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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.

Engagement Rising: A Decade of CCSSE Data Shows Improvements Across the Board

Tengagementrisingcoverhe Center for Community College Student Engagement recently released, Engagement Rising: A Decade of CCSSE Data Shows Improvements Across the Board, which highlights trends in over ten years of Community College Survey of Student Engagement data. When looking at data from 2004 – 2014, we found responses increased or stayed constant for all students. Over this period, student demographics remained relatively the same, so the rise in engagement is not likely the result of who is attending college but instead the result of intentional change in policy and practice at colleges across the country.

The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) data used in the analysis were collected from nearly two million student respondents across almost 900 community colleges. Engagement Rising highlights the areas in which engagement has increased the most, paying special attention to full- and part-time students and non-developmental and developmental students.

In a time when there is a spotlight on community colleges, it’s encouraging to see the following:


The percentage of part-time students who reported making a class presentation rose seven percentage points.


The percentage of full-time students who reported coming to class unprepared dropped ten percentage points.


Both developmental and non-developmental students reported discussing their career plans with an instructor or advisor more frequently over the last decade.


Both developmental and non-developmental students reported reported working with instructors on out-of-class activities more often.

To review the full report, visit:

waiwaiole_CMYKEvelyn Waiwaiole is the Director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin (UT).

Reverse Transfer: The National Landscape

CWID-246x300Reverse transfer policies and programs are spreading across the country, including the 15 states funded by the Credit When It’s Due (CWID) initiative. To understand the national landscape of reverse transfer, the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) recently published a data note that examined the prevalence of reverse transfer policies across all 50 states. Reverse transfer programs allow students to use credits they earn at their university to transfer back to complete any degree requirements remaining at their former community college so they can attain an associate’s degree. In order to increase college completion, reverse transfer programs have become more prevalent across the country, and many states have begun adopting formal legislation, requiring colleges and universities to develop and implement reverse transfer programs. Formal reverse transfer legislation within states is helpful in ensuring that the largest number of students have access to reverse transfer programs, and are able to use credits they have earned to attain their associate’s degree.

When examining the prevalence of reverse transfer policies across all 50 states the OCCRL found that only 13 of the 50 states have either passed reverse transfer legislation, or have pending/proposed reverse transfer legislation in place. This means that only 13 states require their colleges and universities to develop and implement reverse transfer programs. Of those 13 states, eight are participating in the CWID initiative. The remaining 37 states have no formal legislation but have implemented at least one reverse transfer program between 2- and 4-year institutions. The only exception is Alaska, which does not have any formal legislation or programs. Please click here to read more about the results from this data note where you can also review the legislation that has been passed in 13 states. You can visit the CWID resources page, located on the OCCRL website, to view this data note along with publications, blogs, presentations, and previous data notes from the OCCRL CWID initiative.

Sara G.thumbnailSara Garcia is a graduate research assistant working with the Credit When It’s Due project at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership. She is a PhD student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include issues surrounding access to higher education and minority representation in STEM education.