Alum Innovates to Make Higher Education Accessible to the Nation’s Most Vulnerable Populations

Dr. Donald Generals  (Ed.D. 1998) is the President of the Community College of Philadelphia. Over the course of his 35-year career in community colleges, Dr. Generals has led a transformative effort to make higher education accessible to the nation’s most vulnerable populations.

Data at his institution revealed that over the course of a year, over 3,000 students dropped out due to the financial burden of higher education. Under Dr. Generals’ leadership, the Community College of Philadelphia was among the first community colleges across the nation to develop a college-promise program, through their 50th Anniversary College Promise Program. Qualifying students who maintained a 2.0 GPA would graduate with no debt. To make this possible, Dr. Generals engaged the broader community and raised private dollars to fund students’ education.

The outcomes of the 50th Anniversary College Promise program were extraordinary, with most students succeeding in graduating from the community college in a 3-year time frame. Dr. Generals’ innovative approach caught the attention of the Obama administration, and he has become a national leader in the effort to make higher education accessible. In 2016, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden visited the College to celebrate the success of the 50th Anniversary College Promise Program.  Recently, one of the Community College of Philadelphia’s alums was honored as a Rhodes Scholar.

“Philadelphia has a 25% poverty rate, which is the highest poverty rate of the 10 largest cities in the nation – the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty is through education,” states Dr. Generals. “My vision of accessibility is focused on social justice, and the amazing faculty and staff at the Community College of Philadelphia have rallied around this cause.”

Dr. Generals started his career as a tutor working in tutoring labs in the evenings and instantly knew that he wanted to devote his career to advancing social justice at community colleges. He volunteered his time on various committees and took leadership roles, which enabled him to rise through the ranks from tutor to a Director at Passaic County Community College. Once he graduated from the GSE with his Ed.D. in Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education, he was offered the role of a Dean.

Dr. Generals chose to pursue his Ed.D. at the GSE because he wanted a more grounded understanding of curriculum and human development. “My time at the GSE gave me the guidance and foundation I needed, and I was able to apply this to my professional career,” says Dr. Generals. “The GSE helped me to foster reasoning and understanding behind what we could do by looking at the outcomes of student learning, driving accountability in the academic experience, and producing results.”

Dr. Generals was inspired by his mentors at the GSE, including Dr. Daniel Tanner and Dr. James Giarelli.  He has also been inspired by the work of Dr. Steven Barnett over the course of his career while dealing with early childhood education. He is a proud GSE alum, and he and his wife—also a Rutgers alum—often come to the university for Rutgers football games.

His research interests include progressive education, and he is the author of Booker T. Washington: The Architect of Progressive Education. Dr. Generals believes that curricula should be aligned with the life of the learner. “I always try to find those foundational elements that lead to student success,” states Dr. Generals. “The progressive paradigm is well evidenced in community colleges which demonstrate that you can take a learner from where they are to where they want to be if you provide them with the proper structure that is relevant to their life’s experiences.”