Violated Pathways: How Gender-Based & Intimate Partner Abuse Impede Mobility

One of my favorite aspects of our State of the South blog is how this medium provides MDC staff members the opportunity to think through new things we’re learning. This site is where we turn our curiosity to exploration, to analysis, and to asking difficult questions regarding how social, cultural, and economic factors influence the odds of upward economic mobility in the South. In light of our recent community work sessions discussing economic mobility across North Carolina with the John M. Belk Endowment, my “#NCMobilityMatters” radar is on high alert. I’m more attentive than before to the myriad issues and experiences that may keep N.C. residents, and people all across the South, from progressing from foundational education all the way to economic security with a living-wage job.

So when I attended a screening this past fall of the documentary Private Violence, which shines light on the alarming rate of intimate partner violence cases across North Carolina (as well as the barriers to prosecuting such cases), my “mobility radar” went off. I was struck by the enormity of intimate partner violence (which in some form affects one in three women and one in four men) and sexual violence (which affects one in five women and one in 71 men)—the frequency of these crimes and their overarching effects on every aspect of a victim’s life: their ability to take care of their own families, to seek mental and physical healthcare, to save money, and to pursue their educational and career aspirations. I came away from the documentary wanting to know more about how intimate partner violence and sexual violence deter those who are affected by it—most often women—from staying on their chosen path to success and security.


Source: National Coalition against Domestic Violence


Stalled Mobility for Victims

We often hear commentary regarding the long-term effects on perpetrators of being charged with intimate partner violence (also called “domestic abuse”) and gender-based violence. Being convicted of a violent crime and sentenced to time in prison can certainly have enduring effects for perpetrators; for victims, who are disproportionately female, the pain, violation, and trauma of abuse and assault can carry devastating, long-term consequences. When these gender-based and intimate partner violence crimes are perpetrated, the path to opportunity is interrupted for both victim and convicted perpetrator. (However, it should be noted that only one out of four arrested abusers is convicted, and less than half of gender-based violence crimes are reported.) Furthermore, the fear of reporting assault—and the resultant pain when reports fail to lead to just convictions—can compound the trauma that makes it difficult for victims to complete educational and career endeavors.

These crimes are not inevitable parts of our society—the abusive actions that cause interruptions in opportunity can be prevented, so that fewer perpetrators and victims are derailed from pursuit of economic security and rewarding employment. Below are just some examples of how intimate partner violence and gender-based violence impede paths to success for victims, who are disproportionately female:

Nearly 50 years of working to expand opportunity in the South has confirmed MDC’s analysis that clear and accessible pathways leading from education to employment to economic security are crucial for building a more equitable society. So it’s unsettling to see that gender-based violence often inhibits progression and retention along the path to an economically stable future, particularly for women. As Private Violence demonstrates, these forms of abuse are pervasive in North Carolina, presenting further barriers to opportunity where there already is significant stalled upward mobility for those born into the lowest income quintiles. Indeed, the percentage of women in poverty in the state of North Carolina has increased in the last 10 years, and the rate of women victimized by gender-based violence in North Carolina has risen above the national average.

Violence, Mobility, and Belonging

It makes sense that trauma associated with interpersonal violence would have such life-crippling effects. After all, how are you supposed to move along the path from education and training to employment to savings to civic participation if you are being routinely told—physically, verbally, and emotionally—that your body, your power, your dreams are threatened or in someone else’s control?

When we talk about opportunity at MDC, we talk about three particular dimensions that position people on the pathway to success: belonging, thriving, and contributing. We know that when we create a civic narrative in which there is room for everyone to belong, and bodies and lives that are routinely and systemically told they don’t matter are lifted up and reaffirmed as valuable, communities become altogether stronger from a wider sense of communal investment and engagement. But currently, the messages to victims of gender-based and intimate partner violence are shaming or silencing, rather than supportive. The influence of these messages can be seen in the educational attainment and economic security figures cited above.

In order to increase opportunity for both those at risk of being perpetrators and those at risk of being victims, we need more affirming and equity-based messages about power and gender in order to prevent gender-based violence from occurring in the first place. We need to embrace messages that value people over power, and we need to intentionally communicate these messages to our youngest community members. This can happen at home, in schools, in media and in the workplace (e.g. middle school anti-bullying programs or corporate decisions to eliminate outsourcing to sweatshops).  Those messages are a starting point for influencing policies and practices that view every human being worthy of traveling the path to economic security with safety and support.

Men of Color at Community College: Increasing Completion Rates

Race still plays a big part in who gets ahead in this country, and that stratification is very evident in postsecondary education. While improvements in access to education have resulted in increases in enrollment of students of color in recent years, racial disparities in degree completion still exist. And while race and income are commingled in this country, socioeconomic status does not completely explain why students of color are lagging behind their white counterparts. Data from the Department of Education show that 47 percent of students who receive Pell grants, a federal student aid program for low-income students, graduate within six years, a higher graduation rate than that of blacks and, until very recently, a higher rate for Latinos. When further disaggregating postsecondary data by gender, graduation rates for men of color in higher education lag behind not only those of white male students but also those of women of color. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute:

  • College enrollment among African-American males grew at less than half the rate of their female counterparts between 1990 and 2008.
  • College enrollment of Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) males declined by 9 percent between 1990 and 2008, while enrollment among their female counterparts rose by 11 percent.
  • College enrollment among Latino males grew at about two-thirds the rate of that of their female counterparts between 1990 and 2008.
  • In 2013, the percentage of males ages 25-29 who had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher was 55 percent for AAPI students, 37 percent for whites, 17 percent for African-Americans and 13 percent for Latinos.

However, the vast majority of men of color persisting towards a postsecondary degree are doing so at community colleges. In “Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges,” the Center for Community College Student Engagement found that while men of color are underrepresented in higher education overall, those who enroll in college are more likely to attend a community college than a baccalaureate institution. The past 20 years of research on men of color tells us that the profile of these students can look a little different from their white counterparts. Men of color often delay enrollment, meaning they’ve been employed or participating in the workforce for a while before attending college, they are a little older when they return to school, and tend to be concentrated in developmental education courses at the start of their educational pathway – often because they have been out in the workforce for many years before returning to school.

In 2011, the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3) was established to address the role of community colleges in educating men of color. Since so much of the previous research is focused on outcome disparities of men of color at the university level, M2C3’s primary objective is to expand the research on how men of color experience community colleges. In addition, the center is focused on research, tools, and resources to help institutions improve institutional effectiveness through a series of discussions and workshops that use faculty and staff professional development to achieve equitable student outcomes.

M2C3 research reveals that the education of men of color need to go beyond addressing the socioeconomic factors that create barriers to success and must focus on intentional culturally relevant teaching and the development of a positive campus environment that acknowledges both the racial and gender identities of students. Assessments of male students of color and best practice research point to four key relationship strategies that yield successful outcomes for men of color and can be applied to any underserved population:

  1. Build relationships from an anti-deficit perspective. Men of color are seeking postsecondary education for the same reasons as other students. Convey high expectations verbally and non-verbally. Convey mutual respect and avoid unintentional microagressions—for example, assumptions of a lack of intelligence or criminality (i.e. cheating).
  2. Focus on positive messaging that conveys “you belong here” and “you are college material.” College campuses should create an environment that welcomes and engages men of color without singling them out. Praise men of color publically, but critique privately (so as not to reinforce the “you don’t belong here” mentality many students of color feel when attending college.) Validation should be specific to their coursework and work ethic—not personality traits or athleticism.
  3. Practice authentic care. Faculty should connect to students on an individual level and make time for students outside of class. Men of color have better graduation outcomes when they have authentic interactions with faculty on a regular basis.
  4. Implement intrusive interventions. Avoid the “approach me first” mentality. Men of color are less likely to seek out help. Structure help as part of the class by making office hours mandatory for all students. Check-in frequently with students to see if they have questions or concerns and connect them directly to resources or people who can help them in other departments on campus.

While the above strategies for faculty are general and foundational guidelines that have been shown to benefit underserved men of color, M2C3 also designs campus-specific strategies and workshops based on a series of assessments and conversations with all campus stakeholders. You can even contact M2C3 staff for an institutional-level assessment of instructional areas for your campus. Faculty’s scores are compared to scores of exemplar faculty members who have a demonstrated track record of success in teaching men of color. The instrument report highlights areas where professional development activities should be concentrated. In addition, you can also access webinars recordings on educating men of color here. These strategies—and the cultural shifts they require—are essential to make meaningful changes in racial disparities in postsecondary completion rates.

Dispatch from the Road: DREAM 2016

David Dodson asks, “Who’s moving up?”

“Education makes a difference. Our work is an act of liberation.” Yesterday at Achieving the Dream’s Annual Institute of Student Success—DREAM—in Atlanta, MDC President David Dodson spoke about the power of a postsecondary credential to improve upward economic mobility. Sharing some of the data about the “stickiness” in the lower income quintiles and the importance of educational attainment that we’ve discussed here on the blog, he asked the community college practitioners “What is your leadership role in the mobility ecosystem as you work with those stuck at the bottom?” Three MDC staff members were at the conference this week and saw examples of colleges that are leading the way in supporting community college students’ educational success:

From Shun Robertson

Completion by Design. AACC Pathways Project. Complete College America. Achieving the Dream.

If you’ve spent any time in the community college space, you’ve heard of these student success initiatives and several more. These are national initiatives, but there also are ones at other levels: regional (like RGV Focus in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas), statewide (like Virginia’s Developmental Education Redesign), and institutional (like Valencia’s Learning in Community, LinC). Most community colleges participate in overlapping initiatives along the education-to-career pipeline, focusing on topics such as college readiness, developmental education, retention, transfer, or connection to employment.

When Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, decided to map the initiatives they are engaged in, they counted 52(!) student success initiatives. Some initiatives are embedded in course design, some require student self-selection (tutoring, supplemental instruction), and others target specific populations (TRIO). The initiatives were not aligned, each having their own goals and anticipated outcomes. Columbus State created an initiative assessment strategy last year, starting by collecting student-level data on initiative participation. Among their findings, they found that 96 percent of degree-seeking students participated in one or more initiatives. When considering success in coursework (C or better), the success rate for students who participated in only one initiative was 62 percent, compared to 71 percent for those who participated in five or more initiatives. The team plans to do a cluster analysis to figure out which initiatives working together have the highest impact on retention and graduation. The big takeaway from Columbus State’s effort: success interventions, when added together, make an impact on overall success rates.

From Jenna Bryant

Navigating educational pathways can be difficult, especially for first-generation college students. Students transitioning from community colleges to four-year universities—through structured transfer programs or continuing on their own after degree completion—can often feel like just another number, lost in the masses of other students on campus. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which are smaller than most predominantly white institutions (PWIs), allow for smaller class sizes and provide all the social groups, extracurricular activities, and sports teams as larger PWIs, but with lower tuition.

Shun Abby Jenna

The MDC contingent at DREAM: Shun Robertson, Abby Parcell, and Jenna Bryant.

At a DREAM session on Wednesday, current and former leaders of community colleges and HBCUs led the audience through a spirited discussion on the benefits of institutional partnerships, including a concrete outreach strategy for HBCUs to enroll community college transfer students. The panelists stressed the importance of going beyond basic articulation agreements by creating spaces on community college campuses for students to learn about four-year institutions, especially HBCUs. Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) designates office space on campus for Kentucky State University (KSU) advisors to meet with potential students to discuss the next step in their education plan. Bluegrass and KSU hold joint activities on the community college campus that involve faculty, advisors, and recruiters to help students think through the challenges they might face as they move on to a bachelor’s degree. This intentional partnership fosters a relationship between the students and KSU, making a careful handoff between the community college and KSU, easing the transition of the student to the new campus culture. More importantly, creating intentional pathways for students to advance along the postsecondary ladder of success takes institutions out of their silos and into a partnership where the students’ successful navigation of the educational system becomes the focal point.

From Abby Parcell

DREAM 2016 also featured the premier of “No Greater Odds,” a documentary that introduces five community college students at the College of Southern Nevada. The stories show the diversity of community college students, following individuals through early college, from a four-year university to the community college and back, and the journey back to college after a decade or more out of school. The production also displays the diversity of community college student skills, with student cinematographers, editors, and musicians. You can watch a trailer and learn about arranging a screening in your community here.

Making the GED Count: It’s About Relationships

Last month, the GED Testing Service announced that they would lower the passing score for the equivalency diploma. Results from the latest version of the test, released in 2014, revealed both lower passing rates and that those who passed the tests were outperforming typical high school graduates in college courses. Since the test is meant to be equivalent to a high school diploma, the Service opted to change the passing score and recommended that states retroactively apply the new score. States are free to determine how they will apply the new policy. (North Carolina, for example, is opting for retroactive; that means almost 800 more North Carolinians will earn a GED.) In addition to the new pass score, the Service created two other cut scores: a college ready score and a college ready + credit score. They recommend students who receive these scores be excused from placement tests and/or remedial courses (college ready) or receive college credit in the related course areas.

GED Performance Levels

Source: Education Week []

We know that educational attainment has a significant impact on lifetime earnings and economic mobility. In the South, the median income for:

  • high school graduates is $26,500
  • people with some college, $32,299
  • four-year graduates, $48,317

and postsecondary education and employment outcomes for GED graduates are less than traditional high school graduates. But alternatives like the GED are critical onramps for those who are not on a typical pathway to economic security—especially in the South where we have half a million young people who are disconnected from work or school. To create conditions for thriving Southern communities, we must encourage individual mobility that rests on a combination of personal drive, deliberately supportive institutional practices, community supports, and the eradication of structural barriers—especially for those who start out furthest from opportunity.

America’s Promise Alliance has identified a critical practice for GED students and recipients: supportive relationships. Though some have posited that these individuals were lacking the non-cognitive skills—self-control, persistence, the now-proverbial grit—Alliance research revealed that no significant difference in these social and emotional competencies existed between GED and traditional diploma youth; rather, it was supportive relationships that were missing—and along with them, the connections to social networks that are vital to securing and excelling in employment. (We’ve written about these connections here.) In Don’t Quit on Me, the Alliance explores four types of social support—emotional, informational, appraisal, and instrumental—and the role each plays in a young person’s development and ability to complete a high school credential and move on to further education and employment. They recommend the following for community leaders who are trying to support young people on this path:

Assess risk and resources of young people in your community

Improve the odds that all young people have access to an anchor [relationship]

Engage health care professionals

Include social support systems

See education and youth services as an economic development investment

They’ve also got discussion guides for educators, grantmakers, policymakers, and others who want to tackle these issues in their own communities. These discussions and relationships will be necessary to help young people—smart, persistent, gritty young people—who have a GED make their way to more education, employment, and economic security.

Expect More Jobs, Education, and Opportunity

When we talk about the future of work, we often look at the number of jobs likely to be created in aggregate, with special attention paid to entry level jobs for recent college graduates. The pipeline of labor and the strength of our economy are dependent on people believing that education has a great return on investment and that the investment increases the economic mobility of each generation—parents encourage their kids to go to college because they want them to do as well or better than they have.

And there’s plenty of evidence to support that belief: the economic trajectory of people with a postsecondary degree is far more secure than those who were not able to pursue education after high school:

  • Median earnings for bachelor’s degree recipients working full time is $21,000- $56,000 more than the median earnings for high school graduates
  • Over 10 percent of high school graduates age 25 and older live in a household that relies on SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits, compared to 2 percent for those with at least a bachelor’s degree
  • According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, only 10 percent of children born in the lowest quintile of the income distribution who get a four-year college degree remain in that quintile as adults, compared to 47 percent of those without a four-year degree

But in much of the South, too few jobs require a postsecondary education and allow for economic security. Arkansas, for example, added 40,000 jobs between 2010 and 2013 and the state is forecast to add 546,000 jobs by the end of 2023. Nearly 70 percent of current jobs are low-skill and only 30 percent of jobs require a postsecondary credential for entry-level employment. Low-skill jobs are also conflated with lower wages, producing a workforce that is unable to move up the economic ladder and generate significant economic growth through their consumption, investment, and tax dollars. In Arkansas, 87 percent of jobs that pay less than a family-sustaining wage are those that don’t require education beyond high school. Moreover, in 2013, 65 percent of the jobs in the state did not meet that yearly threshold of a family sustaining wage.

Arkansas is not alone in this issue. The low-wage, low skill economy is an issue throughout the South. MDC called attention to the lack of well-paying jobs across the region in the State of the South report, and we are currently preparing a study of economic mobility in North Carolina that raises similar concerns about the low-wage jobs in our home state. And as you can see from the maps below, the states with the most jobs for high school dropouts are in the South while the opportunities for growth for those with bachelor’s degrees are in the North and the Midwest.

Educational concentrations of total jobs by state in 2018

PS jobs

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Educational Requirements through 2018 (June 2010)

HS drop

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Educational Requirements through 2018 (June 2010)

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, understands that career opportunities that pay family sustaining wages are important for the Arkansas economy, and that students need to realize the return on investment of postsecondary education within their home state. The Foundation wants students, parents, policymakers, educators, and employers to EXPECT MORE. The EXPECT MORE campaign asks people in the state to change the status quo by investing in the right advanced-skills training and education, investing in every region of the state to attract family-supporting jobs, and redesigning career pathways that offer family-supporting wages. The goal is to reverse the 70-30 equation (of jobs that require no postsecondary education for entry-level employment compared to those that do) through a series of strategies to transform the Arkansas public education system and build a pipeline of family-supporting jobs across the state.

Check out more videos from the EXPECT MORE website to learn more about how Arkansans are building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for their future. You can join MDC and The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in a conversation about how Arkansans can make sure tomorrow’s jobs are better by live streaming the event today at 1:00 pm EST at the Clinton School of Public Service.