ATD Board Chair Delivers Annual Dallas Herring Lecture

Earlier this week, ATD Board Chair Dr. Pam Eddinger delivered the annual William Dallas Herring Lecture, named for the visionary who shaped the North Carolina Community College system.

Dr. Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, spoke about the insights learned from the pandemic: “Over the past eight months, I have witnessed the disintegration of systems I have worked to strengthen over the last quarter century. I have seen my students and their communities in desperate straits, seemingly put there overnight. Yet, through the darkness of the pandemic, and the clouded history of racism and systemic deprivations, I also recognized a transformation in the Community College Movement, a transformation that presents a new possibility in the character of the community college, and a new social contract with the people.”

Dr. Eddinger said the questions framing community colleges’ Student Success work pre-pandemic were: 1) How can we improve student persistence and increase degree completion? And 2) How can we close the achievement gaps in our marginalized populations?

For decades, those questions have spoken to “the optimism that all students can succeed; that the attainment gap is bridgeable; that students of color, first generation students, and students caught in generational poverty can attain academic success.” Also implied, she said, was a promise – a social contract – that academic success will lead to social and economic mobility.

Then the pandemic “revealed all the cracks and fissures hidden in the landscape, and gave us a stark and unsparing look at the cavernous wealth and attainment gap before us, in our Black and brown urban communities, in the immigrant communities, and in our poor white communities in the rural regions. While the struggles of these communities are not new to educators in the field, the depth of the needs, as well as their systemic and entrenched nature, now shapes and informs a national conversation as never before.”

Dr. Eddinger described the Bunker Hill student population, similar to many large urban schools:

  • 70 percent of learners are students of color, and two thirds are adults;
  • 77 percent are living in the lowest two quintiles of income, some experiencing generational poverty;
  • Three quarters work, many full-time;
  • They are the working poor: 54 percent are food insecure, and 14 percent are homeless; and
  • More than half are parents; half the parents are single mothers.

“Many of our students are also low-wage, frontline, essential workers, as well as first responders and entry-level health care workers,” she said. “Their jobs made them susceptible to infection, and further eroded their resilience as we weathered the outbreak. It is no accident that COVID hotspots in Massachusetts coincided with our communities of color served by our colleges, where poor public health and public education outcomes are intertwined.”

Community colleges as ‘The Hub’

Dr. Eddinger described light amidst the darkness: “As much as the pandemic revealed the failure of the social and economic systems, it has also shown us a radical transformation in the nature of community college, one that deserved greater acknowledgement, and certainly provides hope for the next stage of student success work.”

This moment belongs to community colleges who, when faced with social inequities over time, have built infrastructure or brought social agencies onto campuses to support students and their families in the community.   

“We built libraries and study commons, computer labs with WIFI, dinning commons, clinics, food pantries, community gathering spaces, offices of emergency services, emergency housing, mental health counseling, and other services to keep our students connected. Community college education is no longer a stand-alone; we are the social and education Hub for our communities.”

The pandemic also confirmed what educators have long known – reform in the classroom is not enough; engagement with students and a fostering a sense of belonging includes physical safety, financial survival, basic needs being fulfilled, cultural respect, and social connectedness.

“The Hub, the term I have used to envision the transformational structure that our nation’s community colleges are becoming, might just be that place of promise. At the Hub, we are already writing a new social contract with our students; at the Hub, we could imagine and initiate a just and equitable recovery from these chaotic, COVID days,” she said.

Dr. Eddinger said leaders are now shifting to students’ assets amidst a broken system. How does that set learners up for success and “love from the Hub?” By starting with these guiding principles:

  • Know Your Students: in the context of their lived experiences, their histories, their complexity, as well as their data file.
  • Dismantle Negative Narratives: All of them. You know what they are.
  • Identify Cultural Wealth: Honor the heritages and the cultural capital they bring, and help them apply these strengths in service to their learning.
  • Recognize #RealCollege as Contemporary Higher Education: Discard traditional assumptions about college as a rite of passage for young men and women. Know the physical, emotional and financial implications of your policies for adults.
  • Know Who You are in Your Guidance: Do not assume the experiences that shaped us as college students decades ago are still valid for our students. They carry with them their own unique backgrounds, cultures and lived experiences.

As painful as the pandemic has been to our communities, she said, it has set the stage for how colleges serve our communities and how they can be agents of change.

“I invite you to explore the changing future of the Hub with me, and see it as a place of convergence, a place of revolution, and the home of a new social promise with our students, to honor their histories, to activate their potential, and claim their place in the world,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

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