Opinion: Michigan community colleges are fighting injustice

Michael Hansen

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others are acts of violence that we all must condemn. The time is long overdue to address the systemic racism and inequality plaguing our world, nation, state, communities, and institutions of higher education. To do just that, Michigan’s community colleges are standing together, with an action plan to improve.

Community colleges in Michigan are open access institutions, seeking to provide affordable and accessible education to the communities they serve. Though they aspire to lift students out of poverty and create more equitable outcomes for historically marginalized students, for many students, higher education can still be inaccessible and unwelcoming.

For decades, we have been working to use education to address economic inequalities and social injustices. But we have not done enough. There is still racism, inequality, discrimination and violence in our communities. Without action, these injustices will continue to spread in our communities, our colleges and our students.

It is time for us to stand together and do more about these injustices, Hansen writes.

It is time for us to stand together and do more about these injustices. Community colleges are leading action in their communities by listening to students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to identify inequities. Our colleges are investigating policies and practices that have caused inequitable outcomes and examining campus culture. Most importantly, they are focused on taking action.

On behalf of Michigan’s 28 community colleges, the Michigan Community College Association has advocated for policies and practices that support the needs of our students. While equity and social justice have always been an implicit focus of our work, we recognize that they must be our explicit focus going forward. That’s why all of Michigan’s community colleges have come together to create a deliberate action plan to address these issues, now and into the future.

Michigan’s community colleges are taking action to:

► Advocate for federal, state, and local policies that eliminate barriers to higher education, particularly cost;

► Separate student outcomes data by race, ethnicity, gender, and income, to identify gaps and address inequitable outcomes;

► Increase the number and percentage of marginalized students who successfully complete college-level English and mathematics;

► Create opportunities for more community college students, especially marginalized students, to transfer to bachelor’s degree granting institutions with acceptable transfer credit for all of their courses;

► Increase the adoption of free textbooks through the expansion of open educational resources;

► Build a community of community college presidents to focus on inequality and social injustices.

This action plan is intentionally specific and we recognize that there are countless other important priorities to address. This will be the starting point for Michigan’s community colleges as we can no longer settle for incremental change. We must urgently work to create a society where distinctions no exist among those who complete higher education due to their starting point.

Michigan’s community colleges are committed to providing supports that meet students at their starting point, wherever that may be, guaranteeing everyone has the same opportunity to complete their education. Our action plan makes equity and social justice our priority and we are ready to get to work.

Michael Hansen is president of the Michigan Community College Association.