Making Progress toward Achieving the Dream of Equity

February is Black History Month and as I spend these weeks remembering, reflecting, listening and learning about the many leaders in our history, I am even more solidified in Lorain County Community College’s commitment to support Black students, and all underrepresented groups, as we strive for equity in all we do.

It’s LCCC’s promise to stand firm to challenge injustice in all forms and to facilitate positive change within our community. This process begins at home, with our own students, faculty, staff and administrators. It’s work we have been doing for years, and I am proud of the progress we have made thus far. I also acknowledge there is still much to be done.

Striving for Equity

Guiding LCCC in our pursuit of equity is Achieving the Dream (ATD), the nation’s most comprehensive organization in advancing student success and equity. LCCC joined ATD in 2011 and is one of only 11 colleges to earn ATD’s Leader College of Distinction status. In 2020, LCCC was named the Leah Meyer Austin winner, ATD’s top prize reserved for network colleges that show greatest, sustained improvements in student outcomes and student success. Through working with ATD, LCCC has made great strides in narrowing equity gaps for students in underserved populations.

Each February, ATD hosts the DREAM Conference, a convening of more than 300 member colleges that allows us to come together to share successes, learn from challenges, and get inspired through student stories. This year, a student who shared her remarkable story was LCCC’s own Nikita Johnson. Nikita was named a 2021 DREAM Scholar – just one of eight students in the country to receive this honor.

Nikita’s story is one of resilience, struggle, power and beauty. A single mother to four children, Nikita is breaking the cycle of poverty for herself and her family through education. She’ll earn her associate of arts this May and will continue through LCCC’s University Partnership with Youngstown State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work. Watch the video at the end of this post to learn more Nikita via her autobiographical poem “I am from.”

By drawing on her own strength and resolve, Nikita came to her community college to reach her goal of improving her circumstance. It was through LCCC’s Equity Team that Nikita found her voice and a passion for sharing her story as a way to help others. The Equity Team includes faculty, staff and students who work to ensure that LCCC’s commitment to equity is achieved through improving success for students from marginalized and underrepresented populations.

Learning from the data

The Equity Team is one way we are tapping into the voice of students as we fulfill the college’s mission to serve all people of Lorain County. That mission goes back to LCCC’s founding in 1963; however, it was in 2011 that we began to truly understand the need to shift our focus to the big picture of equity, campus culture and student success. It was then that LCCC joined Achieving the Dream and began to dive deeply into student data, dissecting from all angles and applying a lens of equity.

Through this process, we discovered significant achievement gaps between minority students and white students. Not only were Black and African American students not earning degrees at the same rate as their white peers, they were also not persisting from semester to semester in the same ways.

Seeing those statistics was a lightbulb moment for our institution. Once the data illuminated the inequities, we became laser-focused on addressing them. The more we peeled back the data, the more obvious it became that it was time to completely rethink how we approached student success. As a response, we turned our campus culture upside down. Instead of waiting for students to be college-ready, we became a student-ready college.

Shifting our culture

This new mindset led to a holistic model of student services that fosters student success. We rebuilt academic pathways, redesigned our advising model, and focused on building wrap-around services that support the whole student. We call it our Culture of Care. And it’s working.

In the decade since that initial dive into the data, graduation attainment for LCCC’s Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx students has nearly quadrupled. Across the board, students in all demographics are now graduating at more than twice the volume they were 10 years ago.

A major component in closing equity gaps is the expansion of LCCC’s College Credit Plus (CCP) and dual enrollment programs for Lorain County high school students. These popular programs allow high school students to earn college credit at no cost to their families– with many easily accessible options including college classes taught inside local high schools. The CCP and dual enrollment programs are so successful that last year 43 percent of all Lorain County high school graduates earned LCCC credit before they graduated high school. That includes nearly 25 percent of Black/African American high school graduates and 26 percent of Hispanic/Latinx graduates.

That early touch point builds momentum for students – many who are the first in their family to attend college. In fact, 85 percent of Lorain County high school graduates who earned LCCC dual enrollment credit continued in higher education (compared the national average of 70 percent of high school students who immediately enrolled in college) – including 27 percent who continued with LCCC after high school.

As an ATD Leader College of Distinction and the 2020 Leah Meyer Austin award winner, I am proud of the progress LCCC has made in closing equity gaps. But we won’t stop here. I am committed to continually evolving our Culture of Care, with a focus on equity and student success. This means actively listening to our students and understanding the barriers they face. And it means we must continue to honestly and openly talk with our students and community, even in difficult discussions.

I’m so proud of how far LCCC has come in the past decade. It’s humbling to lead a community college where faculty and staff demonstrate unprecedented level of compassion and care for our students. We are helping to make every student’s dream real, now and for decades to come.