In a move to boost inclusivity and offer tailored support, the ACUI has unveiled its latest initiative — the formation of a Community College Advisory Group. Designed to address the unique needs and challenges encountered by community college student affairs leaders, the group is the first step in ACUI’s mission to better serve community college professionals through resources, shared experiences, and a greater sense of belonging within the broader association.
“The community college experience is different — socially and educationally,” said Community College Advisory Group member Chelsea Kimmett, coordinator, basic needs, sustainability, and leadership at Portland Community College. “It is important to address community college needs specifically because the assumption that we have the same challenges as four-year colleges is inaccurate.”
Kimmett said the challenges she and others in the community colleges face include everything from resource constraints to serving more diverse student populations.
In addition to her regular job duties, Kimmett serves as the department’s graphic designer and assessment lead. Fellow advisory group member Shelley K. Bannish, director of student life and involvement at Centralia College in Washington, also juggles several responsibility areas — among them, student government, student activities, clubs, esports, student conduct backup, the Clery Act, laws governing drug-free campuses, and housing.
“Student Affairs is continually asked to take on more with no funding or staff to assist,” Bannish said. “This may not be a unique need — but it certainly impacts our work.”
Physical space also presents a unique challenge as many community colleges lack student union buildings and work from small spaces shared with other student service divisions and departments. In addition, many students commute, making community-building more difficult.
“Many of our students have a variety of responsibilities outside of their higher education, such as jobs and care tasks, and most do not live on campus,” said Victoria Culver Rice, a member of the new advisory group who serves as campus life and leadership coordinator at Metropolitan Community College-Kansas City. “This can create challenges in helping students find time to make meaningful connections on campus and get involved with co-curricular activities.”
Many community college student affairs departments also grapple with notably limited budgets and staffing when compared to their counterparts in four-year universities, despite often managing similar or even larger student enrollments.
“Community colleges do not have the same alumni support as traditional universities,” Kimmett said. “Our revenue fees are lower. We are competing for state funding dollars with four-year universities, community colleges, and other state-funded education programs. Lower tuition means less money to go around, but that does not lessen the expectation to provide a college experience and resources to our student body.”
Insufficient funding is also problematic when it comes to professional development opportunities. “We are expected to keep up with the new laws and initiatives, but do not have the funding to participate in trainings, conferences, or webinars,” Bannish explained.
How the Advisory Group Will Help
ACUI’s New Community College Advisory Group will serve as a proactive response to these dynamics, offering a platform for collaboration best practice exchange among professionals who understand the nuances of community college administration.
Kimmett, Bannish, and Rice said the advisory group signifies ACUI’s commitment to offering targeted resources for community college professionals, whether through enhanced educational opportunities, more specialized sessions at annual and regional conferences, the introduction of community college-focused summits, or implementing visual and language-based cues tailored for community college members to enhance their sense of inclusion.
“Community college students are just as in need of community as students at four-year colleges,” Rice said. “ACUI can play a role in addressing the needs of community college staff by providing them resources and opportunities for collaboration.”
At the annual conference in Denver, ACUI will officially launch a Community College Community of Practice within the Association. Ultimately, fostering an association environment that is more inclusive toward community colleges will help all members of the Association thrive as a whole.
“Professionals who work in two-year institutions see new trends before four-year schools,” Kimmett said. “We are often nimbler and can respond to student needs quicker. Beginning a Community College Community of Practice within ACUI would be an excellent start.”
Giving a voice to the needs of this community will be the group’s first working order.
“The benefits of this group will include just knowing you are not alone,” Bannish said. “You will develop a network of others who will understand what you are going through and they can help support you, just listen, and help problem solve. I personally am really looking forward to seeing what we can do.”