Office of Community College Research and Leadership

Our mission is to use research and evaluation methods to improve policies, programs, and practices to enhance community college education and transition to college for diverse learners at the state, national, and international levels.

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  • National Ranking of Community College Highlights Variability in Costs and Outcomes Among Community Colleges

    Community Colleges are often highlighted as an affordable postsecondary option and a key access point for low-income and non-traditional students. However, there is a lot of variety in the tuition and fee costs, graduation rates, loan default rates, and overall return on educational investment.  This variety is the focus of WalletHub’s recent analysis of 821 community colleges in the U.S., where they ranks the highest and lowest colleges in each of the aforementioned areas.

    Several Illinois community colleges were highlighted in this ranking.  Two Illinois colleges were among the top 25 colleges ranked on cost and financing, educational outcomes, and career outcomes, including Rend Lake who ranked 7th, and Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences that ranked 24th. Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences was ranked among the highest costs of in-state tuition and fees, however, it had the lowest student-loan default rate and had the third highest graduation rate.

    In conjunction with this analysis, WalletHub interviewed a panel of experts to share their perspectives on improving the U.S. community-college system. These experts provided insight into the movement for tuition free community college, the role of policymakers in improving community colleges, pathways through community colleges and transfer, and indicators of the best and worst community colleges. Among the esteemed panel of experts was Dr. Eboni M. Zamani-Gallaher, OCCRL’s director and a professor of higher education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. See WalletHub’s summary of the study and panel of expert’s responses to learn more.

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  • A Brief Response to Paul Magelli’s “Entrepreneurial Education as a Third Pathway for Community Colleges” Is there a fourth pathway?

    In a recent interview with OCCRL, Dr. Paul Magelli of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shared his research on entrepreneurial education at the postsecondary level. The interview began with the following by OCCRL interviewer, Janice Li North:

    Community colleges are typically known for their CTE and transfer offerings. Alongside these traditional pathways, however, courses, certificates and associate’s degrees in entrepreneurship point the way to a new and innovative kind of education, even a third pathway through community colleges.

    The interview was important in two respects. First, it was a reminder that the way community college education is often framed—CTE or transfer—is not the only way it has to be framed. Community college does not need to be an either/or proposition. Second, Dr. Magelli offered a viable third path for community college students by way of an entrepreneurial education. This is both a revelation and, it seems, a story that may not be widely known even though he identified over 600 community colleges that offer a degree or certificate in entrepreneurship. Notably, his research highlights sophisticated programs across the country that offer courses in speech, ethics, law, leadership, and psychology, as well as help in areas like mentoring, networking, and even seed capital.

    After reading the interview, I was inspired to offer a friendly reply that diverges from Dr. Magelli in some respects in order to amplify his insights on an entrepreneurial education. My hope is to offer a fourth pathway that is merely entrepreneurial education reconsidered. I want to begin at the end of the interview, where Dr. Magelli concludes with two views on the importance of entrepreneurship.

    He first offers the following: “At the heart of a flourishing economy is business innovation, new firm creation, and successful ventures. These translate into a healthy mix of wealth creation, job creation, tax revenues, and a citizenry with a stake in the success of the economy and public policy.” On its own, the description emphasizes the wealth of a nation, the wellbeing of its citizenry, and the vital link of entrepreneurship.

    Dr. Magelli then says something subtly but radically different: “I would say that an important dimension to entrepreneurship education, which we see in many corporations, is social responsibility: how to give back. This is more important than innovation or enterprise; it is the attention to the human condition.” To rephrase, at the heart of a flourishing economy is wealth creation, but at the heart of a flourishing society is civic responsibility and a concern for the human condition. Free markets and wealth creation cannot and will not (on their own) foster a healthy society. Society needs something more and something different.

    This begs the question, can entrepreneurial education help to underwrite a healthy economy—which supplies goods and services, employs society, and contributes to the general coffers—and a healthy society, which demands more than these economic categories can provide? In my view, the answer is both “No” and “Yes.”

    Based on Dr. Magelli’s description of programs around the country, the answer is “No,” in that entrepreneurial education appears to be an offshoot or relative of more traditional business education. To borrow from the car industry, the new model is built on an old chassis. Based on Dr. Magelli’s description of entrepreneurship as “social responsibility” and a commitment to the “human condition,” the answer is a resounding “Yes!” The problem seems to be that entrepreneurial education, as a business-oriented curriculum, does not seem to live up to fullness of its aspirations and possibilities.

    What then does alignment look like? Perhaps the key is hidden in Dr. Magelli’s interview. At several points in the course of his career he has intersected with the Kauffman Foundation, including the present study, which was funded by the Foundation.  The key is not the Foundation, however, but the individual:  Ewing Marion Kauffman (1916–1993).

    The story of Ewing Kauffman is part of entrepreneurial lore. The Foundation website tells his story in brief, including the decisive moment; “In 1950, his innately entrepreneurial spirit led him to start his own pharmaceutical company in the basement of his home.” This startup became the billion-dollar Marion Laboratories. From there, Mr. Kauffman owned a major league baseball team and established the Foundation, with two programmatic areas in education and entrepreneurship.

    The overlooked part of his story is this: Mr. Kauffman’s highest level of formal education was from a local community college, Kansas City Junior College (now Metropolitan Community College). In 2015, Metropolitan memorialized Mr. Kauffman by noting that he “only” received an associate degree, and yet “he was able to go on to create a business that has touched everyone in Kansas City.” In short, he succeeded in spite of a community college education.

    We know that community college horizons often reflect broader social and economic limitations. As Dr. Magelli reports, however, community college education can also be entrepreneurial as a way to surpass limits. What, then, is entrepreneurship? The life of Mr. Kauffman demonstrates that entrepreneurship is a spirit: the entrepreneurial spirit as vision, daring, leadership, resourcefulness, and a concern “to fundamentally change people’s lives.” This entrepreneurial spirit seems to move through all of his endeavors, from business to sports to philanthropy.

    We might draw two conclusions from this combination, one direct and the other indirect.  First, the entrepreneurial spirit does not end in business.  Mr. Kauffman shows us that an entrepreneurial spirit can far exceed the confines of a business model.  Second, the entrepreneurial spirit does not need to begin in business. If we look to community colleges, some students, driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, want to fundamentally change people’s lives. Unlike Mr. Kauffman, however, these students do not want to build a business as the pre-requisite, nor do they think this is the only way to have a meaningful impact in the world.

    Dr. Magelli seems to confirm this when he states, “Community colleges serve as the grassroots educational foundation by meeting student demand and providing them with the kind of entrepreneurial education that will prepare them to play a vital role in these many important aspects of society.” I wish to rephrase this with the following:  An entrepreneurial education means helping remove barriers by helping students to realize their entrepreneurial potential. It means combining their vision, leadership, and resourcefulness with the technical knowledge of corporate structuring, business planning, marketing, and finance.  And it means adding to this menu by way of studies in nonprofit management and grant writing, social justice, and social movements.  It means empowering students to venture out through a business in environmental technology, but also in a nonprofit for victims of domestic violence or a children’s theatre in a low-income neighborhood or an advocacy program for low-income tenants.

    It seems fair to assume that Kansas City Junior College (ca. 1936) did not have Mr. Kauffman’s entrepreneurial spirit in mind, and so perhaps he did succeed in spite of his education.  But his story raises important questions. How many future Kauffmans are at community colleges today? What could they accomplish if their far-ranging entrepreneurial spirits were recognized, fostered, and empowered by community colleges? What would entrepreneurial education look like then, and what would truly be possible by way of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit according to its highest aspirations?

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  • Children, Corrections, and Coursework: Community College partners with Juvenile Detention Center

    Public discourse on the topic of mass incarceration across the nation has begun to focus upon an increasingly vulnerable incarcerated population: juvenile offenders. Within the overall framework and critique of the United States carceral landscape there has been a large amount of interest paid to adult incarcerated populations; however, incarcerated youth have seemingly been absent from the dialogue. Elgin Community College, a suburban Chicago community college, has made initial steps in the advocacy and centering of youth in incarcerated spaces. Elgin has partnered with the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center to provide its incarcerated youth with two dual credit college courses. The dual credit program, which received funding through a $35,000 Title One grant, focuses on topics like time management, career assessment, and career development that includes aptitude tests. The essence of the program is the encouragement for students to think about their future while also building self-esteem and positive outlooks on life (Morris, 2016). The program is part of a larger initiative of the facility meant to engage the youth in areas such as art, music, and, of course, academics.

    The Kane County Juvenile Justice Center admits approximately 1200 residents per year, and its juvenile justice school houses 40 to 45 students. The length of time in the facility for the youth is, on average, 14 days (Morris, 2016). The educational reality of students in the dual credit program, much like that of the overall youth in the facility and the larger landscape of juvenile justice, is unfortunately bleak. The average age of the youth in the Kane County juvenile justice school is fifteen to seventeen, with half of the students experiencing academic struggles such as being three to four grade levels behind their non-incarcerated peers.

    While the population of youth engaged by the United States Juvenile Court System has steadily declined from its peak in 1997 of 1.9 million youth, there are still over 1 million juvenile cases annually (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2015b). In 2013, on average, there were more than 2,900 juvenile delinquency cases per day (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2015b). As so many have cried out in opposition of the current criminal justice system in favor of reform or complete abolition of the system it is critical to connect the oppression our adult population is facing to our youth who are facing similar issues. One of every four youths who is adjudicated by a juvenile court is detained (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2015b). In the US on any random day over 61,000 youths are incarcerated in juvenile facilities, correctional facilities, or group homes, absent from their homes, families, and loved ones (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2015b). Two-thirds of incarcerated youths are detained for nonviolent charges such as property and drug offenses (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2015a). The racial disparities within the criminal justice system can also be seen in the juvenile justice system. In fact, 68% of youth detained are youth of color, with Black youth making up the largest share of youth in placement (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2014a). Black youth consist of seventeen percent of the overall youth population; however, they make up thirty percent of those arrested who are detained in the juvenile system (Arya & Augarten, 2008). Black, Latino/a and indigenous youth who are arrested are 62%, 43% and 1.5%, respectively, more likely than white youth to be prosecuted in the adult correctional system (Arya & Augarten, 2008; Arya & Rolnick, 2009; Arya, Villarruel, Villanueva, Augarten, Murguía & Sánchez, 2009). 

    Despite the overwhelming odds that our children face within the harsh juvenile justice system it is important to highlight the gains that the partnership between the Elgin Community College and the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center has produced. Although there is still much work to be done to ensure both academic and social support for youth that have been placed into a carceral space, the framework is beginning to change.


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  • Will the Change from PARCC to SATs Improve Educational Equity In Illinois?

    Illinois recently switched from using the PARCC exam for high school students, to the SAT college entrance exam. The Illinois News Bureau's Sharita Forrest interviewed Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, director of the OCCRL and professor of higher education/community college leadership about the change. Read the full post on the Illinois News Bureau webpage, where Dr. Zamani-Gallaher explains that swapping exams is unlikely to improve access to postsecondary education for low income and underrepresented racial/ethnic minority students.

    Read the full post.

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  • House Passes Five Bills Supporting Minority-Serving Institutions

    Recently, the House of Representatives passed a series of five higher education bills that support the work of minority-serving institutions. These bills are “focused on improving the financial aid process, enhancing consumer information and strengthening federal programs that support the work of minority-serving institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions” (American Council on Education, June 23, 2016). These five bills are:

    All of these bills were received and read twice at the Senate on July 12, 2016. The bills have been assigned to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

    Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) are 2- and 4-year colleges and universities that serve U.S ethnic groups who are underrepresented in higher education. Support of MSIs, especially support that improves college affordability, is critical to promoting access to a high-quality education for populations of students who are both underrepresented in and underserved by the educational system. The MSI designation reflects either the founding mission of the institution or the student population demographics. MSIs include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges, and Asian American-, Native American-, and Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs).

    The passing in the House of Representatives of five bills designed to financially support the work of MSIs across the country affirms and reaffirms the necessity of these institutions and the timeliness of our work here in Illinois. In Illinois, passage of these bills has the potential to open educational opportunities to underserved students served by the 14 Minority-Serving Community Colleges (MSCCs) in the state. Of these institutions, nine are HSIs where least 25% of the college student population is Latin@, five are PBIs, and three are AANAPISIs. It is important to note that four of these institutions hold more than one of these designations. Research tells us that four-year MSIs provide high-quality educational experiences while being responsive to the needs of students from diverse economic and cultural communities (Conrad & Gasman, 2015). However, little is known about the success and practices of MSCCs specifically, and the Office of Community Research and Leadership (OCCRL) seeks to fill this gap.

    As educational equity and outcomes are central to the research conducted by OCCRL, studying MSCCs provides us an important opportunity to learn from these institutions’ successes. Specifically, OCCRL has begun examining the ways MSCCs in Illinois assist students to and through educational pathways in STEM. We are very interested in students’ experiences, both curricular and co-curricular, that enhance learning and foster success for transfer pathways. The goal of this project is to bridge research and practice to strengthen student outcomes in STEM programs of study at MSCCs.


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Building Institutional Capacity in Engaging Males of Color
J. Luke Wood, Ph.D.
San Diego State University

Discourses of College-Going or Criminality
Amalia Dache-Gerbino, Ph.D.
University of Missouri

Social Justice: Equity, Access, and the Community College Advantage
Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, Ph.D.
University of Illinois


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