Last fall, Diverse ran an article that expressed my concern about the current lack of diversity, the lack of historical support for diversity and the lack of positive outcomes for diverse students in higher education. The column was written after attending conferences wherein neither those in attendance nor those being discussed reflected what should be the diverse landscape of higher education. Today, I write to you following the Association of Community College Trustees, or ACCT, annual congress that was held in Dallas in October. As disheartening as I found last year's conferences, today I am filled with hope for those young people who attend some of our nation's finest community colleges.
As I observed the 1,200 community college presidents and trustees present, I found myself surrounded by people who truly reflect the diverse landscape of the United States. The room was filled with trustees who come from a variety of academic, economic and social backgrounds. While there may be some commonality in the professional experiences of the presidents, trustees varied from academicians to manufacturing workers. Racially and ethnically the group reflected the diversity one witnesses on a New York City subway car.
For many years, community colleges were frowned upon publicly and, most especially, in academic circles. They were viewed as a fall-back for those without the academic, financial or social resources to attend a four-year college. Some made the assumption that the faculty, staff, administrators and trustees were also inadequate. For decades, many of the people in the room at ACCT toiled not just in anonymity but, at times, in the face of public disregard. (One colleague describes being professionally ostracized by his professorial colleagues when he decided to serve on a community college board.) Today, community colleges are no longer second-class citizens: Currently, 44 percent of all undergraduate students in the United States are enrolled in community colleges. In the fall of 2008, there were 12.4 million students enrolled in America's 1,167 community colleges.
This growth is not accidental. Community colleges admitted anyone in their local area who wanted to further his education but who may have lacked the means to attend a four-year institution. Community colleges became the place where underrepresented students started and, for many, completed their education. Today, among students of color, we see 55 percent of Native American, 45 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, 44 percent of African-American and 52 percent of Hispanic students enrolled in community colleges. It's not just the numbers that are impressive, however.
What community colleges have done, that traditional four-year colleges have not, is build a teaching, leadership and administrative body that reflected their students. …