Recent Scholarship on Community Colleges: Alex Camardelle, Brian Kennedy II, and Justin Nalley’s “The State of Black Students at Community Colleges”

William Christopher Brown, Midland College
6 July 2023

In September 2022, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, published Alex Camardelle, Brian Kennedy II, and Justin Nalley’s “The State of Black Students at Community Colleges.” (Throughout this review, I will use “Black” rather than “African American” to align with the authors’ word choice throughout their report.)

As stated on the Center’s “About” page, “The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that creates ideas to improve the socioeconomic status and civic engagement of African Americans” (par. 1). Specifically, their mission is to “provide compelling and actionable policy solutions to eradicate persistent and evolving barriers to the full freedom of Black people in America” (“Mission Statement,” par. 1).

I was unfamiliar with this organization until the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Executive Director Paula Krebs passed along the report after she received it from Howard Tinberg, Professor of English at Bristol Community College. The report is compelling and pertinent enough that I thought I should review it for the MLA Committee on Community College’s Blog page.

The Center’s website “emphasizes high-quality data and analysis” (“About,” par. 4), and their report on “The State of Black Students at Community Colleges” follows through on that research emphasis. Among the 66 sources cited in this report are the following:

Government Sources

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics data, April 2022
  • U.S. Census Bureau, 2003–2021 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey
  • U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS)
  • U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

Higher Education News Source

  • Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Non-profit Research Sources

  • Center for American Progress
  • Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Education Trust in Washington
  • Institute for College Access and Success
  • Institute for Women’s Policy Research
  • National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

Scholarly Books

  • J. M. Beach’s Gateway to Opportunity?: A History of the Community College in the United States

Scholarly Peer-reviewed Sources

  • Community College Journal of Research & Practice
  • Community College Review
  • Economic Perspectives
  • Journal of Higher Education
  • Journal of Postsecondary Student Success
  • Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness
  • New Directions for Community Colleges
  • Research in Higher Education

University Research Institutes Sources

  • Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Community College Research Initiatives, University of Washington
  • Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, Temple University

The triangulated research methods are quite impressive and help Camardelle et al. to make a persuasive case for reviewing how Black community college students should best be served.

The Problem
The report argues that “while Black students are disproportionately represented at community colleges, the system does not produce equitable outcomes” (Camardelle et al. 3). The authors argue that in a variety of metrics, “community colleges largely fail to deliver equitable results for Black community college students” (9). Particularly relevant, the authors learned that during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Black student enrollment at community colleges decreased by 18%” (7). Diminishing enrollments during and after the pandemic occurred across the board in higher education but is still demographically dramatic and concerning within the context of Black community college students.

The Joint Center’s Recommendations
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies recommends actions that need to be taken at the federal, state, and local levels to improve campus culture and climate for Black students at community colleges:

  • Improve access to basic needs support for Black students
  • Improve access to campus-based child care
  • Strengthen transfer pathways
  • Evaluate community college outcomes by race and ethnicity
  • Make two-year community college tuition-free. (Camardelle et al. 15-18)

The statistics they provide from their research are quite striking. The authors suggest that the problems noted below are systemic problems that need systemic solutions. For Black students to be successful, the conditions for their success need to be cultivated.

Completion and transfer. Completion and transfer rates are concerning. Completion rates show that “only 28 percent of Black community college students graduated within three years” in 2019-2020 (9). Transfer rates suggest that “Black community college students were the least likely to transfer to four-year colleges and universities compared to their peers” (11). As alluded to in the recommendations list above, “[t]hirty-five percent of Black students in community colleges are parents” (8), which can add further challenges to student’s efforts to complete their degrees.

Community college graduates. The report notes that “Black households with workers who graduated from a community college earned nearly $16,000 per year more than Black households without associate degree [2020]”; however, Black community college graduates earned less than white community college graduates (11). Based on research published by the U.S. Census Bureau, Camardelle et al. note that “[a] typical white household with an associate degree holder earned $73,948 per year, while a typical Black household with an associate degree holder earned just $48,724” (12).

Debt. Despite the low cost of community colleges, the authors highlight that, per the U.S. Department of Education, “Black associate degree recipients are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to take out loans to attend two-year institutions” (13). Although many holders of student loan debt have challenges repaying their debt, “The typical Black associate degree recipient owes 123 percent of their original amount they borrowed 12 years after beginning their degree” (14). This average is concerning and reflects why so many people are disappointed that the United States Supreme Court recently struck down President Joe Biden’s “student loan debt relief plan” (Hurley, par. 1).

Final Thoughts
The Join Center’s report on “The State of Black Students at Community Colleges” is a valuable document to read, particularly in light of recent trends in the political landscape. As we are all aware, the Supreme Court has ended affirmative action in higher education (CBS News). Further, many states with conservative leaders are banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs (Asmelash).

The Joint Center’s September 2022 report was contextualized primarily within the context of post-pandemic recovery in higher education. The authors could not predict the speed at which laws adversely affecting Black community college students would go into effect by the middle of 2023; however, their work resonates strongly in our current political landscape. Camardelle et al.’s conclusions are worth reading and so are the sources they use to draw their conclusions.

Works Cited

“About.” Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, n.d.,

Asmelash, Leah. “DEI Programs in Universities Are Being Cut Across the Country. What Does This Mean for Higher Education?” CNN, 14 June 2023,

Camardelle, Alex, Brian Kennedy II, and Justin Nalley. “The State of Black Students at Community Colleges.” Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 21 September 2022,

CBS News. “Read Full Text of the Supreme Court Affirmative Action Decision and Ruling in High-Stakes Case.” CBS News, 29 June 2023,

Hurley, Lawrence. “Supreme Court Kills Biden Student Loan Relief Plan.” NBC News, 30 June 2023,

“Mission Statement.” Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, n.d.,