they will have the ability to persevere, complete their studies, and ultimately contribute to the workforce and economy of Massachusetts.
Pam Eddinger is the president of Bunker Hill Community College and Valerie Roberson is the president of Roxbury Community College. William Walczak is chair of the Bunker Hill board and Gerald Chertavian is chair of the Roxbury board.