Riverland Director of Admissions: “Community colleges are all about access and opportunity”
Published Friday, November 11, 2022 at 9:00 p.m
Any Supreme Court action relating to affirmative action should have no impact on community colleges
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments regarding the use of positive action in higher education. Judges heard from six different attorneys in policy challenges at the University of North Carolina and Harvard.
The guidelines consider breed among many factors when evaluating administrative applications. One judge compared affirmative action to a head start in a race, while liberal judges suggested that without affirmative action, minority enrollment would decline.
On site, Nel Zellar, director of admissions at Riverland Community College, said Riverland has an open admissions policy, something she believes all community colleges have. Race also plays no role in admission.
“Community colleges are all about access and opportunity,” she said. “We believe every student out there has an opportunity to get a college education, and community colleges are a great way to do that.”
According to Zellar, community colleges didn’t have the competitive admissions process of other institutions, which considered factors such as GPA, standardized test scores, or high school prep standards.
She described community colleges as inclusive.
She said for community colleges, if prospective students provided transcripts or a GED, they would be admitted to a community college. Before the start, the students were able to carry out assessments to determine their course placement.
“We want to make sure students are ready to succeed in college-level classes,” she said.
Riverland has an online application — a universal application used by the state of Minnesota that is used by all four-year and two-year colleges, something Zellar called “pretty basic” and included questions about the demographics of where the applicant attended high school attended and whether the applicant has attended a previous university. You do not need to fill out prep standards questions. Questions about race are used as demographic data for things like scholarships or grants.
The University of Minnesota is not a Minnesota state college or university.
In an effort to remove potential application barriers, Riverland even conceded their application fee years ago.
“College is possible for anyone or most people,” Zellar said. “Sometimes I think [potential students] believe they won’t get into college, and the reality is that many of these students will get into a community college when they… graduate high school or get their GED.
Her colleague repeated her thoughts.
“We do not expect that a court decision on this matter will affect our admissions decisions because Minnesota state colleges and universities do not use race as an admissions criterion,” said James Douglass, executive director of communications, media relations and marketing for Riverland , in an email. “We’re proud of our position as the most diverse higher education system in Minnesota and of being a beacon of opportunity for our Indigenous communities, communities of color, first-generation families, and families from across the socioeconomic spectrum.” According to Douglass, this has been the case collective response as part of the Minnesota state system.
Zellar said 26% of RCC students are black, a fact she called “pretty impressive.” She said the Karen population is the fastest growing population, but the school has Somali students, Sudanese students and Asians, among others.
“It’s really very diverse,” she said.
She also cited Minnesota State Equity 2030, a 2019 goal to close educational equity gaps at Minnesota state colleges and universities by 2030.
“Hopefully we’ll admit the same number, but very importantly … the graduation rate will be the same retention rate,” she said.
In a poll, 63% of respondents supported race bans in admissions decisions. On the other hand, 64% said programs to increase racial diversity are good.
“As a society, all this justice and inclusion is a big issue,” Zellar said. “The diversity in our communities continues to grow, which is great.
“We have an acute shortage of skilled workers. We must educate and train all of our citizens to participate in the labor market and earn a living wage.”
Thomas Erickson, a Riverland student, said the schools have done a good job of diversifying their campuses, but at the same time believe they could do better. He said he’s heard about students being unable to attend school because they were looking for certain minorities to meet inclusion requirements.
Student Gage Hanna believed that any student who applies should be accepted and that schools should not pick and choose.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.