As a child who grew up in a low-income neighborhood, Gregory Haile, president of Broward College in Florida, first heard the word “college” mentioned in conversation when he was in sixth grade. By contrast, Haile’s girls remembered their college potential from when they were in elementary school, as each class had the name of a college or university over the door.
The difference between these experiences, Haile said, underscores the importance of community colleges close to the most difficult residents they are responsible for serving.
“We need to make it impossible for every resident, every child and every adult to not realize the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education. We need to make sure they know their home zip code doesn’t define their potential. We need to be physically, socially and financially close so they know we exist for them. Our closeness has to be overt and obvious, ”Haile said at her 2021 Dallas herring conference hosted by the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research at NC State College of Education.
During her lecture entitled “Redefining Access: The Power of Proximity”, delivered on November 16, Haile asserted that community colleges are required to develop innovative approaches to be close to the communities they are designed to serve. in order to ensure equitable access to higher education.
Haile noted that the people community colleges are designed to support are also the ones who typically have the fewest transportation options and the least time due to work and parenting commitments. Yet community colleges expect these students to come to them.
Instead, Haile explained, community colleges should partner with local organizations and municipalities to use public facilities such as recreation centers, libraries and even churches to hold workshops, classes, and schools. awareness-raising activities for the most needy communities. He cited Wake Technical Community College, which began offering short-term, non-degree courses at local YMCA facilities, and McDowell Technical Community College, which expanded off-campus sites to offer community training and programs. , as examples to follow.
“I challenge you to examine these measures in detail and develop them both regionally and nationally. When we rely on the power of closeness, we as community colleges can champion Dallas Herring’s educational vision of providing opportunity for all, ”he said.
Community colleges do a good job of fostering a sense of belonging among students once they arrive on campus, but Haile believes the sense of belonging has to start long before that.
To acclimate residents to the idea of college and to help people understand they have academic potential, Haile has been going door-to-door in some of the most difficult communities served by Broward College to introduce themselves. to residents, ask them to consider the university and dispel the myths. they had on higher education.
He urged other community college leaders to follow in his footsteps.
“I challenge you to have a permanent presence in these communities. I challenge you to speak to those you miss and to personally understand their needs and the myths they believe in, but which we know need to be shattered. I challenge you to knock on the doors of members of your community to make sure that just like your child, just like your family member, they know that you and your institution are ready to support them now and forever.
One evening, while out for dinner, Haile was approached by a woman he had never met, but who recognized him as the president of Broward College.
The woman told her that she had one course left to complete her degree, but that she did not have the $ 300 needed to pay for the course and related expenses. Haile said her team helped find financial support for the woman, who passed the course and eventually graduated.
For students on the brink of collapse like this woman, just one financial setback could be the difference between graduating or dropping out or dropping out. So it’s imperative, Haile said, that once community colleges encourage students to connect physically and socially, they provide the financial support students need to complete their education.
“What will your institution do to break the history of poverty in your surrounding communities, to break insufficient levels of achievement, to ensure that the communities most in difficulty feel physically, socially and financially close to your institution”, asked Haile.