Report

Community College and the Experiences of LGBTQ People

Findings from a national probability survey
May 2022

Using data from the Access to Higher Education Survey, a nationally representative survey of LGBTQ people ages 18 to 40, this study provides new information about the experiences of LGBTQ people who have attended community colleges, including discrimination, violence, mental health, and sources of financial support.

AUTHORS
Highlights
Nearly a third of LGBTQ people have attended community college at some point in their lives.
LGBTQ students were more likely than non-LGBTQ peers to report discrimination, harassment, and mental health issues.
LGBTQ people were three times as likely as non-LGBTQ peers to face bullying, harassment, or assault at their community college.
Data Points
33%
of LGBTQ people have attended community college
75%
of LGBTQ community college students weren't out to teachers or staff
56%
of LGBTQ people were not out to any other students
22%
of LGBTQ people reported unfair treatment by teachers, staff, or school administrators
12%
of non-LGBTQ students reported unfair treatment
19%
of LGBTQ people experienced bullying, harassment, or assault at their community college
7%
of non-LGBTQ people experienced the same
11%
of LGBTQ people were sexually harassed at community colleges
3%
of non-LGBTQ people were sexually harassed
32%
of LGBTQ were diagnosed with depression at community college
13%
of non-LGBTQ students received the same diagnosis
12%
of LGBTQ people said their community colleges had LGBTQ-supportive counseling services
8%
of LGBTQ students said their school had LGBTQ-informed health services
Report

Executive Summary

More than 4.6 million students are currently enrolled in community colleges in the U.S.—including over a quarter of all undergraduates. Community colleges provide a stepping stone to a four-year college and higher earnings. However, relatively little is known about the experiences of LGBTQ community college students. 

This study provides new information about the experiences of LGBTQ people who have attended community colleges using data collected for the nationally representative Access to Higher Education Survey. Information about campus climate, experiences of belonging, discrimination, violence, mental health, educational aspirations, and sources of financial support were explored for LGBTQ and non- LGBTQ people (n=386) ages 18 to 40. 

Nearly a third (32.7%) of LGBTQ people 18 to 40 reported that they attended community college at some point in their lives. Nearly all (96.2%) attended public institutions. Of those who attended community college, 14.4% were current community college students, 37.4% had completed an associate degree, and 21.0% had completed a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Over half (57.9%) reported aspirations to one day obtain more education (e.g., a bachelor’s or graduate degree). 

Most LGBTQ people who attended community college were not “out” while attending, and LGBTQ students were more likely than non-LGBTQ students to report discrimination, harassment, and mental health struggles during their time there. A majority (74.8%) of LGBTQ people reported not being “out” as being LGBTQ to any of their teachers or staff, and 56.2% of LGBTQ people were not “out” to any other students at their community college. About four out of ten of all people found faculty and school staff and students at their community college to be “very accepting” of LGBTQ people. 

LGBTQ people were nearly twice as likely to report unfair treatment by teachers, staff, or school administrators (22.1% vs. 11.7%) and hearing slurs or negative comments about LGBTQ people at their community college as their non-LGBTQ peers (24.0% vs. 12.7%). Almost three times as many LGBTQ people experienced bullying, harassment, or assault at their community college compared to non-LGBTQ people (19.3% vs. 7.2%, respectively). More specifically, one in ten (10.7%) LGBTQ people were sexually harassed at community colleges compared to 2.6% of their non-LGBTQ peers. Notably, faculty, school staff, administrators, and coaches were named as perpetrators by 16.3% of LGBTQ people who experienced bullying, harassment, or assault. 

About half or more of those who had experienced bullying, harassment, or assault at their community college said that their community college did not know that the bullying, harassment, or assault was happening. Among the LGBTQ people who were victimized, only 14.0% indicated that their community college had an easily accessible, visible, and known procedure for reporting LGBT-related bias incidents and hate crimes that is distinct from generic reporting procedures. Few LGBTQ and non- LGBTQ people who experienced bullying, harassment, or assault filed a report or formal complaint. 

More generally, few LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people reported the presence of LGBTQ resources and indicators of LGBTQ inclusion at their community colleges. Notably, half or more of LGBTQ and non- LGBTQ people did not know if their community college had specific resources. Resources specific to transgender students were rarely reported—including the presence of at least one gender-neutral bathroom and a policy of allowing transgender students to change their gender designation on their program records or documents. 

Not surprisingly, LGBTQ people felt less connected to their community colleges and felt less supported by faculty and staff compared to non-LGBTQ people. Fewer LGBTQ people felt a sense of belonging at their community college than non-LGBTQ people (61.0% vs 75.4%) or felt that at least one other student was close to them (54.1% vs. 67.2%). LGBTQ people were less likely than their non- LGBTQ counterparts to report that teachers empowered them to learn at their community college (73.2% and 85.0%). Accordingly, LGBTQ people were less likely than non-LGBTQ peers to recommend their community college to others (78.2% and 89.4%). 

Moreover, more LGBTQ people reported mental health struggles while in community college than their non-LGBTQ peers. LGBTQ people were at least twice as likely as non-LGBTQ people to report that a professional told them that they had specific mental health problems while in community college, including depression (31.7% vs. 12.8%), bipolar depression (9.4% vs. 4.1%), anxiety (32.5% vs. 15.3%), and suicidal thoughts (15.9% vs. 3.9%). 

Few LGBTQ people reported that their community colleges had LGBTQ-supportive counseling services (11.5%) or LGBTQ-informed health services (8.0%). 

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Community College and the Experiences of LGBTQ People