Recent Blog Posts

TAACCCT Evaluators are Building a Collaborative Community to Support Transformative Change

The word complexity sums up an evaluation of a TAACCCT grant. Evaluators who attended this year’s Transformative Change Initiative’s (TCI) Learning Lab explored this idea of complexity and were encouraged to share and learn from one another about meaningful ways to gather, analyze, and report data.


Evaluators gather over breakfast for an informal discussion about their work with TAACCCT projects.

Over the last three days, the TCI Evaluation Collaborative hosted a series of sessions, including a half day pre-session where evaluators participated in interactive discussions about their TAACCCT evaluations. Topics of importance to the group included implementation evaluation, logic modeling, outcomes and impact evaluation, unemployment wage analysis, cost benefit analysis, and scaling/sustainability assessment. Plenary sessions focused on using evaluation to scale transformative change, evaluating complexity, and encouraging data utilization through data placemats.

I am hopeful that every evaluator in attendance found their experience at this year’s conference to be rewarding and enriching. For me, the real success of the event was the collaboration that was fostered among the evaluators in attendance. Throughout the event the evaluators freely shared their experiences and expertise with one another and with other TAACCCT leaders. These interactions helped to build a community of practice where evaluators are both validated and supported, allowing them to expand their capabilities and improve their practice. This is especially true for new evaluators, such as myself.  I am grateful for this experience and for the opportunity to be part of this community of evaluators. The conference’s keynote speaker, Michael Horn from Clayton Christensen Institute, summed it up nicely by saying, “Innovation in isolation is hard, supports are necessary.” For evaluators of TAACCCT grants, I would observe, “Evaluation in isolation is hard, a learning community is necessary.”

30.thumbnailHeather L. Fox is a project coordinator for OCCRL. Heather is passionate about supporting P-14 districts efforts to provide students with equitable and high quality career pathways.

Students Are Teachers at Learning Lab 2015

bragg and students

Dr. Debra Bragg and the Faces of Transformative Change Panel with Miriam Mason at Learning Lab 2015

The Faces of Transformative Change Panel at the Transformative Change Initiative’s 2015 Learning Lab in Baltimore, MD, provided real life inspirational stories that illustrated the positive impacts of TAACCCT programs on the lives of participants, their families, and their communities. Moderated by Dr. Debra Bragg, Director, Office of Community College Research and Leadership, the panel included TAACCCT graduates Ginny Quillen (National STEM Consortium), Benjamin Nall (MoHealthWINs Consortium), Wayne Jarvis Bears Tail (DeMaND Consortium) and Delfina Flores (C6 Consortium). Miriam Mason, The Collaboratory, led the planning process for the graduate panel, and OCCRL is grateful for her leadership and support.

Expanding the Pathways to Results Lens: Insights from General Education Maps and Markers

Cover: GEMs Principles Publication

At its recent centennial celebration, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) chose to emphasize its commitment to advancing equity in liberal education at both four-year and two-year institutions, a principle that is featured in many of its projects and research endeavors from the last decade. In a space crowded with initiatives designed to improve completion, AAC&U has marked out a unique territory— one that emphasizes equitable student learning within the context of completion. In the words of the AAC&U board, “access to educational excellence is the equity challenge of our time” (see p. 1 of General Education Maps and Markers). After all, what is a completed degree without the learning and skills it is meant to represent?

This equity emphasis has placed the community college sector at the center of AAC&U’s current programming. In fact, AAC&U invited OCCRL’s Dr. Debra Bragg to join one of three national working groups guiding the future and founding principles of one of AAC&Us most ambitious initiatives: General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs). The project set its sights on the radical redesign of general education as a vehicle through which institutions across all sectors, and across all majors, can reach “virtually all degree-seeking students” (see p. 6 of General Education Maps and Markers).

General education takes up some or most of a student’s first two-years of college at any institution; these are also the years in which the largest proportion of students will drop out without completing a degree program. Despite this, there has been very little effort in the field to understand how the general education experience as a whole, not just isolated parts such as development education or student supports, but the entire curricular and co-curricular experience hinders our students and what could be changed to transform outcomes. This focus on a largely untouched issue in higher education change is the most innovative piece of the GEMs project. Continue reading

STEM College and Career Readiness: Lessons from the Field

In an increasingly globalized, knowledge-based economy, there are strong economic and social implications for the need to improve postsecondary degree attainment for all student groups. Socially, postsecondary credential attainment correlates with civic engagement, health, and wellness (Oreopoulos & Petronijevic, 2013; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Economically, it is projected that in the next five years, 65 percent of all jobs will require some education beyond the high school diploma (Carnevale & Strohl, 2013). This increase in jobs requiring postsecondary credentials coupled with global competition has led to national completion agendas that aim to increase the number of Americans with postsecondary credentials. In order to help meet the nation’s goals, we must first work to improve access to and within postsecondary education for all student groups. Although there are myriad places to begin, this blog focuses on college and career readiness. It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of community college students require at least one remedial course (NCES, 2013). Of the 60 percent that do require remedial coursework, only two-thirds actually complete the remedial coursework.

inbrief-stemccr-feb15-coverOCCRL’s forthcoming In Brief focuses on Illinois’ efforts to reduce the need for remediation in college, and highlights promising practices from the STEM College and Career Readiness (STEM CCR) initiative. Through STEM CCR, seven community college sites, along with their high school partners, have worked to implement CCR programs that address academic and college knowledge gaps. The STEM CCR initiative, funded by Illinois’ Race to the Top grant, is now in its third and final year, and we are beginning to identify important successes and best practices. We are finding that partnership alignment, with a consistent shared vision, proves to be beneficial for implementing CCR programs. Sites that are strategic in developing their partnerships, working to align efforts related to the dimensions of the STEM CCR model, and being collaborative across the secondary and postsecondary spectrum, are finding success in their implementation. In addition to strong partnership alignment, what best practices are used on your campus to improve college and career readiness?

edmundEdmund Graham III, M.Ed., is a doctoral student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a specialization in Higher Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently works as a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL.


56 crop 3John Lang, MPA, is a doctoral candidate (PhD) in Education, Policy, Organization and Leadership with a specialization in philosophy of education, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL.

Quantifying Potential Completers


In summer 2014, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center published a report on the “some college, no degree” population (i.e., students who had enrolled in some college courses, but left without receiving a credential). We knew from the very beginning that we did not want this to become another story about students who did not persist or schools that did not serve all their students well. We wanted our report to contribute to both the success of returning students and the national and state initiatives targeting those former students in order to get them back to school and, once all requirements have been completed, award them a degree.

In the report, we focused on students who had made significant progress toward a degree. We wanted to inform policymakers’ efforts through our results by producing data that showed how large this universe of former students was and shed light on the enrollment behaviors these students demonstrated while in school.

What did we find?

Over the last 20 years, 21 million students completed at least two terms of college and exited without any credential. In the last 10 years, about four million students made at least two years’ worth of progress before exiting college. We called these students “potential completers.” Not drop-outs. Not non-persisters. The data told us that potential completers had achieved a lot and perhaps just need another chance to return to school and earn their degree. The size of this population also provided added impetus for us to focus on improving reverse transfer processes, in which associate’s degrees are awarded to students who transfer from a community college to a university once they’ve completed the credit requirements of the degree. You can read more about NSC’s reverse transfer initiatives here.

Shortly after releasing the national report, the Research Center received many inquiries from states asking for state-specific numbers. In response to the demand, we recently released state-specific “some college, no degree” counts, which are available at

Along with these state results, we have one important message to share with states. In these tables, you will find potential waiting to be discovered, that of the “potential completers,” that is.

Afet Dundar is Associate Director at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. She plays a leading role in producing the Research Center’s Signature Report series of national reports on student outcomes and an annual High School Benchmarks Report.