Africa S. Hands & Project CLiA

This installment of College Fluency in Context focuses on the recent work of Dr. Africa S. Hands, professor and researcher at the University at Buffalo. Dr. Hands’ IMLS-funded grant, Public Library Support of College Literacy in Appalachia (Project CLiA), is a three-year initiative aimed at investigating how public libraries in Central Appalachia can assist nontraditional students in developing college literacy. Dovetailing with our college fluency framework, college literacy encompasses the knowledge and skills required to make informed decisions while entering and navigating higher education systems. It includes competencies such as reading, writing, and research skills, as well as knowledge about college admission and financial aid processes, academic expectations, and career pathways.

In her Project CLiA grant proposal, Hands writes the following: “Prospective students in Appalachia face barriers to advancing their education: academic under-preparedness, lack of information about college and financial aid, lack of internet access, and few family members who attended college and can serve as advisors” (p. 3). Project CLiA recognizes the unique role that public libraries can play in advancing college literacy and improving educational opportunities for nontraditional students, especially in rural and impoverished areas like Central Appalachia. This may involve organizing workshops and seminars on college readiness, financial literacy, and career exploration, as well as providing unified access to online materials and resources. By advocating for an expansion of the role of public libraries into college readiness for adult learners, Project CLiA seeks to make libraries more relevant to prospective students lacking access to college-related resources.

A recent article by Hands, “Public libraries: Your partner in increasing college literacy among nontraditional prospective students” (2022), suggests that formal collaborations between public libraries and higher education institutions can be an effective strategy to promote college literacy. Informed by her previous work as an admission and advising professional, Hands argues, “The reopening of public libraries post-quarantine is an opportune moment for colleges and universities to create partnerships to recruit adult students” (p. 47). These partnerships can take different forms, such as hosting information sessions for prospective students or organizing events with financial aid staff. Formal partnerships can also ensure that library staff are equipped with the knowledge necessary to provide effective guidance and information about funding opportunities for prospective students.

Hands suggests that partnerships between public libraries and higher education provide a bridge for nontraditional students who may not have considered attending college previously. Indeed, public libraries offer a safe, welcoming, and accessible space where nontraditional students can obtain the necessary information to pursue higher education successfully. And perhaps most importantly for regions like Central Appalachia, public libraries can help to eliminate financial and geographic barriers for nontraditional prospective students. They can serve as a crucial resource for students who lack access to computers and the internet, providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and instruction to complete online college applications and financial aid forms. Ultimately, “What is advocated here is more wide-scale, purposeful collaborations between higher education professionals and libraries toward building more college literate communities” (2022, p. 52).

We feel that community college libraries can draw valuable lessons from Project CLiA and Hands’ discussion of public library–higher education partnerships and adapt these strategies to meet the specific needs of their student populations. Our ongoing grant research contends that community college libraries must play a crucial role in supporting nontraditional and first-generation college students, who often face disproportionate challenges navigating the complexities of higher education. These libraries have a further responsibility to provide inclusive and culturally responsive services that reflect the diverse backgrounds of their students. By tailoring their resources and services to the specific needs of nontraditional and first-generation college students, community college libraries can help these students thrive and succeed in their academic pursuits.

We are pleased to have an opportunity to interview Professor Hands about her recent college literacy research, during which we hope to tease out connections and implications for our ongoing grant research into community college libraries’ college fluency initiatives. Expect that conversation to posted on the CFCB blog sometime in late June or early July.

Hands, A. S. (2021). Public library support of college literacy in Central Appalachia (RE-250024-OLS-21). East Carolina University. 

Hands, A. S. (2022). Public libraries: Your partner in increasing college literacy among nontraditional prospective students. Adult Learning, 34(1), 47–54.

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