By Wayne Taliaferro and Chandra Scott

It’s time to rewrite the “do more with less” narrative that has for too long dominated historically Black and predominantly Black community colleges (HBCCs and PBCCs)—an often overlooked yet resilient segment.

Four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) receive more prominent recognition, but their two-year counterparts play a comparably pivotal role. Both provide an accessible and generally affordable education to an array of students—many from underserved communities. But for years, the recognition and resources HBCCs and PBCCs needed haven’t kept pace with what it takes to fulfill their mission. These colleges must have the adequate tools necessary to support student success. It is just as vital that they consistently have the equitable resources they need to produce and sustain transformative outcomes.

So as a start, let’s change the narrative. Let’s elevate the powerful stories of HBCCs and PBCCs—stories like how these colleges have been at the forefront of innovation, community building, and success despite less funding and visibility. With eight institutions, Alabama has the most of any state—each with their own story to tell.

Take Chattahoochee Valley Community College (CVCC) for example. CVCC leaders targeted and improved student retention and completion by hiring success coaches who provide students with wrap-around supports ranging from course registration to career coaching. They recognize students face barriers beyond academics, and the success coach is a bridge to guiding students over those barriers, whether those be transportation issues or lack of funding for books. The role of the success coaches is to be a proactive advisor for the student until they have a job, credential, or transfer.

CVCC’s retention rate rose four percentage points in just one year since the start of the success coach program.

Examples like CVCC’s win show why we need to rally around providing equitable support. And in recent years, several foundations have come together to do just that.

The HBCC/PBCC Network, funded by Lumina Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation in partnership with Complete College America, is an essential hub for providing HBCCs and PBCCs with a platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing. The 22 colleges in the network work collectively to develop innovative strategies to improve student success, bridge equity gaps, and elevate their value and narrative within the higher education and workforce ecosystem. Just recently, ECMC Foundation added new support for Alabama’s eight HBCCs.

But before 2020, a network designed specifically to support HBCCs and PBCCs didn’t exist, and these colleges were largely absent from mainstream conversations about higher education until recently. Since the network’s launch in 2021, these institutions have implemented evidence-based practices to support student success, including strategies for improving retention and graduation rates, leveraging data to drive decision-making, and offering comprehensive support services to students. They have also developed strong partnerships with industry leaders to ensure programs are relevant and responsive to workforce needs.

Colleges are also leveraging data-driven decision-making approaches to inform policy on (and off) their campuses. They can better target and evaluate support and interventions by taking a data and evidence-based approach to identify areas of strength and opportunity in their student support practices. Likewise, they’re more equipped and empowered with the data and evidence they need to self-advocate as individual institutions and now as a community.

HBCCs and PBCCs are invaluable cultural assets and critical players within Alabama’s education and workforce landscape. Their success is essential to the state’s future, so we must change the too-often accepted “more with less” narrative that has come to define their existence.

Continuous, equitable investment and support are vital to turning that around—and there’s no better time than now to start.

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