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Opinion | Michigan’s community colleges help students outside classrooms, too

With the new school year approaching, students have a lot more to deal with than which classes to take. It’s an understatement to say that the pandemic has created new challenges for many students that can make academic success more difficult.

Michigan’s community colleges have a message for students across the state: you are not alone and we’re ready to help.

Michael Hansen
Michael Hansen is president of the Michigan Community College Association. (Courtesy photo)

Michigan’s 28 community colleges are stepping up to help address economic challenges, mental health issues and more. A financial wellness survey, completed in the fall of 2020, of more than 10,000 Michigan community college students, showed that the pandemic caused 86 percent of students to face added stress, anxiety and depression, while 56 percent of students would have trouble getting $500 cash or credit to meet an unexpected expense.

That’s a lot of pressure for students to deal with on top of their coursework.

These barriers must not keep students from completing their degrees and reaching their career goals. That’s why Michigan community colleges launched the Michigan Building Economic Stability Today initiative in early 2020. Through MI-BEST, community colleges are working to help students reach their full potential with resources to assist with food insecurity, homelessness, transportation issues and childcare. The initiative was designed to support colleges in their efforts to create a structure that purposefully integrates student supports into the student experience.

Under MI-BEST, significant investment has been put towards emergency grants, free or reduced tuition, free technology loaners, and wiping out student debt to the college. These efforts have been implemented by all 28 of Michigan’s community colleges. Many colleges also have adopted early alert systems, ensuring that economic insecurity is detected early so students can be led to the appropriate supports.

This effort is helping community colleges support their students beyond the four walls of the classroom in unique ways. Mott Community College opened a clothing closet with gently used professional clothing available to students at no cost. It offers students a variety of clothing that can be used for job interviews or work. Macomb Community College also has created a robust emergency assistance program that is lessening financial burdens students face to help them stay focused on their education and advance toward completing their degrees.

Community colleges are also partnering with local organizations to better meet the needs of students. These partnerships allow colleges to offer additional resources on mental wellness, substance abuse, and increasing access to state benefits. West Shore Community College, for example, has collaborated with other partners in Manistee to create a downtown center for student supports. Through this network of support, community colleges are increasing the likelihood that students receive the help they need.

But simply offering student supports isn’t enough. The hardest part is ensuring that students actually take advantage of the resources available to them. Providing students with relevant resources is the most practical way to see an increase in academic success and college completion.

The COVID-19 pandemic created some unexpected challenges for students, and they definitely need our support. Breaking down barriers to success is a win-win for community colleges and our students. As this school year begins, community colleges stand ready to support our students both in and out of the classroom.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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