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For Community Colleges, New Mission, Persistent Challenges

By Corey Murray

New York Times documentary highlights iconic struggles of modern community college students.

Reform is the watchword on community college campuses. But even as our colleges pivot to meet the evolving priorities of the completion agenda — improved college readiness, collaborative support structures, a more robust workforce pipeline and so on — our students face persistent, often timeless challenges.

Consider the story of Vladimir de Jesus. A student a LaGuardia Community College (LCC) in New York City, de Jesus yearns to earn his master’s in fine arts and one day teach art and art history. He’s bright, ambitious and brimming with talent. But, as a recent profile and accompanying video on the New York Times web site points out, the young art student has struggled to complete the remedial math courses needed to advance his education. Financial challenges and family obligations — de Jesus cares for his young daugher — only exacerbate his dilemma.

He’s not alone. “Vladimir’s story in an iconic community college story,” LCC President Gail Mellow tells the Times. “He has very high aspirations and he’s motivated to succeed. But he also struggles because he has not had a life that has been filled with the kind of support and acadmeic clarity that, frankly, richer kids get.”

As we look for ways to redesign, reinvent and reset the traditional community college model, it’s important not to lose sight of the students we serve. Need a reminder of the unique challenges community college students face? Check out the video below.

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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