Recent Blog Posts

Technical assistance that utilizes technology: Part eight of the TCI blog series

This is the eighth post in a series about the Transformative Change Initiative (TCI) and is based on the 2014 TCI booklet. This post discusses the fifth guiding principle in the TCI Framework. Read the other posts in the series: one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven.

Adults at ComputerTechnology has become a critical element of innovation, and it has also become a very critical element in sustaining and scaling innovation. For example, technology applications for learning through online and open education resources are center stage today, as are technology applications to achieve greater efficiencies in delivery, administration, and assessment. Equally important is the application of technology to improve implementation, sustainability, and scaling. For example, social network mapping can be used to visually represent relationships among innovators and stakeholders to give insight into how innovations grow and change over time. They can illustrate weak and strong connections that indicate where additional resources are needed to encourage scaling.[1]

Finding expertise of this sort can be challenging, but the value of technical assistance cannot be overstated in the context of transformative change. How has technical assistance and technology been a part of sustaining and scaling innovation in your organization? What lessons can you share with others as they utilize technology to scale transformative change in the community college context?


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


[1] Rowson, J., Broome, S., & Jones, A. (2010). Connected communities: How social networks power and sustain the Big Society. London, England: RSA Projects. Retrieved from


OCCRL 25-year History: Learn about our Alumni!

unnamed (1)Since OCCRL began in 1989 many students have found a home to learn about community colleges, to explore their growing interest in community colleges, and to identify research topics that they can examine as part of their graduate studies. Through the Community College Executive Leadership (CCEL) program, students deepen their understanding of community colleges and prepare for careers working in community colleges as administrators, faculty, and support services providers. Some graduates continue OCCRL’s legacy by assuming positions as university faculty and engaging in research on the community college.

OCCRL’s website is featuring alumni who are helping us celebrate our 25th milestone by sharing their career successes. This blog features the career paths and perspectives of two CCEL alumns, Dr. Elisabeth Allanbrook Barnett and Dr. Wendy L. Howerter. We are proud to count them as OCCRL alumni!

For other alumni profiles, visit the OCCRL 25th Anniversary page, and look for more profiles in the coming months!

Policy-focused reform: Part seven of the TCI blog series

This is the seventh post in a series about the Transformative Change Initiative (TCI) and is based on the 2014 TCI booklet. This post discusses the fourth guiding principle in the TCI Framework. Read the other posts in the series: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

Most community colleges are publicly financed and therefore both empowered and constrained by the public environment.  In order for community colleges to scale innovations that promote improved pathway transition and outcomes, it is important to take this public (and political) context into account. According to Asera, McDonnell, and Soricone of Jobs for the Future (JFF), states that have successfully scaled career pathway reforms have approached their efforts in a logical and sequential fashion, starting with planning and moving to initiating, expanding, and ultimately sustaining the improvements they seek to bring about. They refer to this process as the “arc of scaling” to reflect the trajectory from planning to sustaining.[1]

arcofscalingBased on OCCRL’s research on the implementation of pathway innovations, this approach works well when goals are clear, plans are carefully executed, and lessons are documented and disseminated widely. However, even when this isn’t the case, when implementation is messy and opportunities to spread and scale changes aren’t obvious at the start, practitioners still find ways to share their experiences. By gathering data, evidence can lead to improvements as the implementation process unfolds, and these lessons can lead to further improvement and dissemination of lessons learned. TCI aims to find ways to assist practitioners to share their stories about how this kind of transformative change is happening.

guiding-principle-4 We invite you to tell your stories of how innovation is occurring with new pathways and programs of study on your campus. Is the implementation plan clearly laid out and rigorously followed?  Have unexpected twists and turns shaped your implementation efforts?  We would love to hear from you. Through sharing of stories on how implementation of innovations occurs in practice, we hope to create better understanding of scaling of innovation in the public community college context.


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


[1] Asera, R, McDonnell , R. P., & Soricone L. (2013). Thinking big: A framework for states on scaling up community college innovation. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future. Retrieved from

Career Pathways Crosswalk Brief Released by OCCRL

pos_principles_crosswalk_briefThe concept of organizing educational courses and programs of study that span secondary and postsecondary instruction into a comprehensive career pathways framework is gaining traction across the United States. The career pathways approach typically includes intensive and proactive academic advising and supportive services, transparent curriculum roadmaps for students to follow, curriculum alignment, multiple entry points into the pathways including through adult education and more features. The Illinois Community College Board is currently considering ways in which its robust programs of study framework, supported by guiding principles and design elements, can be expanded to include elements of a more comprehensive career pathways approach. To support this effort, the Office of Community College Research and Leadership conducted a research study to examine some leading career pathways frameworks. Elements of eight career pathways frameworks were crosswalked to the six Guiding Principles and Design Elements for Illinois Programs of Study (2009). Though there are many career pathways frameworks in existence, we chose eight that represent a sample of comprehensive approaches that might have the closest application to the momentum of thought leaders in the state.

A new Brief, “Guiding Principles for Programs of Study and Career Pathways” is being released by OCCRL this week that reveals the outcomes of this crosswalk. We hope readers will find the condensed information interesting; the format reveals several key elements that are common among approaches. As we state in the Brief, it is important to examine supporting documents in the reference list for details on each of the frameworks. Please contact us for any questions or comments about this crosswalk; we invite your input.


Cathy Kirby is a Research Information Specialist at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Her research interests include examining and scaling innovations in career pathways and programs of study initiatives.


Is the democratic mission of community colleges a reality for underserved students?

There is a long standing ideology in the United States that argues that a core role of community colleges is to expand educational opportunity and create a more equitable society. This is sometimes referred to as the democratic mission[1] of community colleges. As colleges are held to higher standards for student outcomes, there is a danger that they will move away from the idea of open access to favor students with a high probability of completion[2]. To build an equitable educational system, community colleges need to work with policy makers and funders (both public and private) to engage and support underserved populations to access, progress in, and complete their postsecondary studies.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program provides the basis to examine whether federal policy is contributing to the democratic mission of community colleges. I led a study at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) to explore this issue using data from a TAACCCT-funded consortium that is implementing programs of study associated with health care. The consortium consists of nine community colleges in seven states that have committed to building health care pathways for students. The “Health Care Consortium” is funded through a TAACCCT grant of over $19 million.

The Examining Equitable Representation in Programs of Study brief analyzes the enrollment of African American, male, and non-traditional aged students in the Health Care Consortiums’ grant impacted programs. This study shows that colleges affiliated with the Health Care Consortium reported higher proportions of African American students and older students in their TAACCCT-impacted programs of study than would be expected based on their proportion in the overall college student population. Though small scale and preliminary, these findings suggest that the programs associated with federal TAACCCT investment provide greater access to college for underserved student groups than the total programs of study enrollment of these colleges.


Comparisons in this study were made to the proportion of students of the same demographic in the colleges’ total student population. The use of a reference population, in this case the same demographic in the total college student population, ensures that the findings are relevant to the student group as well as the college. This comparison is also advantageous because it relies on IPEDS data, which are readily available.  However, a more nuanced analysis that involves comparing student groups in similar programs of study may be more useful to determining equitable representation in college access and completion, and these analyses will be conducted by OCCRL in the future.

How important is equitable access for underserved student populations to you and your colleagues?  What do you know about access and completion to programs of study for underserved student populations? How could you use the methods demonstrated in this brief to measure equitable access and completion for underserved populations in your institution?

Heather L. FoxHeather L. Fox is a doctoral student in Human Resource Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently serves as project coordinator for the Pathways Resource Center and OCCRL.

[1] Dowd, A. (2003). From access to outcome equity: Revitalizing the democratic mission of the community college. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 586, 92-119.

[2] Bragg, D., & Durham, B. (2012). Perspectives on access and equity in the era of (community) college completion. Community College Review, 40(2).