The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) recently unveiled a new transfer opportunity for Colorado students, offering guaranteed enrollment at two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The monumental partnerships forged by the Bridge to HBCU program will enhance educational experiences and transform the next generation of leaders.
Community colleges play a critical role in workforce development. They offer technical training, certificate programs and two-year associate degrees for students at all stages of life. Unlike the restrictive, merit-based admissions process at most traditional four-year educational institutions, almost all community colleges boast open-enrollment policies. These policies allow every applicant an opportunity to advance their skill set and professional career.
For students looking to pursue bachelor’s and graduate degrees, attending a community college can be hugely beneficial. The experience can provide a strong foundation for academic success as students prepare to transfer to a traditional university with the first half of their coursework already completed. Having received an introduction to their field of study, students can move forward with more confidence and pay significantly less, potentially cutting the cost of a four-year institution’s tuition and fees in half.
CCCS provides accessible and affordable educational opportunities to over 100,000 students per year at 13 schools across Colorado. Led by Chancellor Joe Garcia, CCCS’s vice-chancellors and executive staff coordinate system-wide efforts to fulfill its mission of expanding opportunities available to students. In addition to training programs in construction, education, healthcare, forestry, law enforcement and more, CCCS schools provide concurrent enrollment, online learning, and programs to simplify the post-graduation transition.
Colorado’s Community College History
The role of community colleges (also known as junior colleges) has long been acknowledged as an asset to Colorado’s workforce development and economic systems. In 1937, the state legislature passed the Junior College Reorganization Act, creating a pathway for the addition of new junior colleges with funding from public school districts.
The Community College and Occupational Act of 1967 separated the community colleges and vocational training institutions from the school districts, establishing the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE). In 1985, The SBCCOE was established as a governing body, comprised of 12 members tasked with the creation of advisory councils that provide oversight and strategic planning for community college programs.
In 1986, the SBCCOE established the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System (CCCOES) as a regulated collection of community colleges and vocational programs throughout the state. In 2002, CCCOES was renamed to its current CCCS moniker.
Bridge to Success
2020, CCCS created an exciting and innovative opportunity, guaranteeing a pathway from any of its 13 colleges to a four-year degree at a partner university. In three years, the Bridge to Bachelor’s Degree program expanded partnerships to 13 four-year colleges and universities throughout Colorado.
In April 2023, CCCS announced the Bridge to HBCU program, a thrilling new addition to the original Bridge to Bachelor’s Degree program that will have a remarkable impact on Colorado’s communities of color. CCCS partnered with its first out-of-state institutions, adding two HBCUs to the list of schools that will guarantee admission for CCCS students.
Starting in Fall 2023, students can select Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, or Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. They will be guaranteed enrollment and financial assistance to complete a four-year degree.
There are 107 institutions throughout the United States of America identified as HBCUs by the US Department of Education. Many of the institutions were founded during the Reconstruction Era, though all of them must have been established prior to 1964. HBCUs traditionally operate with the primary intention of providing education to Black students who would otherwise be limited by systemic inequity. With most of the institutions being situated in the South and along the East Coast, students of any race and ethnicity can attend.
Dr. Ryan Ross, Ph.D. serves as the CCCS Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Equity and Inclusion in addition to working closely with communities of color as the president and CEO of the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado. He proudly discusses the benefits of the new Bridge to HBCU program, with emphasis on CCCS’s intentional commitment to equity.
“We looked at transfer outcomes and the needs of students, and where we are geographically. One of the things we didn’t have was access to HBCUs – for all students, but obviously for Black and African American students,” he says. “Part of that is based on our demographics being under five percent. A lot of the HBCUs either don’t know to come here, or don’t think it’s valuable to come here, or don’t want to spend the resources to come here because the numbers are so low.”
Ross says the process of identifying partner universities included being selective and finding the right fit. “We looked for HBCUs that have faculty and staff who have a real familiarity with community college students,” he reveals. “In the instance of Saint Augustine, the new president, Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail, has been a community college president and a member of the American Association of Community Colleges. She really gets who community college students are, and she has a strong commitment to equity. The Senior Vice President of Student Experience, Dr. Leslie Rodriguez-McClellon, actually worked at the Community College of Denver as the vice president.”
Removing Financial Barriers
Another selection criterion for the Bridge to HBCU partnership was for the colleges to commit scholarships to CCCS students. Transfer students to Saint Augustine University will receive scholarships from $7,500 to $9,000, and students transferring to Texas Southern University will receive $2,500. This financial assistance, in addition to other grants and scholarships students pursue independently, will significantly reduce the cost of higher education.
In a press release announcing the new partnerships, Dr. Rodriguez-McClellon states, “Our Partnership with CCCS will provide students with financial resources to complete their bachelor’s degree, leadership opportunities, and global exposure to ensure career preparation.”
CCCS is proud to offer cost savings to Colorado students. “Not only are you going to get a high-quality education, but you’re going to save yourself thousands of dollars,” Ross exclaims. Overall, Bridge to Bachelor’s Degree participants save an average of $10,000 on the total cost of their degrees.
Making the Choice
The Bridge to Bachelor’s Degree program is limited to new, first-time students. To participate, students must indicate their desire to join the program during the application process, when they will also select two of their top transfer choices. Next, students will be assigned an advisor at their CCCS school and a transfer advisor at their choice university, who will work with them throughout the course of their two-year education.
After graduating with an associate of art or science degree in any discipline, admission to the four-year school of choice is streamlined, with guaranteed acceptance and assistance with the transfer process.
For Ross, who attended the predominantly white Nebraska Wesleyan University, this program creates an important opportunity for Black students to see themselves in every aspect of a college campus – from the administration to the student body.
“It gives them hope. It gives them courage. It provides a safe environment where students can not only get their education but be in a place that’s psychologically safe,” he says. “Being able to have that place to grow is really important.”
CCCS is working to expand its HBCU partnership to additional schools while supporting students every step of the way.
Editor’s Note: For more information about CCCS and its Bridge to Bachelor’s Degree program, visit www.cccs.edu.