The New Jersey Center for Student Success exists to assist the state’s community colleges improve student outcomes, strengthen their services to the students they serve, and serve as a statewide resource for innovation and best practices. Since its inception in 2012, the New Jersey Center for Student Success has played a critical role in promoting promising student success best practices by hosting statewide convenings featuring national community college thought leaders, providing professional development to community college professionals, providing expert coaches to community colleges to assist with student success strengthening efforts, and supporting collaborations and partnerships among community colleges and other constituents.
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In order to reach the State of New Jersey’s goal of having at least 65 percent of working adults hold some type of post-secondary credential by 2025, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges and its Center for Student Success will lead statewide efforts to improve and expand educational and support services for adult learners and facilitate social service supports for students.
Improving and Expanding Educational and Support Services to Adult Learners
Currently in New Jersey, more than 2 million adults in New Jersey have no education after high school. An additional 1 million New Jerseyans have earned some college credits but have not earned a post-secondary degree. Without post-secondary credentials, these New Jerseyans will not have the education they will need to be successful in the future.
A look at new jobs added in the U.S. since 2011 shows that 11.5 million of those jobs were created for adults with at least a college degree or training in a specific industry credential.
A mere 80,000 of those new jobs – less than 1 percent – were created for workers with a high school diploma or less.
Adults with a post-secondary credential or degree therefore have a far better chance of becoming employed in today’s economy.
Yet, adult learners face numerous barriers when attempting to earn a post-secondary credential. Adult learners face institutional barriers when studying at community colleges, such as limited class schedules and formats (including course sequence offerings for program completion) and limited access to professors, campus resources, and activities. Some adult learners have been out of educational systems for a while and need transitional assistance such as advising, coaching, and tutorials. Adult learners also face situational barriers when studying at community colleges. Adult learners have the responsibilities of satisfying the immediate needs of their children, responsibilities of being a spouse and an employee, multiple financial responsibilities, and limited time to devote to college. These barriers impose significant challenges for adult students who often struggle to find the time to attend face-to-face classes, avail themselves to services such as libraries, advising, and tutoring to complete assignments on time, and to study for exams. And when life demands outweigh academic demands, such as sick children, transportation problems, or job loss, this lends additional situational risk to students’ possible success and persistence.
Simply stated, New Jersey will only reach its 65 by 2025 goal if more adults return to community college and successfully complete post-secondary credentials. The New Jersey Council of County Colleges proposes implementing a new plan, Connecting Adults to Opportunity, which features building new and strengthening existing partnerships with state and local government, businesses, community and faith-based organizations, and others to increase the number of adults who get on, stay on, and finish the path to complete industry-valued, post-secondary credentials, certificates, and degrees to ensure that 65 percent of New Jerseyans in the workforce hold a post-secondary credential by the year by 2025.
Facilitating Social Service Supports for Students
As much as achieving the state’s attainment goal is about New Jersey being competitive in a global economy, it is also about equity. According to research recently released by the Lumina Foundation, New Jersey has the fourth highest college degree/credential attainment gap between Caucasians and African Americans in the country. In addition, New Jersey has the ninth highest college degree/credential attainment gap between Caucasians and Hispanics in the country. So, while New Jersey may rank atop the states with the total percentage of the adult population with a college degree (eighth in the nation), when the data are disaggregated, New Jersey has significant attainment gaps by ethnicity.
Unfortunately, access to higher education, and the post-secondary credentials that lead to gainful employment, is not available to everyone. Misperceptions about college costs are widespread and are most prevalent among students from the lowest-income backgrounds, likely contributing to persistent gaps in postsecondary attainment and socioeconomic status. Need-based financial aid programs, such as the Community College Opportunity Grant, Tuition Aid Grants, Equal Opportunity Fund, and the Federal Pell Grant, help thousands of students with the cost of tuition and fees. But too many people living at or below the poverty level do not have the financial resources to cover the additional expenses of a college education, such as transportation, housing, food, child care, health care, and mental health services. In addition, there are a growing number of households in New Jersey the United Way of Northern New Jersey has identified as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE). These are individuals and families who live above the poverty line, but do not earn enough to afford basic necessities, such as housing, child care, transportation, health care and a smartphone. As the United Way of Northern New Jersey point out, there are 895,879 ALICE households in New Jersey, and when combined with the 334,182 families living in poverty, a total of 1,230,061 households – 38.5 percent of the 3,194,519 households in New Jersey – are struggling to make ends meet each day. These reasons are why it is critical that community colleges work with state and local social service agencies, community and faith-based organizations, and others to ensure that all people who desire to go to college and earn a post-secondary credential have the social supports they need to be successful.
For students currently enrolled in community colleges, these same non-academic issues – food, housing and transportation insecurities, child care, health care, and mental health services – create significant barriers for successful credential, certificate and degree completion. A national study conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab in 2015 reports that half of all community college students struggle with food insecurity. Student hunger was cited as the third most important issue impacting college students, according to a study by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NAPA). The New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition reports that there are generally two types of college students who face hunger insecurities: Students who come from low-income households where the cost of education means little money remains for meals; and Adult students who have families and are trying to earn a credential to improve their place in the workforce.
Many community colleges have created on-campus food pantries to assist hungry students. In November 2018, the New Jersey Department of Human Services took a bold first step by announcing that community college students enrolled in Perkins-eligible programs are now eligible to apply for SNAP (food stamps) benefits.
But going forward, the state will need a holistic effort to ensure people have the resources they need to successfully get on, stay on, and complete a path to a post-secondary credential, and help reach the state’s 65 by 2025 goal. The New Jersey Council of County Colleges proposes implementing a new plan, Connecting Students to Social Service Supports, which features building new and strengthening existing partnerships with state and local government agencies, businesses, community and faith-based organizations, and others, as well as creating processes and sharing information to ensure future and current community college students can seamlessly apply for social service supports when they need them. By increasing the number of people who access social service supports, we can decrease the number of people living with insecurity, and thereby increase the number of students who get on, stay on, and finish the path to complete industry-valued, post-secondary credentials, certificates, and degrees to ensure that 65 percent of New Jerseyans in the workforce hold a post-secondary credential by the year by 2025.