Over 15 years ago, the Fox Valley Technical College of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and the Appleton Area School District in Wisconsin partnered together to create the Cultural Support Specialist position to address the postsecondary attainment equity gap that existed for first-generation students of color in the state. The Cultural Support Specialist is a joint position between the technical college and the school district, and is responsible for helping students transition from high school to college by advocating for and providing services to learners to help them overcome some of the structural barriers that can prevent at-risk learners from accessing and succeeding in college.
The Cultural Support Specialists help to address the structural barriers that at-risk students may face in a variety of different ways, by taking an individualized case management approach and providing mentorship to learners to promote academic and social success. They help learners complete financial aid applications, complete college applications, schedule campus visits, sign up for college entrance exams, among other supports.
Beyond helping learners with some of the access barriers they may face when applying to college, the Cultural Support Specialists also address some of the cultural barriers that learners may face in high school and college. Cultural Support Specialists develop culturally relevant workshops for staff and learners to help promote equity and cultural understanding in the schools and college. Additionally, they work directly with staff at the three high schools and the technical college to communicate learners’ cultural, academic and personal challenges to address barriers to academic achievement. They also serve as liaisons between schools and families and connect learners and their families to resources to promote learners’ success.
Additionally, Cultural Support Specialists help to promote equity throughout the secondary and postsecondary system by sitting on committees and advisory boards within those systems to ensure that equity is always a part of the conversation, particularly when it concerns policy discussions. Cultural Support Specialists are able to bring concerns from the community to those with decision-making power within the secondary and postsecondary system.
The Cultural Support Specialists spend roughly 70 percent of their time at the high schools and 30 percent of their time at the technical college and are demographically representative of the learner populations they serve.
Policy in Action
To measure the effectiveness of the positions, the Fox Valley Technical College examines how many students of color apply to the college. Since the position was created, the Fox Valley Technical College has seen a continued increase in the number of learners of color who apply to the technical college. In the 2013-2014 school year, 13 percent of applicants were learners of color and this increased to 18 percent in the 2016-17 school year.
Website: Fox Valley Technical College Diversity and Inclusion Services
Resource: Wisconsin Technical College System-wide Equity Report
Resource: Advance CTE’s Statement on Equity in Career Technical Education
Resource: Making Good on the Promise: Building Trust to Promote Equity in CTE
Resource: Making Good on the Promise Series
Last Updated February 2019