Recent Blog Posts

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).


Networks provide access to expertise and resources: Part six of the TCI blog series

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

When community colleges engage in TAACCCT and other similar initiatives, they become part of a larger network of community colleges across the US that have similar goals and intended outcomes. Consortia created through TAACCCT bring together community colleges in networks that connect to other colleges and universities, workforce providers, and employers to address current workforce, economic, and social concerns. To do this, community colleges sometimes benefit from local, state, and national expertise and opportunities to share resources.  Formal partnerships are sometimes formed to facilitate the resolution of important problems and address persistent or emerging needs.


Networks can be vital to sharing information about how educational systems, workforce training systems, industry sectors, and labor markets work.  They can be useful to understanding how what is happening locally, regionally or statewide is aligned with national and international developments. Working in conjunction with others who are part of a network can also benefit learners by preparing them to navigate pathways through postsecondary education and into the workforce. Paying close attention to how learners navigate challenges and experience successes can be useful to improving individual outcomes and system performance.


What networks do you and your colleagues find useful to developing effective pathways for your students and facilitating their success?  How can these networks be tapped to serve the needs of all learners who can benefit from TAACCCT?  What recommendations do you have for the Transformative Change Initiative (TCI) to utilize its network to serve your individual or organizational needs?

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.



Tennessee’s Semi-Automated Approach to Reverse Transfer

Three new states joined the CWID initiative in January 2014—Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas. OCCRL asked Gloria Gammell, Tennessee’s CWID Project Coordinator, to blog about Tennessee’s CWID project goals and reflections on the initiative thus far.

In January 2014, Tennessee’s higher education community, involving every public and a range of private institutions in the state, received a grant to support a reverse transfer collaboration that has the potential to benefit approximately 1,300 transfer students each year, once fully implemented in spring 2015.

With 13 community colleges and 18 participating four-year institutions, implementation of Tennessee’s “Credit When It’s Due” reverse transfer initiative includes some interesting challenges, such as multiple student information systems and navigating the performance-based funding system. However, participating institutions have agreed on the following common goals:

  • To increase the educational attainment of Tennessee’s citizens by 2,600 reverse transfer associate degrees during the grant period
  • To develop and implement an automated reverse transfer credit-review system with:
    • Seamless access and user-friendly interfaces at all participating institutions
    • Ability to exchange course completion data across multiple systems
    • Ability to solicit student opt-in consent and facilitate automated degree audits against preloaded degree pathways
    • Ability to extract course- and credit-level aggregate data and reports

In 2012, a statewide taskforce was formed to oversee the development and successful implementation of Tennessee’s Reverse Transfer initiative.  In May 2014, AcademyOne was selected through a competitive bid process to develop the reverse transfer software solution (RTS).  Four-year institutions will identify those students who meet the eligibility criteria for reverse transfer twice a year.  The RTS will match consenting students (opt-in) against the 49 preloaded common transfer degree pathways using student course histories.  The RTS will provide each community college with a batch report of students determined to be “close” to meeting degree requirements for a transfer pathway degree; community colleges will then either confer the degree or notify the student of any outstanding requirements needed to complete the degree.12

Participating institutions are in the process of pulling course inventories and course equivalencies, which includes identifying all courses that fall under general education subject categories. These subject categories often allow a student to select two or more courses from a list that will satisfy that general education subject category requirement.

Tennessee is preparing to implement a pilot run of the RTS in early September 2014. Three community colleges will pair with 3 four-year institutions representing the University of Tennessee system, the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and University Association.  The pilot institutions will incentivize students to consent to participate in reverse transfer, and those students who consent will receive either a gift card or priority registration for spring 2015.

Based on our experience so far, considerations or tips for states and/or institutions contemplating reverse transfer include:

  • Reverse transfer may be a much more complex initiative to develop and implement than you likely think.  “Exceptions” and “caveats” across the spectrum of degrees and general education requirements are common.
  • Continued and honest communication with key personnel (registrars from the participating institutions, IT staff, the vendor, system level administrators, legislators, and the statewide taskforce) is essential.  Invite yourself to meetings to explain the process and share progress updates.
  • Ensure that staff is dedicated to the initiative, if at all possible.  Tennessee’s CWID proposal included a project coordinator (me) and a community college liaison (Brenda Rector, who is also a community college registrar).  We are devoting many clock hours on the front end of this project and believe that having staff dedicated to coordinating the initiative is essential to the success of our reverse transfer effort.
  • Ask CWID recipients and OCCRL for assistance.  All are accessible and knowledgeable—together, they are your greatest resource!
  • Don’t lose sight of the end goal: the students.

We are indebted to our funder, the Lumina Foundation, the Tennessee legislature and the other 12 original states that received a CWID grant.  We have much work ahead, but are looking to the day when we graduate our first reverse transfer students!



Gloria Gammell, Ed.D., is a program manager in the Office of Academic Affairs and Student Success, University of Tennessee and serves as Tennessee’s CWID project coordinator.

Adoption and adaptation: Part five of the TCI blog series

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

2014-tci-booklet_Page_01-214x300The classic idea for scaling innovation calls for replication with fidelity, meaning implementation consistent with an original innovation.[1] In complex organizations such as community colleges where context varies greatly from one college to another, leaders need to pay close attention to the local context to sustain and scale an innovation.

Lisbeth Schorr, a leader in scaling in family and community settings, concurs that for innovations to last, they must strategically adapt to the locations where they are implemented.[2] In her experience, a more promising approach than replication involves practitioners recognizing how the local context influences implementation; using data to understand what is working (and what is not); and repeating the pattern of implementing, measuring, learning, and adapting over time. Her thoughts echo those of John Kotter, the leading organizational change expert who keynoted the 2013 Learning Lab on Transformative Change.[3] According to Kotter, establishing a sense of urgency for change, communicating a vision for change, and integrating change into the local cultural context is important to organizational adaptation and improvement.

What is your experience with adoption and adaptation?  What role has local context played in your organization’s adoption and adaptation efforts?  What lessons can you share for others who are involved in adoption and adaptation of innovation in the community college context?

Guiding Principle 2


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] Murray, R., Caulier-Grice, J., & Mulligan, G. (2010, March). The open book of social innovation. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

[2] Schorr, L. B. (2012, Fall). Broader evidence for bigger impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from

[3]  For more on John Kotter’s work, see


Are schools and colleges working to ensure gender equity in CTE and STEM education?

Equal pay for equal work emerged as a hot-button issue recently when President Obama signed two executive orders pushing federal contractors on pay transparency and pay equity for women on federally funded programs.[1] The President’s concern reflects the fact that many of the jobs that women hold offer lower wages than similar jobs held by men having comparable education and work experience.[2]  The pervasive lack of gender equity limits not only income for women but also limits the inherent wealth in the nation’s human capital.


The sixth issue of Insights into Equity and Outcomes explores the economic and social implications of gender inequity in career and technical education (CTE) and science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM) fields. What factors influence entry to CTE and STEM fields of women and girls? What barriers may deter their entry and future career paths? Read Gender Equity in CTE and STEM Education to answer these questions and reflect on your own CTE environment and experiences in light of the recommendations presented for practitioners and policy makers.


Carmen Gioiosa is a doctoral candidate in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership with a specialization in education administration and leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently works as a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL.





[1] The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (2014). Fact sheet: Expanding opportunity for all: Ensuring equal pay for women and promoting the women’s economic agenda [Press release]. Retrieved from

[2] Toglia, T. (2013). Gender equity issues in CTE and STEM education. Tech Directions, 72(7), 14-17.