The League for Innovation in the Community College (League), with support from the Garcia Family Foundation, is leading a three-year collaborative project designed to support low-income, first-generation community college students in completing credentials and entering the workforce by focusing on wraparound services with community partnerships. We know that educational attainment leads to thriving communities, but community colleges are graduating only slightly more than one in three students within six years.1 We also know that the financial and health benefits to a family with a head of household with postsecondary education and training are significant. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted marginalized populations, including community college students. In the fall of 2020, a Census Bureau survey found that 40 percent of households reported having a family member who was “cancelling all plans for community college.”2

In addition to academic losses, the pandemic has exacerbated students’ basic needs issues. A recent national student survey by The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice (Hope Center) found that “nearly 3 in 5 students experienced basic needs insecurity” and 39 percent of community college students surveyed indicated some form of food insecurity.3 For decades, research on attainment has focused on classroom and intervention strategies to improve student success, but The Hope Center has now documented the layered-on deficit impacting a student’s ability to reach education and career goals: unmet basic human needs.4

Community colleges are known for strategic workforce connections, for meeting socio-academic needs of students, and for being the primary higher education entry point for a majority of underrepresented student populations. The national completion agenda has resulted in community colleges broadening their support services; however, many lack the infrastructure and resources to address the challenges related to students’ basic needs. In this project, the League seeks to model a collective impact, community-minded approach where students with basic needs gaps are connected to community resources and more efficient workforce development support services. This collective impact project brings together experts in innovation (Eureka! Ranch), workforce development (Pipeline AZ), research and evaluation (Center for the Study of Community Colleges), social justice (Changing Perspectives), and community social agency networks to create sustainable wraparound services for students to support their school-to-work outcomes.

Participating Colleges

Arizona Western College

Coconino Community College

Pima Community College

San Carlos Apache College

Building on the League’s learnings from the Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success project, the team is positioning four Arizona community colleges—a mix of rural, metropolitan, and tribal institutions—as community builders (see graphic). The project is designed to help colleges connect to strategic food, mental health, broadband, and/or housing partners and bring a comprehensive digital career development platform—Pipeline AZ—to campuses to assist students with career assessment, education and training, job placement, and related services. This is not only important for long-term outcomes, but also timely as The Hope Center reports “more than one-third of students who were employed before the pandemic reported losing a job since the pandemic’s onset . . . [and] approximately one in four students reported working fewer hours or making less money at both part- and full-time jobs.”5

Dealing with food insecurity in a crisis is just one example of the countless untold stories of the work of community colleges. The adage of trying to be all things to all people has been a common concern among community college employees for decades. It is reflected at times in a perception that these institutions attempt to meet expanding student and community needs because if they do not, no other segment of higher education will. This collective impact project enables better leveraging of community-based partnerships to address the emerging and continuing nonacademic needs of students, which will ultimately positively impact educational outcomes. Opportunity America’s recent report posits that in preparing the U.S. workforce for the post-pandemic economy, “few institutions are poised to make as much difference as community colleges.”6


1Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Huie, F., Wakhungu, P.K., Yuan, X., Nathan, A., & Bhimdiwali, A. (2017). Completing College: A National View of Student Completion Rates – Fall 2011 Cohort (Signature Report No. 14). National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
2Belfield, C., & Brock, T. (2020, November 19). Behind the Enrollment Numbers: How COVID Has Changed Students’ Plans for Community College. The Mixed Methods Blog. Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.
3The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. (2021). #RealCollege During the Pandemic: New Evidence on Basic Needs Insecurity and Student Well-Being.
4The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. (2021). #RealCollege During the Pandemic: New Evidence on Basic Needs Insecurity and Student Well-Being.
5League for Innovation in the Community College. (n.d.). Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success.
6Opportunity America. (2020). The Indispensable Institution: Reimagining Community College.


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