Recent Blog Posts

Assessing Affective Factors to Improve Retention and Completion

Terry ObanionAssessing students to determine the courses into which they should be placed for success is one of the key actions we take in community colleges.  In recent years researchers have told us that multiple measures—including assessments of the affective domain—can significantly improve our efforts.  In this paper, Ross Markle, a Senior Researcher at Educational Testing Service, and I set the context for the value of affective measures and cite several examples of how they can improve the placement of students to better ensure higher retention and completion rates.

Read Assessing Affective Factors to Improve Retention and Completion.

Terry O’Banion is President Emeritus, League for Innovation, and Chair of the Graduate Faculty, National American University. He welcomes responses at

Applied Baccalaureate Degrees: What do they mean for each stakeholder?

This is the first in a series of blog posts on stakeholders’ perspectives on the AB degree by community colleges, students, universities, employers, and the state policy perspective.


What if there was a new path to increasing students’ chances of obtaining a baccalaureate degree? And what if this option was not only flexible and relatively affordable but it had potential to meet workforce demands? You might first conclude that this sounds too good to be true, but in reality, for some people and in some states, such as Florida, Texas, and Washington, this path is the APPLIED BACCALAUREATE (AB) DEGREE.  For many, the AB degree is a new idea, and it is a controversial. The AB is an alternative degree that needs to be considered carefully because it can entail issues of mission creep, budgeting, and lack of prestige. With so little known about the degree, OCCRL sought to research these degrees to understand their impact on community colleges, and this led to our developing this series of blogs. Our research shows perspectives about the AB vary depending on the stakeholder. Students, community college personnel, university personnel, employers, and state policy officials perceive and define these degrees differently. They have contrasting views on whether the AB degree can be beneficial, and how concerns and challenges can be addressed.

What is an AB degree?

Using the definition of Townsend, Bragg, & Ruud (2009) we consider an AB degree as “a bachelor’s degree designed to incorporate applied associate courses and degrees once considered as “terminal” or non-baccalaureate level while providing students with higher-order thinking skills and advanced technical knowledge and skills so desired in today’s job market”. The offering of baccalaureate degrees at community colleges is controversial, but it is also intriguing that states like California merited them more study and passed legislation in August to conduct an AB degree pilot program in 15 community colleges (Block, 2014).

So what it is going on with AB degrees?

OCCRL’s AB research team travelled to Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago to present research findings on AB degrees at the Advanced Technological Education (NSF) Principal Investigators Conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). (The NSF, ATE program funds this research on the AB degrees.) Although some discussions and impressions of this conference will be incorporated in the following blog posts, according to the stakeholder emphasized in each blog, we want to highlight three conceptual elements from our experience. The first is that AB degrees are evolving; we do not know a lot about AB degree models yet. During the ATE NSF conference, several practitioners showed interest in understanding other states where AB degrees are implemented, and our “Adult Learner and the Applied Baccalaureate: Lessons from Six States” study was a good way to start the discussion because it presents case studies of AB degrees in six states: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. We also know that there are different models for awarding baccalaureate degree credit, including enhanced articulation, university centers, university extensions, and the community college (Floyd, Skolnik, & Walker, 2005), and that states play a gatekeeping role in authorizing AB degrees. This is especially observable in the community college model. But the differences do not end there. Different types of AB degrees are associated with the career pathway, management, inverse, and hybrid models (Bragg, Townsend, & Ruud, 2009). However, even knowing this, what we know about AB degree models, programs, and practices is limited. Collecting and disseminating information about these degrees is important, including knowing what different stakeholder’s perceive of them. As Bragg et al. (2009) suggest, understanding perceptions can help other stakeholders gain a fuller and deeper understanding of AB degree programs offered in various postsecondary institutional contexts.

The second element is that there is not one single and fixed perspective that summarizes each stakeholder perception because perspectives of AB degrees can vary for different members in each stakeholder group. For example, while some community college practitioners from California who attended the ATE NSF conference showed interest in being selected for the pilot study that is beginning soon in that state, a few others expressed skepticism. These contrasts in opinion are usually related to different perceptions in the purpose that AB degrees should follow. For instance, while some students see AB degrees as an excellent opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree given the flexibility in scheduling, others are concerned because of the lack of prestige associated with the fact that these degrees are relatively new. Recognizing these contrasts and understanding that they are part of the process through which new meanings are negotiated has been an important assumption in our study of AB degrees.

The third element is that perceptions that different stakeholders have about AB degrees can vary across time and depending on their shifts, they may influence how, when, and where AB degrees are implemented, and vice versa.  Perceptions, and more importantly, the analysis of early experiences associated with pilots helped states like Washington to reach full-scale implementation. Going back to the California case, while AB degrees legislations did not pass in previous years, its approval in August 2014 was influenced by changes in the perception of a study group. The group analyzed the case and instead of rejecting it, concluded that the offering of baccalaureates by the California community colleges merited serious review and discussion by the Chancellor and the Board of Governors (California Community College Study Group, 2014). A legislation to conduct a pilot study was passed some months after that report. In our research we found that although controversial, AB degrees align well with policy agendas that link higher education to workforce development. If these perceptions are so influential in the implementation of policy, then the study of their patterns and connections with other policy decisions warrants further attention.

AB degrees emerge “at the right time and in the right place for each particular state or institution” (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). Exploring and documenting perceptions about AB degrees may provide insights into deeper questions central to the future of higher education, including which students should be served and how, what the value is of college credit and degrees, and how diverse institutions can operate more effectively and efficiently as a higher education system (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). This series of blogs will attempt to document perceptions of AB degrees that emerge from our research, but we would like to hear your perceptions. Please join us in this discussion; we would love to hear your thoughts! Our next post focuses on perceptions of AB degrees held by community college personnel. Please stay posted!


Block, M. SB-850 Public postsecondary education: community college districts: baccalaureate degree pilot program, 850 SB § 78040 (2014). Retrieved from

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

California Community College Study Group. (2014). Report from California community colleges baccalaureate degree study group. California. Retrieved from

Floyd, D., Skolnik, M., & Walker, K. (2005). Community College Baccalaureate: Emerging Trends and Policy Issues. Presented at the The Community College Baccalaureate Association. 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.


OCCRL Featured Evaluator: Tara Donahue

This post is part of a new blog series called Transformative Change Initiative (TCI) Featured Evaluator, that includes interviews with members of TCI’s Evaluation Collaborative. This community of evaluators has a wealth of knowledge, experience and insights into evaluation of the TAACCCT grants that are being implementation throughout the United States. Want to be profiled or know someone who would make a great feature? Email us at

DonahueTara2011Name: Tara Donahue

Current position: Managing Evaluator

Bio: Tara Donahue, Ph.D., managing evaluator, performs a variety of functions at McREL International.  She conceptualizes, manages, and conducts research and evaluation projects on several different education-related programs. Examples of her work at McREL include managing the external evaluation of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant focused on improving college and career readiness in six high schools in Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville, KY), overseeing two Teacher Quality Partnership evaluation projects in Kentucky and Virginia, and leading the evaluation of two Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants in Missouri and Tennessee. Additionally, Tara leads proposal writing teams on content development, evaluation design, and budgets for submission to a wide variety of clients and funding sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the National Science Foundation.  Tara has had papers accepted and has presented at the American Evaluation Association and American Education Research Association, where her team won a Publication Award from Division H in 2014.  Tara holds a B.A. in English and psychology from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. in educational policy from Michigan State University.

Q. What is the design and predominant methods for your TAACCCT evaluation?

A. The TAACCCT evaluations use a quasi-experimental design, with comparison groups coming from both other institutions and historical cohorts. Predominant methods include conducting interviews and administering surveys with a variety of stakeholders, including project staff, partners, and students. Outcome data, supplied by the colleges, are used to help the colleges meet Department of Labor reporting requirements and to address other evaluation questions the colleges may want to address through their project. TAACCCT evaluations also have an intensive fidelity of implementation project to help them gauge the extent to which they have implemented the project according to their plan.  When changes are made, the evaluation team documents how and why.

Q. What stands out as major accomplishments so far?

A. Although the evaluations are in the early stages, there have been several accomplishment thus far. First, great conversations have begun to determine what critical evaluation questions need to be asked and how those questions will be answered. Second, partnerships with the data coordinators at the colleges have been established to facilitate transmission of the school’s data to the evaluation team.  Third, strong relationships between the evaluation team and the project team have encouraged brainstorming and flexibility in approaching survey administration from a variety of ways to increase response rates.

 Q. What advice do you have for new TAACCCT evaluators?

A. Major accomplishments thus far are based on key communication strategies. Start as early in the process as possible to make sure clear lines of communication are established. Be clear and concise in what is being communicated.  For many project staff, this is the first time that they have worked with an external evaluator and expectations need to be made clear at the beginning.

When meeting with project staff and stakeholders, make sure to clearly explain the purpose of the evaluation and why it is necessary.  Focus on continuous improvement—a primary objective of the evaluation is to examine project strengths and weaknesses and to help project staff implement strategies to shore up any areas that may not be as strong.  Again, because this may be a new process for some staff, they may need to go slowly to fully understand the process and the intention behind it.

Q. What questions do you have for others about TAACCCT evaluation?

A. What strategies have been implemented to increase survey response rates for students? What challenges have you faced in developing relationships with workforce partners and having access to state employment databases? How have those challenges been resolved?

You can reach Tara at and learn more about McRel International at

OCCRL GRAs Honored

Every year the College of Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recognizes outstanding graduate students. On November 8, 2014, the Student Recognition Ceremony featured presentation of awards, fellowships, and scholarships that are competitively determined. Through generous contributions from alumni, former faculty of the College, and friends of the University deserving graduate students were honored for their academic merit, professional experience, public service, and commitment to the field of Education. Among the stellar student awardees at Saturday’s event, were five graduate research assistants (GRAs) from the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL). It was a pleasure to see these talented students receive recognition for their hard work and scholarly activities. We proudly salute our exceptional GRAs for their academic honors and contributions to OCCRL!

Warmest congratulations to OCCRL/Pathways Resource Center GRAs.

OCCRL GRAs recognized with COE student awards

From left to right: Nicholas Melrose, Lauren Schneider, Edmund Graham, and Asia Fuller-Hamilton (Honoree Joel Malin not pictured)

EboniEboni Zamani-Gallaher is a Professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership in the College of Education at Illinois and Co-Principal Investigator on the Illinois Community College Board grant at OCCRL. Her research centers on access and collegiate experiences of marginalized students at two- and four-year institutions of higher education.

Practices to Pathways

studentsWhat innovations are being implemented at your college to improve student success?  Put another way, what “high-impact practices” are making a measurable difference in college completion at your college?  The Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin recently issued a report revealing numerous high-impact practices that matter to college completion, according to their research.  The report titled A Matter of Degrees:  Practices to Pathways, presents data on the following “high impact” practices:

1.  Orientation
2.  Accelerated or fast-track developmental education
3.  First-year experience
4.  Student success course
5.  Learning community
6.  Academic goal setting and planning
7.  Experiential learning beyond the classroom
8.  Tutoring
9.  Supplemental instruction

The score-card format of this report provides visually appealing descriptive results from selected community colleges that use the CCCSE survey. The report also offers a set of “campus-conversation questions” to encourage better use of data to scale and sustain these high-impact practices into the future. Practitioners who engage in these conversations are bound to benefit, and so are their students.

Based on OCCRL’s experience with the Transformative Change Initiative (TCI), the questions posed by CCCSE are smart questions for practitioners to explore. They parallel the scaling activities that OCCRL is seeing community colleges implement in association with the Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Act College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants. In this regard, the TCI tools and templates located here provide additional resources to maximize the impact of high-impact practices on student success. Extending conversations about how innovations within college can positively influence student success outside of college is vital to TAACCCT, and increasingly important to consider in the context of college completion and student success.  TCI helps practitioners make thoughtful, strategic decisions about how to scale innovations that benefit all students, whether they are continuing in college or transitioning to the workplace, or both.

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.