Community colleges in six states join national effort to support adult students of color
Adult Learners

Community colleges in six states join national effort to support adult students of color

Black student studies in a library environment.
iStock / Jacob Lund

Education and training after high school, long known to be a vehicle for economic mobility, will play a pivotal role in our recovery, but only if that promise is just as true for communities of color. Systematically, however, that has not been the case for Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Native American adult students. Some renewed commitments and opportunities at community colleges may help change that.

The promise of these institutions has prompted Lumina Foundation to launch the Racial Equity for Adult Credentials in Higher Education (REACH) Collaborative. It’s an $8 million effort over the next two years to acknowledge and address the educational pathway needs and lived experiences of adult students of color in this critical moment and beyond. The sizable investment is an affirmation of our commitment to racial equity across all our work.

This national initiative will support community colleges in six states in creating pathways to high-quality non-degree credentials that are embedded in associate degree programs, making it possible for adults to pursue better job opportunities while continuing to progress toward a degree. These states—California, Colorado, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—were selected for their efforts to serve and support adult learners and demonstrated commitment to equitable student success.

Sequenced student supports and culturally sustaining practices will also be core elements of REACH pathways. This means ensuring that academic, financial, and wraparound supports are purposely embedded and made available to students throughout their entire enrollment, and that these experiences specifically account for the needs of adult students of color. Weaving these elements together is essential but rarely done, especially as students move from workforce training to associate degree programs.

Prior to the pandemic, more than 12 million students, most of whom are Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Native American, were enrolled at the nation’s community colleges. These institutions have often served as local engines of opportunity and social mobility through education and job training pathways. But between program tracking, chronic underfunding, and pathway obstacles, the outcomes for adults of color frequently reproduce disparities in completion, job placement, and earnings.

Some reforms have chipped away at a handful of these challenges, but not enough to move the needle for adults of color who have experienced the worst of this pandemic. And in a moment where federal resources are pouring into these institutions to help turn around what has been the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history, the need to provide functional and equitable pathways to success for adults of color must be an urgent part of reform and recovery efforts.

Lumina has teamed up with Education Strategy Group (ESG), the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) at the University of Illinois, and evaluation consulting firm DVP-PRAXIS LTD to lead the collaborative, coordinate technical assistance to institutions, and evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts at participating community colleges.

By drawing on the expertise of these state and national partners, tapping into regional and local insights, incorporating best practices, and building on lessons learned from past reforms and recoveries, Lumina aims to see at least a 2 percent increase in high-quality credential attainment and outcomes over the next two years. And our hope is that the momentum will not stop there.


Wayne Taliaferro is a strategy officer in the Washington, D.C., office of Lumina Foundation. He works to support the creation of a system in which student success and equitable outcomes are scaled up significantly, particularly at community colleges as the start of a success trajectory.

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