Community Colleges

Community Colleges

The first step after high school for many is an affordable community college.

Community colleges enroll 41 percent of all U.S. undergraduates, but too many people are unfamiliar with these locally rooted workforce training and education organizations and what they offer. While colleges and universities featuring bachelor’s programs have been engaged in a brand positioning race for years, community colleges have not had the resources to launch sophisticated brand-building or marketing efforts that make vital campus-to-community connections.

Lumina Foundation believes community colleges are a central part of higher education and essential to ensuring that 60 percent of Americans earn credentials of value after high school, whether associate degrees, college certificates, or industry-recognized certifications. That is why we promoted brand-building and marketing efforts at America’s community colleges through The Million Dollar Community College Challenge.

Community colleges, also known as two-year colleges, provide accessible and affordable education to students who might not have the means or academic backgrounds to attend four-year colleges or universities. These institutions offer a wide range of programs and services designed to support students in achieving their educational goals. Community colleges typically have open-admissions policies, which means they accept all students with a high school diploma or equivalent. This makes them accessible to adults and students with lower GPAs or who did not take advanced coursework in high school.

Community colleges charge lower tuition than four-year colleges and universities, making them an affordable option for students who want to finish general education requirements or gain technical skills before transferring to earn bachelor’s degrees. Community colleges also offer career and technical education, including nursing, welding, computer science, and the culinary arts. These programs provide students with skills and training to enter high-demand fields. These colleges offer support services to help students succeed, such as academic advising, career counseling, income-based financial aid, and tutoring.

Community colleges disproportionately educate and train adults of color, people from low-income families, immigrants, and first-generation college students. They are poorly resourced relative to four-year colleges and universities.

More on Community Colleges

Join us for this episode of Inside Out: Community Colleges Far and Wide

Next up, we're traveling to the U.S. territory of Guam to visit Guam Community College, which is steeped in history and culture, and all in on workforce programming. There’s never been a stronger sense of community in college. Guam Community College might be far from the mainland United States, but its faculty and staff are working tirelessly to improve opportunities close to home.

What happens when a system takes on the Challenge?

When we launched The Million Dollar Community College Challenge in February 2022, we were intentional about focusing on individual colleges. Our goal was simple: to provide an opportunity for colleges across the country to energize the field around improving community college brands AND to get resources directly to colleges to do the work. As we went through the process, we heard from state systems and associations that were also interested in working together to advance brand awareness and deepen the outreach and connection with residents of their college communities. So, in July 2023, we provided a $1 million grant to the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) to improve the brand-building efforts of their 12 colleges in support of adult learners – and ultimately help them advance their bold goal of Reaching Equitable Prosperity by 2030. To accomplish this goal, LCTCS is working toward graduating 330,000 individuals who will earn on average 150 percent above the state median income.

How do the strategic plan, brand strategy, and marketing plan work together?

A college's strategic plan guides all long-term and day-to-day institutional decisions, ensuring operations and priorities support the institution's mission, vision, and values. Brand strategy defines and sets the expectation for the experience people will have when engaging with the community college brand. And marketing strategy outlines the tactics of how and where the college will engage audiences to increase awareness and influence them to pursue the college.

Worried about the “enrollment cliff”? It’s time to change our perception of who goes to college.

In 2007, Mayra Fierro went to a liberal arts college in Florida right after high school but quickly discovered that the experience wasn’t for her. She was more than prepared academically—she graduated a year early from high school. But her family struggled to pay tuition, even with a scholarship and financial aid.