Disenfranchised students make up a significant and increasing portion of the student populations on college campuses. These individuals are disadvantaged by a wide range of difficulties: some have learning disabilities but have not been tested because they are still waiting for an appointment, perhaps because they do not want to be labeled, they have no idea that they have a learning disability, or they do not know that services exist to help them. Others are in need of mental health services, are attempting to leave a gang affiliation, or are facing some other dilemma or impediment that interferes with their academic progress. In short, any student who is facing struggles for which assistance exists through established programs and services but does not qualify for or does not know how to access that assistance is disenfranchised. Faculty are in an excellent situation to help guide these students toward the assistance they need, but many faculty members are at a loss as to how to provide such support.
At its Fall 2014 Plenary Session, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges passed resolution 20.01 regarding the provision of services for disenfranchised students. The resolution called on the ASCCC to work with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and the Board of Governors to develop a plan to increase services for these students. During the spring of 2015, the ASCCC Transfer, Articulation, and Student Services Committee (TASSC) began work to address this resolution. A survey was drafted to determine how and if California community colleges are addressing the needs of disenfranchised students. While the survey was being developed, an article titled “Disenfranchised Students—Who are They?” was published in the February 2016 Rostrum. This article, written by members of TASSC, provided information to prepare the field and survey respondents with an overview defining the students in question and the issues they might face. The survey was then disseminated in Spring 2016 to a wide range of college constituents to provide information to TASSC about the types of services available for disenfranchised students at the colleges as well as how the colleges facilitate connecting such students with these services.
Preliminary Results of the Survey
In a breakout at the Spring 2016 Plenary Session, TASSC presented some preliminary results of the survey. Of the 113 community colleges in California, 53 submitted survey responses. While a single respondent answered the survery for some colleges, in other cases numerous individuals from an institution submitted replies. The responses came from a variety of college constituencies: counselors, senate presidents, chief instructional officers, chief student services officers, student services deans, counseling deans, and others such as EOPS faculty, directors or deans of student equity, and general faculty.
In an attempt to ensure that the definition of disenfranchised students was as inclusive as possible, the survey included the question, “Are there additional ways that you would define students who are disenfranchised other than the second whereas of the resolution?” The following are a few representative responses:
- Mental health issues are expanding with students. Also, any student with "odd" behavior or who looks "odd" is being referred to campus police or student discipline. All faculty, staff and students are assuming all students with possible mental health issues are going to be active shooters. Students and staff are on edge.
- DSP/LD students and corresponding support; Students who are economically challenged but who escape attention due to ineligibility for standard services such as BOG fee waivers; students who are unable to complete or persist due to lack of support to pass key courses in basic skills, especially mathematics where success rates across the state are so darn low--we need to intervene more effectively to provide these students with the education and the success they pay for.
- “constant state of insecurity" seems to cover all disenfranchisement not listed earlier in the whereas. Former foster youth is a group that comes to mind, but they might be covered under the "constant state of insecurity" phrase.
In regard to homeless students, nearly 70% of the colleges that responded do not offer or assist with on or off campus housing. Of the colleges that indicated that they do offer some services for their homeless students, responses included the following:
- Just stop gap kinds of things, like lunches and toiletries if they need them . . . through donations.
- We try to help them engage with services in the community but no structured relationships.
- Not outside the scope of what we offer all of our students: Student Health Clinic, Food Pantry, etc.
Other responses included brief narratives regarding the following situations:
- Diminishing funds for the college’s child-care program, which provided childcare for students in need as well as served as an educational program for their childhood development program;
- Veteran specific mental health services;
- LGBT centers;
- Foster youth programs;
- Services offered in silos – central access would allow more students to know what services exist and access them more easily.
The survey results demonstrate that many colleges are attempting to address the plethora of needs that exist among the California community college students, yet still more needs to be done both statewide and at the colleges in regard to disenfranchised students. These efforts must include a combined focus by the Chancellor’s Office, the ASCCC, and other stakeholders to find funds to provide the services to disenfranchised students and informing the students about the services. With the February 2016 Rostrum article and the Survey on Disenfranchised Students completed, this year’s TASSC will continue to move forward in addressing Resolution 20.01. A full analysis of the survey results and discussions with the Chancellor’s Office are among the next steps to establish a plan for meeting the needs of disenfranchised students in the California community colleges.
Resolution 20.01 F14—Developing a System Plan for Serving Disenfranchised Students; http://asccc.org/resolutions/developing-system-plan-serving-disenfranchised-students
February 2016 Rostrum Article: Disenfranchised Students—Who Are They? http://asccc.org/content/disenfranchised-students—who-are-they