New Effort Focuses on Increasing Community College Success for Women Students

LONG BEACH—Achieving the Dream is teaming up with the Biden Foundation to spearhead a bold, new initiative called “Community College Women Succeed,” aimed at helping adult women learners — including single parents — succeed and complete community college.

The new initiative was announced on Wednesday by Dr. Jill Biden, the former Second Lady who is also an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College.

“Teaching isn’t just what I do,” Biden told the more than 2,400 Achieving the Dream (ATD) conference attendees who have gathered here for several days to strategize on how best to help students — particularly low-income and students of color —achieve academic success. “It is who I am.”

Biden has long been an advocate and staunch supporter for community colleges. In 2010, she hosted the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges.

In her talk on Wednesday, Biden pointed to data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) that note that a growing number of single mothers — 11 percent of all undergraduates — are enrolled in postsecondary institutions but most will not graduate because of the challenges they face as financially independent students who are juggling work, school and parenting.

According to IWPR, only eight percent of single mothers enrolled in college earn an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years.

Biden said that the new initiative with ATD will promote “promising practices and innovative programs to support women’s retention in community colleges based on research and retention trends.”

She added that the initiative will not be top-down and that thought leaders will actively engage with women to learn more about what they need, adding that the ongoing effort will include a number of regional roundtables with women “to figure out how to create the best, most effective support system we can.”

“For the women who are willing to give their all, who are willing to fight for their future that they want and that they deserve, we can do more,” said Biden. “As educators, we think that our schools and our students are the exception. I think community colleges are a special place. I think community college educators are a special group of people. And I think that no one is better prepared to meet this challenge than we are.”

Biden said that improving outcomes for adult women learners will not happen overnight.

“We all have a role to play. We all have gifts to give to this effort. And even though it’s tough, I have faith in us,” she said. “I know that we will change for the better. I know we will find a way to help women be students and mothers. We will help them find a way to succeed at school and pay bills. We will help them pursue the opportunities that they want and that they deserve.”

Dr. Karen Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream, praised the partnership.

“Yes, it’s about the degree and the credential and its about moving into a job with a living wage,” said Stout. “But we know from research, that it’s also about confidence building and I think the best place for our community college students to get that confidence is inside our community colleges.”

Jamal Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson

This article first appeared on Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.

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