Improving community college students’ success is increasingly recognized as essential to meeting U.S. economic and workforce demands. Yet, community college completion rates remain lower than rates at public bachelor’s degree-granting institutions—just 41 percent of community college students earn a credential within six years, compared with 67 percent of students at public four-year institutions (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center 2019).
Growing awareness of the diversity today’s community college students’ experiences has increased attention to the effect of life circumstances and needs on educational attainment. Increasingly, community colleges are acknowledging the challenges posed by factors such as poverty, structural racism, and caregiving responsibilities to academic outcomes, recognizing the imperative to holistically support students of color, students with low incomes, and students who are parents, among other historically marginalized populations. These students are also likely to need accessible, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, which research shows can affect students’ ability to persist in and complete educational programs.1 As the U.S. community college system places growing emphasis on holistic approaches to improving student outcomes, institutions, communities, and policymakers must consider how to better support students’ access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.
More than one third of all U.S. undergraduates are enrolled at public community colleges (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2018). These students have high need for sexual and reproductive health services and low levels of sexual and reproductive health knowledge (Cabral et al. 2018; Eisenberg, Lust, and Garcia 2014). Little is known, however, about the state of reproductive health access on community college campuses. Community colleges often do not offer health care to their students, due in part to the fact that they are unlikely to have on-campus health centers. They also face increasingly restricted budgets, leaving them with limited resources to support the needs of their student body (Kahlenberg 2015).
Through a scan of existing community college reproductive health programs and services, over 40 expert interviews, and a review of the literature, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) assessed the state of community college students’ need for and access to sexual and reproductive health services and information (a list of experts interviewed for this project can be found in this report’s Appendix). This research was complemented by a convening in July 2019 of community college staff, faculty, and administrators, higher education experts, sexual and reproductive health researchers, advocates, and students who shed vital insight into the range of students’ reproductive health needs and the opportunities for building a stronger network of reproductive health supports at the community college level.
This report summarizes IWPR’s findings around promising programs and practices for meeting community college students’ sexual and reproductive health needs. It discusses the importance of expanding sexual and reproductive health care access for community college student success, shares the challenges and opportunities to doing so, and describes strategies that have been successful or hold promise for advancing reproductive health services for community college students. The report concludes by offering recommendations for future action to increase community college students’ access to sexual and reproductive health support as a part of holistic student support efforts.