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We know a college education has never been more essential to the success of families seeking living-wage jobs. And we know that for many, community colleges provide a critical — and sometimes an only — pathway to a meaningful credential.

And yet, precisely because of their unique role, community colleges are also responsible for educating a populace who increasingly struggles the very most in our society. In fact, for a low-income, first-generation student (many of whom rely on community colleges), the likelihood of making it all the way to graduation is still far too low.

We need to do more to assure ALL students have the opportunity to succeed. Across the country, at last politicians and educators are beginning to work together to face what is essentially not just a college, but a “whole community,” problem.

Take the recent developments in California...

The Albany Democrat-Herald recently reprinted an editorial from the Los Angeles Times, written by David L. Kirp, a professor of the Graduate School at UC Berkeley and a senior scholar at the Learning Policy Institute.

The editorial describes the California Legislature’s decision to change the way its 114 community colleges are funded, and focus more of those resources on students’ completion of degrees or certificates through a version of what we refer to as “Outcomes Funding.” It was also a pointed critique of the steepest challenges facing students in community colleges across the country, and what California should do to address them.

How does that compare to us here in Oregon, you might ask? What is Linn-Benton Community College doing to assure our students’ future?

The answer is, quite a lot. In fact, this editorial identified three specific ways the California system will seek to make changes — and I’m proud to say, that at LBCC, we are already working on strategies in each of those key areas:

1. Creating momentum: Students who attend college full-time are far more likely to graduate than those who can only attend part-time — and yet, for students struggling to pay rent and go to class, that’s often the only option. That’s why the LBCC Affordability Initiative makes full-time attendance its central goal. By coordinating traditional student financial assistance with an array of resources that address issues like housing and food insecurity, health care, child care, and transportation, we are working to help students overcome the leading impediments to full and continuous academic progress.

2. Fixing remedial education: For many students, remedial education has proven to be an impassable wall instead of the pathway to a postsecondary education it was intended to be. But at LBCC we have made considerable progress toward improving students’ success in their remediation — and, in more and more cases, bypassing remediation altogether. First, we have improved the methods by which we assess students’ readiness for collegiate-level work, using what we call “Multiple Measures,” including a web-based learning system to determine exactly what a student knows and doesn’t know. Then, based on a more comprehensive picture, we are able to be more responsive to individual students’ needs and pace. As a result, students experience greater success and move more quickly into their chosen collegiate-level programs.

3. Providing a road map to graduation: Like the state of California is choosing now, LBCC has already chosen the “Guided Pathways” model as the way to create road maps to graduation. Guided Pathways is an effort to create an online road map that takes the guesswork out of choosing classes and helps students navigate a clear path to their goals. Putting this in place has meant more than two years of preparation to address the massive task of aligning curriculum and improving technology — but I’m so pleased to say that as a result of this hard work, we are launching this fall term. And, while enhancing students’ ability to navigate their college journey is a critical part these “pathways,” for us at LBCC, of equal importance is the “guided” part. So to that end, we have expanded access to advisers who can help students select the right program, transition into employment, and overcome personal challenges experienced along the way.

The challenge is ongoing. At LBCC, we are constantly asking ourselves how we can do more to guide and support students. The work requires ongoing partnership with our community — together, we can fulfill a vision in which everyone in Linn and Benton counties has the opportunity to succeed.

Student success is community success!

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Greg Hamann is the president of Linn-Benton Community Community. 

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