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Colorado community colleges offering links to 2 historically black colleges (Local Tips & Reviews)

By Carina Julilg, Sentinel Colorado

AURORA — Colorado community college students looking to transfer to a four-year university can now add two historically black colleges and universities to their list of options.

Last week at the Community College of Aurora, the Colorado Community College System signed an agreement with Texas Southern University and St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“This is groundbreaking,” Colorado Community College System Chancellor Joe Garcia said.

The memorandum adds the two HBCUs to the system’s “Bridge to Bachelor’s Degree Program” partners. Started in 2020, the program guarantees students who graduate from a Colorado community college with an associate’s degree the opportunity to transfer their credits and obtain a bachelor’s in two more years.

These will be the first two schools in the program outside of Colorado.

The HBCU partnership has been in development for more than three years, and it is part of the system’s long-term work to increase the percentage of community college students who graduate with a credential or a degree.

Garcia said that the community college system serves about half of Colorado’s college students of color, and that the partnership will give them an affordable option to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

It’s far too easy for community college students to get lost in the transfer process to a four-year university, he said. This partnership provides “a very clear pathway to two very distinguished institutions.”

CCA president Mordecai Brownlee worked at two HBCUs before coming to Colorado, and described them Wednesday as a “beacon” of hope and opportunity. When he met with students after becoming president in 2021, he said that they were already voicing interest in having the opportunity to attend an HBCU and is excited that’s now on the table.

With the majority of HBCUs in the South and the nearest one to Colorado in Oklahoma, before this partnership it wasn’t a straightforward option for students who might otherwise have been interested.

“We’re creating a bridge for students who are seeking that experience that otherwise hasn’t really been promoted or accessible,” he said in an earlier interview.

He and a number of speakers Wednesday pointed out the similarities between HBCUs and community colleges, which both serve student populations that historically have had limited access to higher education.

“I think that anyone who knows the history of HBCUs and understands the significance of those institutions and why they were formed would understand that HBCUs were designed to continue the work of accessibility and opportunity to those who have been disenfranchised,” Brownlee said. “Pair that with the community college mission and our vision.”

Two HBCU’s, St. Augustine University and Texas Southern University, were added to CCA’s Bridge to Bachelor’s Program. St. Augustine University President Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail spoke to those in attendance Wednesday as the schools celebrated the new program. (Philip B. Poston, Sentinel Colorado)

St. Augustine’s president Christine Johnson McPhail said that while HBCUs were founded on the exclusion of Black students from traditional education, over time they became a powerful driver of opportunity.

According to a 2022 statement from the White House, 40% of Black engineers, 50% of Black lawyers and 70% of Black doctors in the U.S. are HBCU graduates. Despite having fewer financial resources than other schools, they produce about one in eight of the nation’s Black graduates, according to the Brookings Institution.

Ryan Ross, CCCS’ associate vice chancellor for student affairs, equity, and inclusion, said he met with over 50 colleges when exploring this partnership. Texas Southern and St. Augustine’s were selected because they were prepared to match the level of commitment that the system wanted for its students, including making it financially feasible for students to attend. Each college has committed to providing at least a $5,000 scholarship for Colorado transfer students, with St. Augustine’s committing to $7,500, he said.

He said that the system hopes to add two to three HBCUs to its list of transfer partners each year going forward.

“This is the first of many opportunities for our students,” he said.

Marbella Alvarenga Cuchillas spoke about her own experience attending St. Augustine’s, where she is a sophomore studying business administration. Alvarenga Cuchillas is Latina, but said that she feels at home at the HBCU in a way that she didn’t at any of the predominately white schools she considered.

“At an HBCU, it’s family,” she said.

She hopes that other students will get to experience the same thing.

“This is going to be such a great opportunity for the students.”

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