It’s hard to overstate the value of a high-quality community college.

Institutions like Victoria College help students stay close to home while earning an associate degree or certification, learning a trade or laying the groundwork to transfer to a larger school. Victoria College allows our region to grow its future workforce and lets students complete basic courses while avoiding the higher tuition costs of many four-year universities.

Community colleges are a particularly important resource for part-time students and those from underserved demographics – students who need to balance academics with work and family obligations. But even with the flexibility to learn on their own time, many students struggle to hold everything together.

Victoria College has recognized this and is taking steps to help at-risk students. In addition to providing mentors for students on academic probation, the college offers so-called “wraparound” services, such as a food pantry and a clothing closet, to give a boost to students in need of additional resources. The college is also increasing the scholarships it awards through the Victoria College Foundation, with more than $1 million distributed during the 2018-19 academic year.

Now, after partnering with the Texas Pathways Institute and armed with detailed data on student demographics and achievement, the college is preparing to better meet its students’ needs.

The Texas Pathways Institute is an initiative through the Texas Success Center that helps colleges improve student performance by analyzing data and implementing guided pathways to put students on the road to success. In Victoria College’s case, the data showed a wide achievement gap between part-time and full-time students and between Hispanic and white students; in other words, students who are part-time, Hispanic or both are more likely than their counterparts to drop courses or withdraw from their studies.

This is especially troubling because most of Victoria College’s students are part-time, and Hispanics are the college’s largest single demographic and growing as the county’s Hispanic population is expected to increase in the coming years.

A well-educated workforce is beneficial to our entire region. That’s why we’re thankful Victoria College has taken this step in identifying where there’s room for improvement and seeing it through. The achievement gap is not inevitable; it should spark concern, and it should prompt a search for solutions.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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