Recent Blog Posts

Welcome to OCCRL’s New Director

15AERA_BRAGG_Debra Eboni Girls-1Almost a year ago Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher agreed to return to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with her beautiful family.  In April 2014, OCCRL hosted a presentation by Dr. Zamani-Gallaher as part of our 25th Anniversary Celebration, and we announced her return to the faculty and her future leadership of OCCRL. It is hard to believe a year has passed but it has, and OCCRL is blessed to have had this plan come to fruition.  As founding director of OCCRL, I am delighted to welcome Dr. Zamani-Gallaher to lead OCCRL.  As her former doctoral chair, I know firsthand that her vision is compelling and her energy is contagious.  She offers OCCRL her deep expertise in African American student trajectories through college, minority serving institutions, STEM college and career readiness, and more.  How exciting!

I am also pleased to share that Illinois has offered me the opportunity to retain OCCRL as my academic home, and I remain deeply committed to the many projects (e.g., Applied Baccalaureate, Trade Adjustment Act Evaluations, Transformative Change, Credit When It’s Due, Pathways to Results) that have started at OCCRL in recent years.

OCCRL is in very good hands.  The researchers, graduate assistants, and staff are all incredibly talented and excited about the future.  I’m proud of the work OCCRL has done in the past and even prouder that Dr. Zamani-Gallaher is providing leadership to move the organization forward.  There is no doubt that the future is bright for OCCRL!


Dr. Debra D. Bragg is the founding director of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership.

Building Student Engagement through Technology

cheoThe Consortium for Healthcare Education Online (CHEO) is using technology to engage students by using simulations, North American Networks of Science Labs (NANSLO) activities, and LightBoard technology.

Authentic learning experiences for students include blood banking, fully equipped ambulances, and hospital and emergency room settings.  Providing students with an experience that is parallel to the real thing is a way for them to learn how to think on their feet, become more resourceful, and be a better problem solver.

NANSLO activities give students the opportunity to practice real life problem solving skills, by providing wide-scale (virtual) access to technology that students may not have otherwise. Students can perform lab experiments, with the occasional assistance of a lab technician, using the latest microscopes and spectrometers.

LightBoard helps to engage students virtually. This form of technology is relatively inexpensive for colleges to build and maintain but provides quick buy-in for students.  In addition LightBoard technology also has a huge “wow factor”. Dr. Long, a professor from Flathead Valley Community College, built the LightBoard system, using CHEO funding.

To learn more about the various technologies used to engage students and the Consortium for Healthcare Education, read:

Teryn thumbnailTeryn Payne is an undergraduate senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying news-editorial journalism. She has been working at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership since the summer of 2014 when she started as an undergraduate intern. She works with the Transformative Change Initiative at OCCRL.

Community college baccalaureate degrees in the spotlight

Where are community colleges across the country going in regard to baccalaureate degrees? How are baccalaureate programs doing in terms of legislation, program implementation, and outcomes? What can the U.S. learn about baccalaureate programs in vocational education and training systems in countries such as China and Australia?

The 15th Annual International Conference of the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) was held in Boston, M.A. on March 6-8. The meeting brought together administrators and scholars in the U.S., including organizations in Australia and China, to learn from each others’ experiences about community college baccalaureate degrees. The OCCRL’s Applied Baccalaureate (AB) research team presented findings on STEM AB degrees associated with National Science (NSF)-Advanced Technology Education (ATE) centers and projects. The presentation focused on qualitative research gathered on stakeholder perceptions (community colleges, students, FullSizeRenderuniversities, and employers) that promote or hinder the adoption and implementation of AB degrees. Team members have also shared those findings through a series of blog posts that you can find here.

The conference agenda also included presentations on AB approval processes, program enrollments, curriculum development and implementation, competency-based education, and industry and community partnerships. A focus on nursing education was especially prominent, and the commitment of community colleges to enable more students to access baccalaureates through multiple approaches (ABs, university centers, improved transfer of applied associates of science programs) was fundamental to the conversation. Keynote speaker, Mark Mitsui, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges, highlighted the efforts community colleges are making to expand access to higher education. He encouraged institutions to carry out initiatives to expand their impact across the board, from accessing the community college to receiving the baccalaureate.

With the spotlight shining bright on AB degrees throughout the U.S., it is an exciting time for the study of applied baccalaureates. Our research team is pleased to continue studying and disseminating findings on these degrees.

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.

Expanding the Pathways to Results Lens: Learning from Blurring the Lines 18 Years Later

Within my first month as a newcomer to Illinois I heard more than one person mention a “Blurring the Linesreport when discussing practices to support student learnBlurring the Linesing in career and technical education programs. After some digging, I managed to locate a copy of this report (here). Written in 1997 by the Illinois Task Force on Academic/Occupational Integration, this publication’s full title is Blurring the Lines: Integrating Academic and Occupational Instruction at the Community College. I found that although this report is 18 years old, it is also completely relevant to our work today.

Blurring the Lines mirrors national conversations about the quality and equity of workforce preparation; “stackable” credentials that lead students from a certificate in a technical field, to an associate’s, and finally to a bachelor’s degree and beyond; and the value of high-impact practices touted by organizations like the Center for Community College Student Engagement or the Association of American Colleges & Universities. The report details specific practices that can improve student engagement and meaningful learning in community college career and technical programs through integration of technical learning with academic content, team learning, or work/community-based experiences.  Key practices listed in this report could come straight from current research on high-impact practices that improve student learning and retention: learning communities, contextualized curriculum (a hot topic in developmental education reform), linked courses that allow students to apply skills and learning in multiple settings, capstone courses and projects, work-based learning or internships, and interactive class experiences. Continue reading

Rethinking Community College Completion Rates

NSC Sig Report LogoCommunity colleges are often criticized for their low completion rates, but the problem might be that we often don’t use the right data to evaluate their performance.

A Signature Report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that Illinois is one of only six states in the country in which 20% of students or more who begin at a community college eventually earn a bachelor’s degree. The study examined the six-year completion outcomes of all students in the country who first enrolled in a postsecondary institution in Fall 2008. The NSC’s database is unique in that it allows researchers to follow students between institutions and across state lines, which often provides a significantly different picture of student outcomes and institutional effectiveness.

This is undoubtedly the case for Illinois. Traditional graduation rates, such as those used in federal reporting, only count graduates who earned their degree from the first institution in which they enrolled. By this metric, the median graduation rate at Illinois community colleges is 23%.[i] However, the NSC calculates that approximately 44% of students that began at a two-year public institution in Illinois earned a degree within six years, and when only full-time students are included in the analysis the graduation rate is 67%. This rate may climb even higher as states continue to adopt reverse transfer policies and practices that award associate’s degrees to students who transfer to community colleges to universities, one of OCCRL’s current projects.

How else do you think our perceptions of community colleges would change with access to better data on student outcomes?

[i] The data used to calculate this figure come from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data center –  

Headshot Matt Giani is a research assistant professor at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL). His research focuses on stratification and social mobility in higher education, high school to college transitions, and the use of quantitative methods in educational policy research.