December 7, 2023
Dr. Martha Parham, Sr. Vice President, Public Relations
For Immediate Release
Tulsa Community College’s Holistic Approach to the Development of Social Capital
By Leigh Goodson, President and CEO
Tulsa Community College
Community colleges embrace students from all walks of life. In Fall 2022, 27% of students at Tulsa Community College (TCC) were first-generation college students, and nearly half of the student body represented non-white communities. Many of these students don’t come from affluent socioeconomic backgrounds, which gives community colleges the unique opportunity to not only support students in their academic pursuits but help them build needed social skills to create connections and networks vital for success as they enter the workforce or transfer to a four-year university.
The concept of social capital was brought up to me by TCC Science and Aeronautics Assistant Professor Mona Easterling. It refers to the networks, relationships, and resources individuals establish through social connections, and is a key ingredient for success outside the classroom and empowering students for a lifetime of achievement. Mona made a strong case for our vital role in building social capital, especially to build equity in support of our lower income and minoritized student populations.
TCC establishes social capital on its campuses through mentorship programs, workforce partnerships, community engagement, and with initiatives like the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Pathways Project and Unlocking Opportunity. TCC is evolving beyond its purpose of providing an affordable, quality education, and is preparing students to establish social capital of their own.
Mentorship Fosters Support Networks
One of the ways TCC helps students establish social capital is through its many mentorship programs. When our employees connect with a student, they provide support, instill knowledge, and encourage them to succeed.
Kelly Parsley, a graduate of TCC, demonstrates how mentorship is a catalyst for social capital that brings forward extraordinary opportunities. Juggling the responsibilities of being a single parent to five children and the challenges of being a first-generation college student, Kelly, a Cherokee Nation citizen, decided to begin her academic journey at TCC with the goal to become a doctor for her Tribe so she can help people who come from the same background she does. She found support through TRIO Student Support Services, a federally funded grant program that offers academic advising, tutoring, career services and a wealth of emotional support and valuable relationships that are hard to quantify. Her TRIO advisor was the first person who provided guidance through her academic journey but was not the last.
During her time at TCC, Kelly served as president of the TRIO Student Association, was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and TCC’s Honors Scholar program, and founded Motivated Scholars, an organization that creates opportunities for Honors students to connect and inspire one another. Several TCC mentors, including professors she built strong relationships with, wrote letters of recommendation and guided Kelly through the application process for the highly competitive and prestigious Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Kelly was one of 60 in the nation chosen to receive the scholarship worth up to $55,000 per year to complete a bachelor’s degree. She graduated from TCC with three associate degrees and started classes at the University of Tulsa this Fall.
She remains in contact with her TCC TRIO advisor, professors, and tutors—all instrumental in guiding her to success and the growth of her social capital. Her journey demonstrates the pivotal role mentorship can play in leading a student towards academic success and how instrumental establishing those relationships is for personal and professional advancement.
Establishing Professional Contacts Through Workforce Partnerships
TCC is deeply rooted in the Tulsa community and has forged countless workforce partnerships in industries like manufacturing, cybersecurity, and business, designed to give students additional opportunities for work-based learning and industry-specific training. These partnerships not only enhance students’ skillsets but bring together students and industry professionals to create networking opportunities and the potential to meet future employers. According to research from LinkedIn, more than 70% of professionals are hired at companies where they already have a connection.
By taking advantage of workforce partnerships, students gain social capital and access to skills and knowledge sought by employers. This establishes professional relationships early on, enhances students’ employability, and creates a smooth transition into the workforce after completing their degree.
Creating Connections with Community Service
At TCC, we know community is our middle name. As the largest community college in the state, we serve approximately 20,000 students every year at four main campuses across Tulsa and take pride in how our students give back to their community. Community service increases civic participation, social networks, and builds trust and a sense of belonging for students, all of which are crucial components of social capital.
We build community through acts of service from Tulsa Achieves Scholarship students, service-learning courses, and student clubs and organizations. Tulsa Achieves Scholarship students are required to complete 40 hours of volunteer service per academic year to maintain eligibility for the program. Our students have volunteered with the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, Food on the Move, Tulsa Area United Way, Tulsa Animal Welfare, and many more places throughout Tulsa that provides them opportunities to interact with a diverse range of organizations and individuals.
Providing Students Clear Pathways
Through our participation in the American Association of Community College’s Pathways Project, which began in 2015, TCC has created and clarified pathways to gainful employment or transfer to a four-year university. Beyond this, TCC overhauled support services to assist students in identifying goals and acquiring the knowledge and skills to pursue their chosen pathway.
The Pathways Project has helped TCC make significant advancements in enhancing the student experience, resulting in the highest number of graduates in the history of the College during the 2021-2022 academic year, a commendable 25% increase of the number of credentials awarded from five years prior, and a 10-percentage point rise in the graduation rate over the past decade.
Improving Long-Term Outcomes Through Unlocking Opportunity
TCC will implement strategies to build students’ social capital through its involvement in Unlocking Opportunity, a network of 10 colleges organized by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and its partners at the Community College Research Center. In Spring 2023, TCC was chosen to participate in the initiative which focuses on improving students’ post-graduation outcomes through years of comprehensive reforms and evaluation.
The network, conducting research from 2023 through 2028, will see thousands of students from diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, and socioeconomic standing entering and completing programs that lead directly to jobs that pay a sustaining wage or to the efficient completion of a bachelor’s degree.
In the first three years, TCC will set clear goals, create strategies for improvement, and start implementing those strategies with assistance from coaches and learning sessions. In the following three years, the CCRC and Aspen will monitor students’ journeys and release gathered research, tools, and case studies to share with member institutions. Through Unlocking Opportunity, TCC will create new opportunities for students to establish and expand their social capital.
Commitment to Student Success
TCC has a reputation for helping students overcome financial obstacles and prepare for rigorous academic curriculum so they can achieve their education and career goals on time and on budget. But TCC doesn’t stop at providing an education—we are committed to seeing students through into the workforce. The networks they build, relationships they cultivate, and opportunities they access can significantly shape their careers and contributions to their families and the Tulsa community.
Uniquely American, community colleges serve more than 10 million students annually providing critical access to higher education in both academic and workforce development. As the voice of the nation’s community colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), delivers educational and economic opportunity for more than 10 million diverse students in search of the American Dream. Uniquely dedicated to access and success for all students, AACC’s member colleges provide an on-ramp to degree attainment, skilled careers, and family-supporting wages. Located in Washington, D.C., AACC advocates for these not-for-profit, public-serving institutions to ensure they have the resources and support they need to deliver on the mission of increasing economic mobility for all.