An announcement from two local college presidents Wednesday afternoon is a game-changer for those who get left behind pursuing a college degree.
West Chester University and Delaware County Community College have joined forces with a Washington, D.C.-based education firm EAB, to make sure students of color and those from underserved communities have as many opportunities to graduate college as possible.
The three have formed a Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Collaborative as part of a national “Moon Shot for Equity” initiative.
“The collaboration between West Chester University, Delaware County Community College, and EAB is the type of innovative partnership that can help change the entire trajectory of so many students’ lives,” said Dr. Tanya I. Garcia, acting deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Blacks, Latinos, Native American and first-generation students graduate college at much lower rates and face more institutional barriers and competition than students from more privileged circumstances, said Dr. Christopher M. Fiorentino, president of West Chester University.
Barely half of all Black and Latinx students who enter college earn their undergraduate degree within six years.
First-generation students and low-income students do equally poorly, regardless of race.
For White students, nearly 70 percent earn an undergraduate degree.
The hope is the two-school collaboration will remove systemic equity barriers so everyone has an equal playing field.
The collaboration was announced Wednesday afternoon at a press conference at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne.
Dr. Florentino and Delaware County Community College President Dr. L. Joy Gates Black signed a memoranda of understanding that links the schools to the “Moon Shot for Equity” initiative.
Each school will implement more than a dozen best practices to remove systematic barriers to student success.
That includes updating academic policies, establishing common academic pathways, and providing equity-mindedness training to university and college leaders.
The schools will build stronger relationships with their communities, partnering with local high schools to help more underserved students gain access to college.
EAB will offer research, technology, and advisory services to the schools.
Right now, students are faced with remediation courses that go nowhere, mathematics that doesn’t match college majors or career needs and aimless wandering course catalogs instead of clear pathways to graduation, said Tom Sugar, vice president of Partnerships at EAB.
Short-sighted financial penalties like parking tickets or library fines can mean a difference between registering for classes and dropping out.
Equally important, students must be able to move easily between colleges, he said.
Sugar put forth a bold vision, with echoes of John Kennedy’s original Moon Shot speech.
“In this region, before this decade is out, one’s wealth, family educational heritage, ethnicity or skin color will no longer be valid in terms of academic success from college,” he said.
The Wisconsin initiative
The Moon Shot for Equity initiative was launched last October in Wisconsin when EAB joined a consortium of colleges and universities in Southeastern Wisconsin.
The plan is to implement similar policies and procedures here that will help all students become college graduates in less time for less money regardless of socio-economic status or racial status.
Nylla Miller, a Penn Wood High junior, applauded the new collaboration, hoping this would be the beginning of great changes.
She spoke about school inequity at the press conference, comparing the resources of Penn Wood High with Lower Merion High School.
“I, along with many others, are in awe that we still have to have this discussion and we still have to fight to prove that we deserve more than just the bare minimum in the year 2021.
“The things that we want—such as more resources, better books, air conditioning, are not things that are outlandish. These are things that everyone deserves and that everyone needs in order to have a successful and exceptional learning experience,” she said.
She pointed out two things that are different between Lower Merion and Penn Wood—funding and the skin color of the students.
Lower Merion, predominantly White, overflows with resources. Penn Wood High, predominantly Black, can’t even get enough desks in the classrooms, she said.
“This is a prime example of systemic racism,” she said.
West Chester University and Delaware County Community College are already working together to increase educational opportunities for area students.
Last year, the two came together on a dual admission agreement.
Qualified, enrolled Delaware County Community College students can earn an associate degree, than transfer seamlessly to West Chester University in a parallel major that offers other opportunities, like guaranteed housing, a renewable scholarship and success coaching.
Delaware County Community College and West Chester University also offer the Registered Nurse-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) pathway from Delaware County Community College to West Chester University.
The two institutions’ revised RN-BSN Concurrent Enrollment Agreement provides another affordable pathway for qualified Associate of Science in Nursing degree students at Delaware County Community College to earn the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree with only 30 additional credits.
“Our society is at a point where we must act. Our students require it. Our communities require it. It’s what higher education is supposed to do,” said Delaware County Community College President Dr. L. Joy Gates Black.