The American community college is heralded for its open-doors mission, welcoming learners of all ages and backgrounds to improve their lives and communities through education. Yet certain students find they are not always welcome: those who were impacted by the criminal justice system, including formerly incarcerated students and those with criminal records. Such students face significant barriers to college access and completion -- ranging from background checks to inadequate student services -- which we have observed through our research and experiences as community college administrators.
The economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic make it an especially crucial time for community college leaders to address the needs of these students. Unemployment has reached historic levels across the country among people of color and those without college credentials. People with criminal records -- who are more likely to be people of color and have less education, and who already experience employment discrimination -- face particular hardships during this time. Like other out-of-work Americans, they may turn to community colleges to reskill and improve their job prospects, and colleges must be ready to serve them.