Disenfranchised Students—Who Are They?


At the fall 2014 plenary session, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) passed resolution 20.01, regarding the provision of services for disenfranchised students. The resolution calls on the ASCCC to work with the Chancellor’s Office to develop a plan to serve disenfranchised students.  It reads,

Whereas, California’s community colleges serve a diverse population of students, some of whom have emotional and/or environmental circumstances which may interfere with their ability to achieve their academic goals, as well as disenfranchising them from engaging in normal societal privileges and activities;

Whereas, These disenfranchised students may be homeless, may be suffering from untreated medical and mental ailments, may not have steady income or transportation, and are often highly disinclined to allow themselves to be identified as being in need of support because the common characteristic among these students is that they exist in a constant state of insecurity;

Whereas, California’s community colleges are already overburdened with mandates to provide education plans for all students without sufficient resources, which are needed for these disenfranchised students in order to increase success, retention, and completion; and

Whereas, The California Community College System has established no future plans to provide the services that these disenfranchised students so badly need;

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges work with the

Chancellor’s Office and Board of Governors to develop a long-range plan that will increase services for disenfranchised students.  (Resolution 20.01, F14)

Indeed, it has become increasingly apparent that a significant segment of the California community college student population is disenfranchised. The resolution provides a broad definition of who a disenfranchised student is. Yet, understanding how we do or do not actually identify real students is the essential first step in addressing how the community college system may better serve all students to more directly promote student success.  

Sound Familiar?

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, River first pauses at the doorway to plot a route to his seat which he then navigates with quick-paces and half-closed eyes. He removes several pencils he sets in parallel to the desk’s edge, lines his folder up as true-to-center as he can, and waits for the class to begin.

In the first weeks, River is very much engaged in class. He tries to keep up with his note-taking. He asks questions. Periodically, he volunteers his observations. He turns most of his assignments in on time. He is responsive to invitations to use office hours. He responds well to the instructor’s referral to a tutor. He says that he works with his counselor.

Yet, as the semester progresses, he seems more tired, more distracted. Some days he simply does not engage in class at all. With increasing frequency, he submits underdeveloped work, then no work. He emails apologies for not coming to office hours. He does not show for scheduled meetings with a tutor.

In a brief dialogue with the instructor after class, River explains that he is currently without a home and sleeping on the couches of friends, that sometimes he sleeps in his car. He is defensive in his confession and does not offer more detail. The instructor does not think he looks malnourished but feels uncomfortable even making such an assessment. River is clearly not willing to engage further on this subject except to say that he might drop the course. Moreover, should River choose to persist, the reality of his missing course work and missed class hours significantly diminish his chances of success.


To disenfranchise is to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, or of some privilege or immunity.

The example of River’s experience is just one scenario involving a student who, deprived of support services, no longer has equal access to higher education.   Many students are similarly affected, although the how and why of their scenarios are likely as varied as our student bodies: students trying to separate themselves from gang affiliation, students who have become homeless, students who do not qualify for financial aid or for whom financial aid is not available in a timely fashion, students in need of mentoring and support who do not qualify for assistance through established programs such as EOPS, Umoja, Rise, CalWorks, or some of the newer programs coming out of Student Success and Support Program, Student Equity Program, and Basic Skills Program, and students that are in need of learning assistance but are simply unaware that there are services available. The list is long and examples of such students are plentiful.

What Can Faculty Do?

The Transfer, Articulation, and Student Success Committee of the ASCCC is taking a first step to address resolution 20.01 F14 by surveying colleges about which types of services, if any, are available for disenfranchised students at the colleges as well as how colleges facilitate connecting these students to provided services. Responses from a wide range of college constituents, including faculty, staff, and administrators, will be used to inform the field regarding this issue and hopefully begin to provide models of effective practices that may be scaled to address the challenges these students face at all of our colleges.  The survey will be circulated this spring, and the ASCCC asks that faculty leaders distribute it as widely as possible at their colleges.  With the information gathered from the survey, the Academic Senate will pursue further directions through which we can serve our population of disenfranchised students and continue our efforts to provide authentic access to education to all students.