In 2016, the Bronx saw 265 overdose fatalities involving heroin or fentanyl, the highest of all five New York City boroughs (PDF). This type of health crisis requires local, qualified, and dedicated professionals—and the community simply didn’t have enough. In addition to needing expanded health services, people in recovery also face barriers to finding jobs with adequate supports, particularly when they’re in treatment.
Seizing the opportunity to help students dealing with their own recovery and train more health care professionals in the community, Bronx Community College (BCC) developed a stackable credential called the Behavioral Health Opportunities Program (BHOP).
BHOP targets students with lived experience in addiction and recovery and trains them to become New York State Certified Recovery Peer Advocates (CRPAs), preparing them for entry-level support positions in community health.
But it is not enough to create this program and expect students to complete it and find employment seamlessly. Speaking on a panel at the Urban Institute, Kenneth Adams, BCC’s dean for workforce and economic development, explained that the average age of students is 38, many have been incarcerated, and, in many cases, the lived experience of recovery is their own.
These students require unique supports to encourage persistence in and completion of the program, and the local employers who sponsor their training hours weren’t equipped to provide those supports.
So BCC took on the responsibility by staffing the program with instructors equipped to provide support and ensuring their students received the help they needed. “The answer for us [was] to create the partnership and then provide the ongoing support to ensure successful student experience,” Adams said.
BCC is just one example out of many community colleges finding new ways to support students. During our community college event series, community college officials also spoke to the need for a broader application of financial supports; more integrated support services, like case management and professional development; and credential and program structures conducive to completion.
Anne Kress, at Monroe Community College at the time of the event and now at Northern Virginia Community College, said, “Having the program and enrolling students is one thing. Making sure that the program’s designed so that students actually complete it is a different thing.”
Offering financial supports for students
In addition to traditional student financial aid, community college officials spoke to considering students’ other financial burdens, such as transportation, food, housing, and child care.
Representatives also supported expanding Pell grant eligibility to short-term programs. Christi Amato of Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, noted that the average age of their students is 31 or 32, and many require child care, transportation, and additional financial supports to make attending school feasible. Partnering with local community-based organizations can help provide these additional services for students.
Mildred Coyne with Broward College highlighted the school’s Broward UP movement, which identifies zip codes with concentrations of people with low incomes and high unemployment, builds community partnerships between nonprofits and the college, and brings education and training to those neighborhoods. In one zip code, the program has already awarded hundreds of certificates in areas such as information technology, supply chain management, and project management.
Panelists emphasized that this support can best be provided by a case-management model, but more funding is needed for these support roles at most schools. Kress noted, “We are moving more and more towards a case-management approach for students, recognizing the challenges they have and sort of trying to array those services around them.”
Developing programming to support persistence in and completion of programs
Short-term credentials and nontraditional programs can also support students’ persistence on their way to a degree. At BCC, BHOP is a stackable credential, so it provides college-level coursework through which students can earn up to nine credits toward an associate’s degree in public health.
Christi Amato, dean of e-learning at Sinclair Community College, noted that online learning has allowed Sinclair to solve the place barrier—because students can access the classroom from any location—but competency-based education (CBE) has allowed them to also address the time barrier. “Allowing flexible entry, flexible start, flexible stop—the student can really package the education how it works best for them and move through materials in courses. As they master material, they can move on independent of what our academic calendar says they should be doing.”
Amato discussed how CBE works in an area like retail, noting that students tend to start in August and take a break from their studies starting at Thanksgiving because the holiday season is the busiest time of year for people working in retail.
Making college more accessible for students
Western Nevada College is developing an online Auto 101 class, where students take the theory online and attend four in-person labs in their local areas. The college also plans to create a mobile classroom with advanced manufacturing equipment.
Western Nevada isn’t the only school taking advantage of online education to increase access for students. At Sinclair Community College, online enrollment is up 25 percent and now accounts for about 45 percent of the school’s enrollment. Amato emphasized how this trend toward online learning can improve access. “I clearly believe in the power of online education to level the playing field for students,” she said.
Ensuring students have the support they need to persist in and complete their programs was a common theme we heard from panelists. To learn more about the event series and our resources on community colleges, explore our collection.