Recent Blog Posts

New Release: Single Parents in the Community College

Single Parents ImageOCCRL is pleased to announce the release of Volume 11 of its Insights on Equity and Outcomes series. A Portrait of Single Student Parents: Financial and Academic Barriers to a Postsecondary Degree, funded by the Illinois Community College Board and written by Carmen Gioiosa and Heather McCambly, provides an overview of research into single student parents’ presence and experiences on community college campuses, along with key recommendations for supporting their success.

Obtaining a postsecondary credential can provide economic security and social mobility for single parent families while unleashing a potential wealth of human capital to meet the nation’s workforce needs (White House, 2011). Raising children while working and pursuing a postsecondary degree presents challenges for any family; however, single student parents often encounter additional obstacles as they strive to complete their degrees in a timely manner. Single student parents find themselves having to fit into the mold of a traditional college student, typically a student without dependents, because financial, academic, and social supports are designed for traditional students (Cerven, 2013; Graham & Bassett, 2011; Santiago, 2013). If higher education institutions better understood the challenges faced by single student parents, they could develop policies and programs to help this population achieve more equitable outcomes in terms of persistence and completion (Fenster, 2004; Goldrick-Rab, 2009; Mason, 2002; Yakaboski, 2010).

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Heather McCambly is the Project Coordinator for the Pathways to Results Initiative at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL). Prior to moving to Illinois, Heather was a Program Associate in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Reflections on Arkansas’ Reverse Transfer Experiment

logo (1)Through grant funding from the Kresge Foundation, Arkansas is one of 15 states participating in Credit When It’s Due (CWID), a project designed to facilitate and improve reverse transfer processes. Since 2013, Arkansas identified more than 1,000 people who were eligible (or close to eligible) for an associate’s degree through reverse transfer. In addition, because of Arkansas’ low college degree attainment rates, the state decided to broaden its target audience beyond reverse transfer to all Arkansans near completion of an associate’s degree.

Building upon an already established and successful transfer infrastructure, the Arkansas CWID steering committee developed procedures to facilitate coordination among all 22 public colleges and 11 public universities. In addition, a comprehensive communications strategy was designed to reach the target audience and obtain consent for the exchange and review of transcripts.

Project Overview

The Arkansas Course Transfer System (ACTS) was established in 2006 in response to a state legislative mandate. Subsequently, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education coordinated a rigorous faculty review of all general education courses across the state to ensure they met the same educational objectives. As a result, hundreds of courses are guaranteed to transfer among all Arkansas public colleges and universities.

Based on these approved ACTS courses, through the CWID grant Arkansas identified more than 5,400 people who were at least 75% of the way to completion of an associate’s degree, meaning they earned at least 45 of the required 60 credit hours. The state embarked upon an aggressive outreach campaign known as “Degree Matters” that utilized television, radio, social media, email, and a series of letters and postcards mailed directly to the target audience.

A centralized, online consent portal was hosted on the “Degree Matters” website. Upon obtaining consent, the institution that awarded the majority of credits requested transcripts from other institutions and conducted a degree audit. All institutions followed a common protocol of communication to keep students informed of their status, including acknowledgement of consent and notice of the final outcome.


Despite the careful planning associated with CWID, similar to some other states involved in the initiative, the requirement of students to actively consent to the review and exchange of transcripts severely hampered the Arkansas project. While data collection and analysis are ongoing, fewer than 10% of the target audience has consented via the “Degree Matters” portal. To date, 115 Arkansans have been awarded associate’s degrees as a direct result of this initiative.    Of those 115, 38 meet the definition of a reverse transfer degree and the other students were students who were eligible for a degree but had not transferred. The most common degree awarded is the Associate of Arts, followed by Associate of General Studies, Associate of Science, and Associate of Applied Science.

To date, 318 students are ineligible for an associate’s degree. The most common reason cited for ineligibility is insufficient grade point average at the majority institution. Other common reasons include lack of proper credit hours, failure to meet residency requirements, and financial account holds. The process of evaluating students for eligibility is continuing and will conclude by the summer of 2015.

Moving Forward

Based on the Arkansas CWID experiment, a primary policy recommendation that has emerged is to incorporate opt-in consent for future exchange and review of transcripts into students’ initial admission applications. Extrapolating the 23% rate to the full target population, Arkansas missed an opportunity to gain more than 1,000 associate’s degree credentialed citizens through this initiative because the opt-in consent process required active approval of the student to participate. Arkansas can avoid this lost opportunity in the future by enhancing the capabilities of higher education institutions to transfer credits and award degrees to eligible students by integrating opt-in into admissions processes.


Collin Callaway is the Chief Operations Officer for the Arkansas Community Colleges where her primary responsibilities are project management, event coordination, communications and outreach, and government relations. Collin earned her bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Central Arkansas in 1997 and her master’s in social work from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2000. She is currently working on her doctorate in adult and lifelong learning at the University of Arkansas.

A New Brief in the TCI Series: Centralized Curriculum Process for Health IT Programs

HeW BriefA new brief has been added to TCI’s Strategies for Transformative Change series that provides summaries of strategies employed in TAACCCT grants, including evidence of success reported by consortia. The newest brief, Centralized Curriculum Process for Health IT Programs, focuses on the Health eWorkforce (HeW) Consortium.

The Health eWorkforce (HeW) Consortium was created to focus on Health IT workforce development and train more than 2,000 veterans, TAA-eligible workers and others interested in careers in healthcare and Health IT. This consortium is composed of nine member colleges.

One key strategy employed by the consortium is a centralized curriculum development support and review process. HeW supports curriculum development within individual colleges with expert e-learning, curriculum development, and instructional specialists. Additionally, a uniform set of standards for curriculum creation and review is applied to all created materials.

Another key strategy involves using faculty as subject matter experts to encourage their leadership of the curriculum development process. Collaboration occurs between faculty and instructional design experts to produce high quality and relevant curricula.

Read more about the work being done by the HeW Consortium and the lead college’s role in curriculum development.

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.

New Release: Insights on Equity and Outcomes Brief, Volume 10—Community Colleges and Student Veterans

OCCRL is pleased to announce the release of Volume 10 of its Insights on Equity and Vet BriefOutcomes series. Titled The role of community colleges in offsetting challenges faced by student veterans in higher education, this brief focuses on significant challenges and opportunities facing community colleges to best serve our nation’s student veterans.

Community colleges, in particular, remain as one of the most popular postsecondary education choices among student veterans, enrolling forty-three percent of the population (Radford, 2011; Sewall, 2010). The convenience of part-time, online, and other flexible learning options make community colleges an attractive route for student veterans. This brief provides an overview of the challenges student veterans face in higher education and services that community colleges offer to accommodate the needs of student veterans. Given that Illinois has the tenth largest veteran population in the US, this brief specifically discusses emerging practices and policies community colleges in the state of Illinois have implemented as a result of the Higher Education Service Act (P.A. 96-0133). It also offers recommendations for community colleges to better serve student veterans in addition to providing recommendations for areas of future research. As stated in the brief, we hope that through such recommendations institutions in the Pathways to Results network (and beyond) become more accessible for student veterans, consequently increasing their likelihood of success as they transition from military to civilian life.

Jacqueline Rodriguez is a graduate research assistant for the Pathways to Results project at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Ms. Rodriguez is a PhD student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include investigating the educational and economic mobility prospects for Black and Latino youth.

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.