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  • Writer's pictureBryan Reece, Ph.D.

Circle of Champions Helps Close Equity Gaps

First-generation students come from communities with friends and family who love them, but often lack college experience and know-how. As a result, these students receive less guidance in their academic journeys. Surrounded by people who want to help but don’t know how, marginalized students are less likely to receive support when applying for college, choosing courses, securing financial aid, planning for careers, and generally navigating the complexities of college. In addition, the under-funded condition of the public colleges they most often attend means college personnel are not typically able to fill these support gaps leaving an estimated 45% of college students (and more for marginalized students) to never see an academic advisor (Flaherty, 2023). The result is many first-generation undergraduates navigate complicated academic journeys largely by themselves.

This sociological barrier has contributed to an academic equity gap for marginalized students. While we can celebrate the achievement of proportionate college access for communities of color (Mora, 2022), success and completion rates remain disproportionately low for all marginalized student groups. For example, Latina/o students have a 5-year graduation rate of 41.5% (Hanson, 2022), and when they start their journey at a community college, their 6-year bachelor’s degree completion rate drops to 13.8% (Community College Research Center, 2020; Reece, 2021). These rates are much lower than upper-middle and upper income White, and Asian students who have completion rates around 70% (National Communication Association, 2019; Reece, 2021). This difference–the Latina/o academic equity gap–has been historically

persistent, and is getting worse (Excelencia in Education, 2023). This challenge is consistent across all marginalized student groups.

To address these persistent academic equity gaps, JourneyGPS has developed the Circle of Champions framework. The Framework has already been implemented in a pilot setting at four HSI community colleges in California over the last 18 months. Through the pilot, we have been

working with a control group of 49 Hispanic STEM students to identify the natural cheerleaders in their lives. Students in the pilot have typically nominated family members, friends, former high school teachers, professors, and similar individuals to join their Circle. The pilot now includes over 200 champions participating in assigned student Circles. As the Circle of Champions is developed around each student, our approach tracks the students’ journeys, informs their

champions of progress, and helps each champion learn to provide support.

The Circle of Champions framework includes an embedded, culturally responsive approach, with the goal of converting students’ assets and wealths into traditional forms of social, cultural, and academic capital. The pilot has generated enthusiasm from college personnel and has shown positive results for students. For example, persistence rates are at 85%, compared to the national community college average of 59.5% (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2023).

Dr. Reece has been working on this solution) for 8 years. He tried to get is started while President and Chancellor at two different college districts but couldn’t get it developed (more on this later). For the last 2 years he has been able to make much more progress on it with his two business partners, Luis Chavez and Luis Sanchez. They are now weeks away from launching their prototype/beta. 

More to come!


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