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Nineteen Colleges Commit to Providing Vulnerable Students with Vital Supports

Nov 28, 2012

By Abigail Newcomer


In late October, leadership and staff from nineteen community colleges gathered at Skyline College in San Bruno, California for the annual Center for Working Families Learning Network Conference, which focused on strengthening and expanding use of strategies to improve the postsecondary success of low-income community college students. All of the colleges in attendance -- and an increasing number of institutions across the country -- are expressing a commitment to meeting the financial as well as the academic needs of low-income students in order to promote college completion and success.

This trend is a response to the changing face of students. Today, fully 40 percent of college students are low-income; 47 percent are not dependent on their parents/guardians; and 32 percent are employed full time while attending school. These circumstances can all contribute to students taking longer to complete their programs of study or to them dropping out completely. 

Many of the colleges that met in California are implementing the “Center for Working Families” (CWF) approach, which combines academic and career training with financial information and resources, including financial education, asset building tools, free tax assistance and access to publicly available benefits and supports. The approach has been used in community based organizations and is now being adopted in community colleges at varying levels of intensity to better meet the financial as well as the academic needs of students. The colleges are using a range of strategies, including embedding targeted financial education and supports into existing courses, piggybacking on existing programs, partnering with community based organizations, and developing new centers on campus.

Differences in the services available at the colleges make it challenging to measure the impact of the CWF approach as a whole. However, Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque has seen a 15 percent increase in term-to-term retention among students who utilize services as compared to those who do not.

Colleges are also seeing a clear correlation between use of the CWF approach and a strong commitment of that college’s leadership to comprehensively meeting the financial needs of low-income students. As hosting President Regina Stanback Stroud stressed, helping vulnerable students complete their programs of study is an integral part of her college’s mission. Equally integral are the goals of reducing poverty and advancing equity in her community. Many of the Presidents of these institutions have become public advocates of efforts to improve student financial stability. Moreover, these Presidents are so committed to this issue that nine of them attended the conference and sat on a panel about gaining the investment of leadership in this work. 

The Center for Working Families Learning Network is managed by MDC and supported by a range of foundations and intermediaries including the Annie E Casey Foundation, Bank of America, the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and United Way Worldwide.

Case studies on a selection of these colleges’ approaches are available in a recent MDC publication, Center for Working Families at Community Colleges: Clearing the Financial Barriers to Student Success.


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