Enhancing the Experience of Community College Students

Written by
Lois Elfman

Jul 31, 2019

Jul 31, 2019 • by Lois Elfman

Dr. Christine Mangino, provost and VP for academic affairs at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), recently completed a 10‐month Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence. One of 40 participants in the 2018–19 class, Mangino participated in the nationwide leadership program designed to prepare the next generation of community college presidents.

A first‐generation college student, Mangino began her own higher education journey at a community college. Within her first year, she realized she wanted to become a teacher and knew her long‐term goal was to earn a doctorate and become college faculty.

“I learned how to be a college student at Nassau Community College NY and I learned I was actually good at learning and enjoyed the academic world,” says Mangino, who earned her bachelor's degree at Hofstra University NY and her doctoral degree in instructional leadership at St. John's University NY, where she was the recipient of a doctoral research fellowship.

At community college, she plotted her own path without an advisor, which led to some missteps. She later realized the important role advisors play, making it a mission to see that Hostos students really connect with their advisors.

“We need to make sure that it's intentional and we're reaching out to them over and over again,” Mangino says. “I'm connecting the advisors to the faculty, so there's constant conversation.”

Aspen Presidential Fellowship

Mangino and the other Aspen Institute DC fellows read extensively about previous participants, research conducted about the qualities that make a transformational president and leadership styles. Each participant received data about their own institutions that reviewed the achievement and equity gaps. They also received labor market data for their respective student bodies and alumni.

Over the course of three one‐week residencies, the 40 fellows met with community college presidents from around the country and with chancellors of community college systems, and had what Mangino says were “amazing, in‐depth conversations about what really works for them.”

She found it valuable to step away from campus and think about what could make a difference. Building a network among the cohort has proven valuable.

“I knew before going in that I would want to be a president, but I figured a few years down the road because I love my job,” says Mangino. “I love the focus on academics and the interaction with faculty, which would be slightly removed in a presidential role. It helped me realize that I am ready, and as a president you should be involved in the academics. You can make change at the systems level.”

At the conclusion of the fellowship, the participants presented capstone projects. For her capstone project, Mangino assembled a best practices task force at Hostos with which she shared the readings and opened conversations about what programs can be implemented based on research.

Developing Programming

“We've always had lots of little bits and pieces of a ‘first‐year experience’ for students,” says Mangino. “But it's not integrated and it's not intentional that every incoming student would hit each piece of the first‐year experience.

“We are now figuring out how we create a comprehensive first‐year experience,” she continues. “What are the elements that should be in that and how do we make sure that every student has each of those four or five experiences within their first year. That's our goal for the fall.”

Within Hostos' academic programs, Mangino has shared readings and data on equity gaps with full‐time and part‐time faculty, and together they're figuring out what changes can be made. This includes things faculty can do in the classroom to have greater student engagement. The sharing of ideas is crucial.

“[This is] is how we break down the silos and join forces to make a difference for the students,” says Mangino.

Hostos students are all commuters, so Mangino wants to see more means of connecting students with each other. She's encouraged faculty to hold “icebreakers” and extracurricular activities so students can make friends on campus. “That will help them stay connected to the college and keep them coming,” Mangino notes.

Onto the Future

Hostos presently offers 27 associate degree programs and two certificate programs that prepare students to transfer to four‐year institutions. Unfortunately, many students switch to part‐time after the first year due to financial issues, so Mangino has worked on building certifications, such as EMT, within the liberal arts curriculum. That can lead to higher wages, working less hours, taking a larger course load and achieving associate degree completion.

Last year, Mangino worked with faculty to change the dialogue around general education requirements so that students see how those courses develop skills that are important not only for college, but for the future. She is also focused on strengthening critical thinking skills and adaptability for the ever‐changing workplace.

“Pedagogy really does matter, so I have lots of workshops and lunch‐and‐learns to talk about teaching and learning with the faculty,” she says.

Early internships are crucial so that students know they're on the right path. Degree maps have been implemented. Even if students aren't seeing an advisor, they still have some guidance. Regular assessments are crucial, so faculty can see which students may be struggling. If they see commonalities among those struggling, they develop programming in response.

“We're aware of the needs of our students outside of academics—housing insecurity, food insecurity, mental health,” says Mangino. “We've been teaming up with nonprofits in the neighborhood. I've been working with Persistence Plus, which nudges students to college completion.”

Mangino was recently a finalist for the presidential position at her alma mater, Nassau Community College NY.

“I'm happy that I get to stay at Hostos, but I know that at some point I will apply for another presidency,” she says. “[Aspen's] focus is about how to become a transformational leader and make change that is sustained beyond your presidency.… Aspen helped me feel confident.”