As the fall semester begins, students are heading back to the classroom amidst record-high inflation levels which are creating additional barriers to higher education. The price of groceries, gas, and everyday essentials have soared throughout the past year due to global supply chain challenges and students have not been spared. In the face of rising costs, community college leaders across the nation are implementing innovative solutions to help students navigate these challenges.
To help with transportation costs the College of the Redwoods is issuing transportation assistance gas passes and Rio Hondo College eliminated parking passes through Spring 2023. Other institutions have opted to expand their shuttle bus services by adding routes in-between campuses.
Institutions have also looked to increase food assistance programs by introducing bi-weekly food drives or fortifying their existing food pantries. Mt. Hood Community College established a partnership with a local Amazon Distribution Center , which in addition to supplying donations also helps deliver food directly to students.
We have also seen several institutions tackle skyrocketing housing costs head-on. Some opted to host students experiencing housing insecurity in local hotels and motels, while others are partnering with local universities to use their vacant dorms as temporary housing. The California Community Colleges system is moving ahead with building additional student housing across four of its campuses thanks to a bill that was recently signed into law.
More than one in five students in America are parents according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and colleges are taking steps to increase support for student-parents. Bergen Community College used federal funds to launch tuition-free enrollment at its Child Development Center. In addition to increasing much needed wrap-around services, Bergen Community College also implemented a tuition freeze and satisfied the outstanding balances of students with past-due tuition bills. The effort helped over 2,000 students.
Throughout the economic turmoil the pandemic unleashed, community colleges have stood strong and been hubs of support and resources for millions of students. They have taken advantage of unprecedented levels of federal funding provided by HEERF, state and local funds, and partnerships to adequately support students during these challenging times. From completion grants to textbook programs to increasing mental health staff to providing laptops, community colleges continue to deliver on their promise of providing quality education to all, especially the most underserved students.
Rosario Durán is the Senior Government Relations Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees