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Partnering with Community-based Organizations to Enhance the Community College

May 8, 2018 Brian Mitra CUNY Kingsborough Community College

As the number of graduating high school students continues to dwindle in the surrounding feeder districts around Kingsborough Community College (KCC), the College has returned back to its core mission – the community. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), Kingsborough has reemerged as vehicle for upward mobility and gainful employment. As the only community college in Brooklyn, NY, the college has strategically partnered with community-based organizations, alternative high schools, and local high schools in identified underserved communities throughout Brooklyn to address the needs of these communities.

Student Affairs has taken a pivotal role in carrying out this initiative. In the spring of 2017, I was charged by our president to meet with our local community-based organizations and gauge their various needs. Although one may not see this as the typical role of the chief student affairs officer, it could not have aligned more with the mission and vision of Student Affairs at a community college. We serve our students and meet them where they are, be it support for career exploration, transition into college, remediation preparation, or mentoring. These are the portable student support and wrap around services we have brought into our local communities to address high school dropout, college access, persistence, and graduation.  

One of our strongest partners and collaborators is Good Shepherd Services (GSS), which hosts a myriad of services including a college bridge program, college and career programs, Young Adult Borough Centers, and partnership schools. Kingsborough and Good Shepherd Services have focused our partnership to address the various needs of young adults to prepare them for college and workforce.

In the past 10 years, Good Shepherd Services has partnered with New York City Department of Education to address the high school dropout crisis. The city has made huge progress, reducing the number of non-graduates from about 40,000 each year to 20,000.   While graduates of GSS schools have demonstrated resilience and the ability to succeed through the completion of high school, post-graduation data shows that they are not immune from the national community college dropout statistics. Some graduates do not make it into community college at all, and many who do enroll fall through the cracks before completion.

This year GSS and KCC created a coalition, the Brooklyn Opportunity Network (BKON) that includes several community-based organizations (CBOs): GSS, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, Queens Community House, Red Hook Initiative and Center for Family Life along with KCC.   BKON works together in an effort to remove barriers to access and increase persistence for students at risk of stopping or dropping out. Much of the work over the past year has been forming the group and establishing a College Success Center at KCC. Here, each of BKON’s CBOs has a dedicated advisor for our students. In addition to continuing our work to improve graduation rates, BKON plans to increase the group’s size and influence by reaching out to more organizations to join us.

This work is crucial.  Creating intentional connections from high school to college is an ongoing process. Having KCC at the table is vital to making these strategies work for our students.

Building a collaborative approach to address dropout, persistence, retention, college completion, and student success is paramount to both Kingsborough Community College and Good Shepherd Services. This collaborative approach only strengthens the opportunities for young people to succeed. The work currently taking place in BKON provides a model for community colleges to actively engage the communities and constituencies it serves, while also providing support and entry points for higher education.