Supporting Students with Supportive Services

June 27, 2013

By Abigail Newcomer

Many of the community college grantees of the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program (TAACCCT) are finding that one way of spurring lasting change on their campuses is to develop infrastructure to enhance students’ academic and career preparation, and to assist them in addressing day-to-day demands on their time and their pocketbooks.

A recent Inside Higher Ed article reported on fifteen colleges in Massachusetts utilizing TAACCCT funds to counsel adult students on career options and course selection. These institutions are employing professionals to assist students in connecting with available services from the point when they express interest in a program of study through completion and job placement. These “navigators” convey information and assist students to meet challenges, such as managing money, securing child care and obtaining transportation. Community colleges in Seattle, Washington and Minnesota, are undertaking similar efforts by partnering with local organizations to connect students to navigators.

As the career pathway approach has gained momentum in recent years, CLASP has highlighted the crucial contribution of supportive services to the success of adult students seeking postsecondary degrees and credentials. In March, CLASP released an updated resource - Funding Career Pathways and Career Pathway Bridges - designed to help interagency state teams identify and facilitate "braiding" of federal resources to build career pathways for adults and out-of-school youth.

The new edition of the toolkit now includes an appendix devoted to support services, which are among the most difficult components of career pathways to fund. This appendix lays out a framework for understanding different types of support services, and identifies 10 federal funding sources that can be used to finance them.

Adult students seeking additional training are clearly different from one another, coming with distinct sets of needs and personal circumstances. Each student requires a patchwork of supports that fall into four categories:  1) financial stability support, 2) personal support, 3) academic support, and 4) career preparation support. The chart below lists some of the activities that could be among the resources and services included in each category.

Table 1: Categories of Support Services

Financial Stability

A broad range of strategies to help students meet the financial demands of participating in career pathways and career pathway bridge programs.
Assistance accessing financial aid
Assistance using non-traditional aid
Assistance with child care, transportation and living expenses


Designed to address the non-financial, non-academic barriers to academic progress, so students can engage fully in their learning.
Mentoring, case management
Counseling, group support
Financial coaching
Financial literacy workshops


Supports that assist students to meet the academic requirements of their programs, including those supports that address under-preparation, as well as those that assist students to plan for programs and understand their requirements.
Academic advising
Academic preparation

Career Preparation

Aimed at helping students to use the knowledge and skills they acquire in training to plan for and secure employment and more education.
Career navigation
Job and internship search assistance and placement
Assistance gaining work experience

Community colleges may have the capacity to provide some of these student supports. Others can be delivered in partnership with community-based organizations or workforce agencies. The new edition of the toolkit describes the following strategies for building out support services:

  • Take an entrepreneurial approach to finding resources and providing services. This can help institutions stretch limited public dollars, and could include securing philanthropic funds, or seeking ways to provide support services in unique ways.
  • Form teams or partnerships to bring together necessary resources. Many partners in career pathway efforts already offer or have the capacity to offer some support services. Partnerships allow organizations to increase capacity and broker additional services by building on their own strengths and drawing on the strengths of others.
  • Braid together funding sources to provide support services. Because of limits on how funds may be used, programs with a diverse customer base may need to braid together funding from different streams to provide the full range of needed services. Dedicated staff is frequently necessary for a college to identify, secure, and use disparate funding streams cohesively.

The mix of supports can and should vary by student, institution and local circumstance. What should not vary is the resolve of community college leadership, faculty and staff to connect resources and supports to students so they can be successful in completing their training.

site by Trilogy Interactive