A Community College’s Journey to Further Equity Through Economic & Community Impact

Blog Post
April 18, 2023

In October 2022, President Williams of Montgomery College set an ambitious goal as part of his inaugural speech, about a year into his tenure. He promised, “that 100 percent of the College’s credit and non-credit offerings will be mapped onto a credential of economic, social, and community impact.” In doing so, President Williams sought to make every credential offered by the college connect to a job with a family-sustaining wage. This focus exemplifies a unique commitment to job quality for the college’s students and graduates.

Montgomery College is remarkably diverse. Seventy-nine percent of its students are students of color. The college is both a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI). One-third of students receive Pell grants and 32 percent were born outside the United States. President Williams' effort to ensure all of the college’s offerings lead to good-paying jobs is therefore truly a commitment to racial and economic equity.

To help achieve this goal, the college created a set of practices to support their students to and through their college experience and into a good job.

Engaging the community. Montgomery has created three community engagement centers in underserved areas of the county--including one designed to serve the Ethiopian community--that offer advising, certification/licensing programs, and free classes in things like English as a Second Language. The college also created community engagement roundtables to build partnerships with local nonprofits including Leadership Montgomery, CASA de Maryland, and the Ethiopian Community Center of Maryland.

Supporting student enrollment and success. To connect with high school students, Montgomery College created the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) program. The program helps local high school students apply for college, navigate the financial aid process, apply for scholarships, access career readiness programming, and engage in one-on-one coaching. The program operates in 14 public high schools and serves about 2,500 low-income, first-generation students a year. In 2022, 166 of these students earned a credential at the college.

For students enrolled in the college, Montgomery created an academic coaching program called Achieving the Promise Academy (ATPA) that serves 12,000 students every year. ATPA embeds coaching in 240 courses with historically high failure rates. It also provides one-on-one coaching to 450 students who receive tuition assistance, a loaner laptop, weekly one-on-one time with their coach and support to monitor their financial aid, registration, and academic progress. ATPA has achieved real results: courses with embedded coaching have five-point lower failure or withdrawal rates than other courses at the college. Additionally, ATPA’s one-on-one coaching program has reduced failure rates by four percent for participating Latino students.

Targeted support for vulnerable populations. Despite these efforts, the college’s internal data suggested that certain populations need additional support to thrive. To address these heightened needs, the college runs educational programs with the Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, participates in the ASCEND Initiative to support student parents, and runs a training center for the area's refugee population.

Even more impressive is the college's participation in Maryland Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MIBEST). Based on the Washington State I-BEST model, MIBEST offers adult basic education and language instruction while also offering postsecondary level workforce programs. These types of programs increase the likelihood of basic skills students continuing into credit-bearing coursework, earning college credits, attaining occupational certificates, and making gains on basic skills tests.

Connecting graduates to high-quality jobs. But even getting students to and through a program doesn’t guarantee that they will achieve the economic mobility that Montgomery College envisions. To help ensure its students realize economic mobility, the college strives to ensure all of its students see themselves as candidates for high-quality jobs, in fields like IT and coding, that are in high demand in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. To do this, Montgomery College has a Strengthening Community Colleges Training grant from the Department of Labor to recruit and train individuals historically underrepresented in IT, including people of color, women, and disconnected youth. The college also runs a program for middle schoolers called Montgomery Can Code that helps teach students about coding and the local jobs they can get with that skill set.

While the college has made significant progress in ensuring its students can thrive in, and after, college, it continually seeks new insights into how it can help advance educational equity and economic mobility. Montgomery College regularly analyzes student outcomes and labor market data to address new opportunities and challenges its students face. Community colleges need a strong vision from the top and data-informed interventions to support economic mobility and close equity gaps.

Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on what’s new in Education Policy!

Related Topics
Higher Education Access and Affordability