This community college is having none of the inequitable economic recovery

Broward College is leveraging partnerships to offer free education and wraparound support for its most vulnerable community members. They believe their model is replicable across other community colleges.
Blog Post
Source: Broward College's Isabel Gonzalez
May 5, 2021

The American economy is looking better and better. Growth is up, unemployment is down, stocks are rising, and jobs are coming back as more Americans are vaccinated.

But the recovery could be “K-shaped,” splitting into two paths where the more educated and wealthy do better, but the working poor, especially women and people of color, do worse.

The K-shaped recovery can be reflected in higher education through the steep Spring 2021 declines in community college enrollment, particularly at the certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s level among Native American, Latino, and Black students. Master’s and doctoral degree enrollment, on the other hand, is actually up (including among racial minorities).

The gap between the haves and have-nots seems to grow, but Broward College located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is having none of it.

Broward launched what it describes as an “expanded way of doing business” called “Broward UP (Unlimited Potential)™” to expand access, attainment, and mobility among the most underserved in its community. Broward wants to bring about an equitable recovery.

Broward County, home to nearly two million people and enjoys an impressive three percent unemployment rate, but Broward College realized that unemployment looked very different for its lower-income neighborhoods. Broward UP communities are located in six zip codes where unemployment hovers around nine to fifteen percent (up to thirty percent in some neighborhoods). Communities in all six zip codes were majority-minority.

And in terms of educational attainment? Forty percent of adults in Florida aged 25-64 have associate's degrees and up. Broward County fares even better at 44 percent. But in the six zip codes Broward identified, the education attainment rate was only twenty-seven percent.

Before Broward UP, only 3,000 of Broward College’s 60,000 students came from the six zip codes. After Broward UP, the college doubled the number of residents served, significantly expanded its footprint and its strategies for serving the most vulnerable students through wraparound services. Broward says its model is replicable for other community colleges. I dug deeper to learn more.

Broward UP is putting the “community” in community college to ensure that nobody in Broward County is left behind.

Broward UP has expanded the footprint of Broward College in six underserved zip codes where unemployment is high and educational attainment is low: 33069, 33319, 33309, 33313, 33311, and 33023.

The college is offering free education and training at special Broward UP satellite sites in the zip codes. Since the fall of 2018, over 2,600 students have been served through free short-term programs and workshops in Broward UP communities, with nearly 2,000 earning workforce certificates and industry certifications in high-demand areas like healthcare, manufacturing, IT, and basic business skills.

Broward has signed agreements with ten community agencies, nine city governments, seven support service partners, and regional employers to offer students wraparound services including case management, caregiving, broadband and technology access, and even support for justice-involved individuals.

Broward UP offers free education and training programs in the areas of healthcare, IT, manufacturing, business administration, marketing, and other fields.

An independent analysis of the value of Broward UP conducted by the Florida TaxWatch found impressive economic development and labor market impact including a $71 million boost in personal income in the six zip codes and half a million more in tax revenue to fuel economic development.

In a county that’s already enjoying a strong economy, the model is a boon for equity and economic mobility. Seventy-three percent of participating students are aged thirty and up, and ninety-five percent are Black, Latino/a, or other racial minorities.

While many students have found jobs after completing their free programs, the college is working to build non-credit to credit articulation pathways, so students can count their courses towards credit-bearing certificates and degrees at Broward when and if desired. The Amazon Web Services certification articulates into three credits in the A.S. in Network Systems Technology (Cloud Architecting Specialization) program. The medical coding and billing program articulates into eighteen college credits in the A.S. in Medical Office Management or nine credits in the A.S. in Health IT program. Seven nationally-recognized supply chain management certifications articulate into the A.S. in Supply Chain Management for three credits each.

Denise Lewis completed Broward UP programs in supply chain management

Denise Lewis was a single mom of four facing foreclosure and the threat of unemployment as her employer was acquired and downsized. She completed a five-week supply chain management principles course hosted at the Urban League, one of the Broward UP partners. Upon showing the parent company her industry certification, she was hired. She leveraged her certification to complete her associate’s degree and is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Supply Chain Management at Broward.

The college has buy-in from employers, city leaders, learners, and community leaders.

How is Broward serving so many underserved students at no cost to the learner? By leveraging external funding. Broward attributes a key share of its success to its partners. For every dollar Broward invested, Broward UP received $12 from other sources.

Broward has secured hiring commitments from regional employers like Shipmonk and Fastenal who were struggling to fill jobs in a county with low unemployment. Bank of America, Florida Blue, and Bank United have dedicated funds to provide training and industry certification fees. Six other MoUs with employers are in progress.

The college signed agreements with nine of twelve cities in the zip codes and ten partner agencies. Libraries, municipalities, local housing authorities, and community organizations have offered underutilized space to Broward at no cost, and they partner with college staff to promote programs, recruit students, and elicit community needs.

Cities in the six zip codes have even asked for Broward College flags to proudly fly on municipal buildings to signal to learners that college is for them, too.

The college has attracted research partners including Harvard University Professor Raj Chetty’s Opportunity Insights, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and industry groups like Broward Workshop and Florida Chamber Foundation. The partners are providing third-party evaluations of Broward UP and providing ideas to help the college go even further to meet the needs of the county’s low-income residents.

Broward UP community and agency partners help recruit students, promote programs, and offer wraparound services.

Other community colleges can do this. Leadership matters, says Broward.

“We believe our model is fully replicable at other community colleges,” said Broward’s Mildred Coyne​, Senior Vice President, Workforce Education and Innovation, and Isabel Gonzalez, Chief of Staff and Vice President of Communications and Community Relations. “Leadership and commitment from the top are key. For communities to know that the college is not going to come in and out, that there is lasting commitment, and that the college is of the community and for the community, it makes as much of a difference as funding and having the right model.”

The two administrators, along with Broward’s president Gregory Haile spearheaded Broward UP–which has become a central priority for the college upon the president’s arrival in 2018. “This is not a program, or a project, or an initiative. This is Broward College’s expanded way of doing business. It’s why we’re here. On the surface, Broward County’s economy is doing very well compared to the nation, but we know that for many communities, the reality is different.”

But it’s a team effort, they told me. Broward has seven college employees staffing the effort. However, ten Broward UP “commission teams” involving one-hundred and seventy-eight Broward College employees contribute, most raised their had to volunteer for the roles beyond their day jobs. Broward plans to expand support by securing funding for new roles like “employment outcome connectors” and more case managers who mentor students throughout their experience.

As summer dawns, things are looking better after a tough year, nationally and in Broward County, but it doesn't look like Broward College and its partners will be beachside until the tide has raised all boats.

The Center on Education and Labor at New America (CELNA) has launched a new research and storytelling effort called New Models for Career Preparation focused on centering quality and equity at the heart of community college workforce programs. Have thoughts? I'd love to hear from you. Get in touch by email or on Twitter. I’m at and on Twitter @ShalinJyotishi.

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