Community college can meet the needs of local students through flexible programs and the technology to support their delivery.

Putting community in community college

Community colleges are uniquely placed to meet the needs of local students through flexible programs and the technology to support their delivery

Students are taking a long, hard look at the value of a degree and whether it’s worth the sacrifices–and it just might be time for community colleges to revisit their role and the services they provide to their students. In fact, some colleges are already doing this. Like elementary schools when they began providing free lunches for students in need because it’s hard to learn on an empty stomach, community colleges are starting to look at their students’ holistic needs.

For instance, a tribal college in North Dakota, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College (NHSC), has expanded its role in the community and is working to implement programs, practices, and technology that help it serve students in the classroom and beyond. The purpose of these changes is to give students a better chance of succeeding in post-secondary education and in their subsequent careers.

Serving the Unique Needs of the Community

NHSC is a four-year community college on a Native American reservation located in the heart of the Bakken oil field. The student population is 85 percent Native American and roughly 66 percent female. The average age of a student at the college is 23 years old. Many are likely to have dependents, either caring for their own or other children, or caring for elders.

In addition, most of the students work either full-time or part-time. Students typically have a lot on their plates, and most do not complete an associate’s degree in two years.

As a result, NHSC offers a number of social, economic, and academic support programs and services. Staff—many of whom grew up in the area and know what it means to be in the students’ shoes—understand that not all students attend community college with the skills in place to succeed. The college therefore provides opportunities for students to build skills in a safe setting. The college has a student retention counselor, a safe coordinator who works with first-year students, and a dual credit counselor to help high school students.

The college is also committed to making sure that the education its students receive can be put to use within the community.

Part of the Larger Ecosystem

Part of serving its whole community is making sure that students can achieve their educational goals, no matter what those goals may be. Therefore, the college not only offers certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees, but it also offers students a way to build a path through education. This path includes moving from a certificate to an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree, even while working a full-time job. Part of what makes this possible are the partnerships NHSC has created with the engineering department at the North Dakota State University and with Minot State University’s social work program, among others.

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