Recent Blog Posts

Improving Campus and Classroom Climate for Community College LGBTQ Students

coverCommunity colleges are historically known for welcoming and enrolling diverse student populations based on students’ economic status, racial/ethnic background, and academic profile among others. In a recent article (subscription may be required) I published with my colleagues Jason Garvey and Susan Rankin, we examined how welcoming community colleges are for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer (LGBTQ) students.

Knowing that students’ perceptions of campus climate are an important aspect of students’ collegiate experience, we used data from a national study to better understand what factors predicted students’ perception of campus climate. After controlling for demographic variables, our model showed that the strongest predictor of students’ overall campus climate was their perception of classroom climate (e.g., perceived safety and comfort, feeling welcomed in the classroom, and LGBTQ inclusive curriculum); campus resources and resource use were not predictive in our model. These results are insightful because they point to the importance of community colleges’ student experience in the classroom and in particular the role of faculty.

In the article, we offer some practical steps that community colleges can take to support LGBTQ students:

  • Assess curriculum diversity to determine how LGBTQ students are represented in the curriculum
  • Determine support and training available to faculty so they are familiar with and better understand LGBTQ issues and students
  • Conduct climate and resource assessments for LGBTQ individuals
  • Benchmark your college against other colleges and universities using Campus Pride’s Campus Climate Index to determine what services and supports can be provided to your LGBTQ students

A safe, welcoming, and inviting campus and classroom climate are important to learning for any group of students, particularly marginalized student groups. I invite you to share how your college is supporting LGBTQ students!

JasonJason L. Taylor is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah and co-principal investigator of Credit When It’s Due (CWID) Research at OCCRL.

Working Together for Change: Education, Workforce, and Industry

Florida logo for blogThe Florida TRADE Consortium consists of 12 state and community colleges that have come together under a TAACCCT Round 2 grant with the mission to improve Florida’s advanced manufacturing training and education system. Offering access to accelerated training programs that can be completed in 3-6 months, Florida TRADE programs allow participants to upgrade current skills, learn new skills, and gain industry-recognized credentials that can lead to internships and jobs in manufacturing.

One key component of the Florida TRADE strategy is its partnership trifecta of education, workforce, and industry. Working together for change, key stakeholders have been engaged throughout the program design and implementation. These stakeholders include college presidents, academic deans, and corporate college directors; state and local workforce board representatives; and small and large manufacturers and industry associations. By coming together and collaborating, the key players are seeking transformative change in education and workforce systems. “The Florida TRADE program has really brought industry and education closer and we are now seeing job applicants, who are being prepared for, and motivated to follow a career in manufacturing,” explains Trevor Charlton, Manufacturing Manager, Pharma Works.

To learn more about this collaboration and the work being done in the Florida TRADE Consortium, read the Partnership Trifecta: Education, Workforce, and Industry brief.

What strategies are you using to engage key stakeholders in program design and implementation? How is this engagement impacting your program participants and industry partners? We would love to hear from you.

51.thumbnailMarianne Peacock is the Project Coordinator for the Transformative Change Initiative at OCCRL. She can be reached at

University Perspectives on the Applied Baccalaureate (AB)

This is the third in a series of blog posts that focuses on diverse stakeholder perspectives on the AB degree. The perspectives we are sharing represent the following groups: community college personnel, students, university personnel, employers, and state policy leaders.



In his research about organizational culture in higher education, William Tierney (1988) asserts that even the most experienced college and university administrators ask themselves the question: “What holds this place together?” (p. 3). He adds that, in the process of looking for answers, especially in moments of frustration or resistance, administrators ask whether the answer to this question lies in the university mission, in its values, in its bureaucratic procedures, or in its strong personalities.

Similar questions are asked among university personnel who are contemplating the applied baccalaureate (AB) degree. The research conducted by Makela, Rudd, Bennett, and Bragg (2012) points out that, despite the role that AB degrees may play in increasing access to college and possibly also increasing college completion, AB degrees face considerable criticism. Whereas personnel associated with some baccalaureate degree-granting (universities) offer and support AB degrees, others express concern about their role in mission creep, escalating costs, and disruptions to long-established policies and procedures surrounding higher education curriculum and credentialing. Research conducted by OCCRL on ABs has documented these concerns and continues to understand their impact on adoption and implementation.

The goal of this blog is to summarize perspectives held by university personnel who have participated in our qualitative research. A snapshot of a diversity of perspectives of university personnel follows:

  • Response to workforce education shortages: Currently, a much larger number of ABs are offered by predominantly baccalaureate-granting institutions (universities) than community colleges (Townsend, Bragg, & Ruud, 2009), although community college ABs capture more attention in the media. Since the vast majority of AB degrees seek to prepare students for employment, ABs awarded by universities tend to be focused on meeting labor market needs as well. Given the comprehensive curriculum offerings of many universities, the offering of AB degrees raises questions about the role of occupational-technical education at the university level. This case is exemplified in Arizona where a perceived workforce shortage of personnel in fire service management led to the implementation of AB degrees in universities (Bragg, Townsend, & Ruud, 2009).
  • Perceived mission creep when ABs are offered by community colleges: Some university personnel worry that the offering of ABs by community colleges may result in changes to the fundamental missions of these institutions. The comprehensive mission of community colleges involves other missions related to developmental education, adult education, and transfer education (Ruud & Bragg, 2011), and these functions are valued. How will these functions fair when community colleges award AB degrees? Will the baccalaureate function begin to overshadow the other functions? Also, will community college ABs threaten the open-access mission of these schools, leading to selective admission that narrows or eliminates access to higher education for underserved student populations?
  • The expense of ABs: Some university administrators present funding arguments as rationale for offering the degrees at the university (rather than community college) level. For instance, implementation of ABs has been restricted to the university in Arizona to prevent an overall budget increase to the higher education system. In this state and others, university personnel claim legislators would be unlikely to support new AB degrees in community colleges due to already tight budgets for higher education (Bragg et al., 2009). Along this line, the Academic Senate of The California State University (2014) offered that “the current limiting factor in offering or expanding applied baccalaureate [AB] degrees is the underfunding of higher education, rather than a deliberate decision by the CSU not to offer or expand such degrees”.
  • Visibility for community colleges: Many university personnel admit they don’t have deep knowledge of community colleges.  They do not give them a lot of attention unless an issue emerges that catches their eye (Bragg, as cited as Marcus, 2014). Undoubtedly, the offering of AB degrees by community colleges has captured the attention of university personnel (administration and faculty). A sizeable number of university personnel worry that ABs will affect their enrollments and their curriculum offerings. A few mention concerns about student outcomes. In the best of cases, dialogue about ABs among university and community college personnel has strengthened transfer and articulation processes. In the worst of cases, tensions have increased and relationships have worsened.

Join us in this discussion! Your opinion will enrich this series of blogs and we want to know your thoughts. The next post focuses on perceptions of AB degrees held by students. Stay tuned!


Bragg, D. D., Townsend, B. K., & Ruud, C. M. (2009). The adult learner and the applied baccalaureate: Emerging lessons for state and local implementation. In Brief. Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Retrieved from

Marcus, J. (2014). Why even top tier students should consider community colleges. PBS Newshour. Retrieved from

Panke, J., Rudd, C., Bennet, S., & Bragg, D. (2012). Investigating applied baccalaureate degree pathways in technitian education: Technical report. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College  Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from

The California State University. (2014). Concerns regarding proposed legislation authorizing community college baccalaureate degrees. Retrieved from

Tierney, W. G. (1988). Organizational culture in higher education: Defining the essentials. The Journal of Higher Education, 59(1), 2–21. doi:10.2307/1981868

Townsend, B. K., Bragg, D. D., & Ruud, C. M. (2009). Development of the applied baccalaureate. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 33(9), 686–705. doi:10.1080/10668920902983601

MariaMaria Claudia Soler is a PhD student in the Education Policy, Organization and Leadership program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. She can be reached at



dbraggthumbDebra Bragg, OCCRL director and Gutsgell Endowed professor at Illinois, researches the transition to college by youth and adults, especially student populations that have not attended college historically.


Reverse Transfer: Questions Emerging from an ASHE Symposium

CWIDLast Friday, we participated in a symposium on Credit When It’s Due at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) in Washington, DC. The session titled, “Reverse Transfer:  Research and Policy on the Front Lines” featured Daniela Pineda (chair); Debra Bragg, Christopher Baldwin, Patricia Farrell-Cole, Marilyn Amey, Sarah Rose Fitzgerald, and Jason Taylor (panelists), and Tatiana Melguizo (discussant). Exploring the national initiative and using Michigan as a case, the panelists and audience of researchers raised a number of questions that deserve attention.

Recognizing that the number of students who have taken advantage of reverse transfer associate degrees has fallen short of expectations thus far, the following questions were raised that need further study:

  • “Reverse transfer” is a confusing term to many students. Can this concept be redefined to make it more comprehensible?
  • What can state systems and institutions do to make reverse transfer more attractive to students and reach more students?
  • Is an associate’s degree valuable enough to attract students to pursue it while pursuing their bachelor’s degree?
  • What are the benefits of a reverse transfer associate’s degree to students and institutions?
  • Ultimately, is reverse transfer good policy?

We welcome your thoughts on reverse transfer.  Please share your comments below.


Debra D. Bragg is the principal investigator of Credit When It’s Due (CWID) Research, OCCRL director, and Gutsgell Endowed professor at Illinois.



JasonJason L. Taylor is co-principal investigator of CWID Research and an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah.

Community College Perspectives toward Applied Baccalaureate Degrees

This series of blog posts focuses on diverse stakeholder perspectives on the Applied Baccalaureate (AB) degree. These stakeholders are community college personnel, students, university personnel, employers, and state policy leaders. This is the second post in the series. You can read the first post here.


Imagine that you work at a community college and you are part of a committee to evaluate the potential implementation of Applied Baccalaureate (AB) degrees. What would you say? What kind of concerns or inclinations would you have regarding these degrees? Well, if you are unfamiliar with them, you might first want to understand how these degrees differ from other baccalaureate degrees, including why and how they emphasize applied learning outcomes. You might wonder if the spread of AB degrees across the U.S. is influenced by the forms that these degrees take, and how they are evolving. Because of the open-access mission of community colleges, you might want to understand how these programs affect student access and opportunity to complete the degree. You might also want to know whether AB degrees change institutional identity. Do they emphasize workforce-oriented curriculum to the exclusion of the liberal arts? These are questions that OCCRL’s research has addressed through grants from Lumina Foundation and the National Science Foundation (NSF). This blog highlights the perspectives of community college personnel on the potential for and the pitfalls of AB degrees.

AB Models and Degrees

Our research has uncovered the existence of several AB degree types. The Career Ladder degree type extends progressively advanced academic and technical coursework from the community college to the baccalaureate level (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). The Inverse or Upside Down degree type combines the first two years of associate-degree courses that are heavily focused on technical knowledge and skill development with upper-level baccalaureate content, primarily focused on general education. The Management degree type combines associate-degree coursework with upper-division baccalaureate coursework that prepares graduates for leadership and supervisory positions. Besides these types, we found AB degrees that were not easily classified in one of the aforementioned degree types. We referred to these degrees as Hybrid because they offer uniquely customized combinations of academic and technical coursework, often offered through online delivery.

Community College Perspectives

Considering these degree types, our research suggests the perspectives of community college personnel vary widely, from strongly supportive to deeply skeptical. Opinions of AB degrees reflect an appreciation among community college personnel for the ways in which the adoption of this degree type may yield anticipated and unanticipated complexities. Positive perspectives toward these degrees are reflected in the following points:

  • Expand access: Community college personnel perceive that, by adding AB degrees, community colleges increase access for nontraditional students who seek  to advance in jobs that provide higher wages and increased job security. During a recent roundtable led by OCCRL’s AB research team at the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Principal Investigator’s Conference sponsored by the NSF, several community college practitioners mentioned that AB degrees increase employment opportunities for students. Thus, they appreciate AB programs because they perceive that they enhance students’ economic and social mobility.
  • Serve communities: An important aspect of the community college mission is to serve their communities by meeting the educational needs of their citizens (Mullin & Phillippe, 2013). According to community college practitioners, AB degrees that are offered by their institutions (rather than universities) retain local citizens and provide talent to the local marketplace that helps to sustain the economic vitality of their communities. Often serving place-bound students, AB degrees enroll citizens who seek to remain in their communities as employees, taxpayers, and contributing community members.
  • Meet local labor market needs: Related to the last point, community college personnel perceive that AB degrees are a solution to workforce skill shortages that require work-ready graduates who can apply knowledge and skills immediately. In our NSF case studies, “hands-on learning” and “real-world applications” are appreciated for their contribution to graduates’ workplace readiness. Also, working learners who populate many AB programs can transfer what they learn directly to their jobs, according to community college practitioners.

Concerns about AB degrees follow:

  • Identity and marketability concerns: OCCRL’s research suggests that use of the word “applied” in the title of AB degrees is attractive to employers, but detrimental to the marketability of the degree.  Some community college personnel think the meaning of the word is unclear or derogatory, leading some students who may be able to benefit from the programs to decline to enroll. Uncertainty about the value of this type of baccalaureate degree also raises concerns about its viability in the academy. Will graduates with AB degrees be admitted to graduate programs?
  • Cost and budgetary worries: Some community college personnel worry that community college baccalaureates (CCBs) will escalate costs at their already financially strapped schools. As part of our NSF research, community college administrators in Oklahoma said clarifying costs and budgetary strategies was an essential step to quelling faculty concerns about AB degrees. When college officials addressed faculty questions about how the institution would manage budgets relative to facilities, faculty, and support services, concerns lessened.
  • Institutional identity concerns: When some community colleges have begun to award AB degrees, they have dropped the word “community” from their title, largely to meet regional accreditation requirements. For some community college practitioners, this is troubling. No longer identifying their institutions as “community” colleges is a dreaded outcome of the adoption of AB degrees (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). From this perspective, personnel fear the AB degree will reduce the perceived value of their colleges to their local communities, potentially distancing them from student populations they have served historically.
  • Mission drift: Whether the AB degree changes institutional identity to the extent that mission drift is a valid claim is a concern to some. Juan Mejia, former vice president for Academic Affairs at South Texas College addressed this issue when he said, “We [South Texas College] do not refer to them as ‘community college baccalaureates’. Instead, the community college recognizes it as a baccalaureate degree that happens to be offered at the community college.” Mejia’s contention was that most community colleges that have adopted AB degrees have continued to focus on their core community college mission. The associate degree continues to be the primary degree type, with the AB degree complimenting rather than superseding the predominant associate-degree credential (Ruud & Bragg, 2011.

As this discussion of perspectives toward AB degrees suggests that, when community college personnel think about AB degrees, they consider their influence on community college mission, their costs and budgetary concerns, their impact on student access and success, and their responsiveness to local employers. As more states and institutions consider AB degrees, it is important to understand how perspectives held by community college personnel influence AB degree adoption and implementation.

Please share your thoughts on AB degrees. We are anxious to hear from you. Please use the comment field below to share your thoughts!


Mullin, C., & Phillippe, K. (2013). Community College Contributions (No. AACC Policy Brief 2013-01PB). American Association of Community Colleges. Retrieved from

Ruud, C. M., & Bragg, D. D. (2011). The Applied Baccalaureate: What We Know, What We Learned, and What We Need to Know. Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Retrieved from

MariaMaria Claudia Soler is a PhD student in the Education Policy, Organization and Leadership program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. She can be reached at



dbraggthumbDebra Bragg, OCCRL director and Gutsgell Endowed professor at Illinois, researches the transition to college by youth and adults, especially student populations that have not attended college historically.