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.

Project Quick Links

Grant Opportunity for Illinois Community Colleges:
Pathways to Results, Partnership and Planning for Student Success Grant - FY2017

Current Topics

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  • Harry S Truman College’s Multipronged Approach to Improving Retention and Completion Among Males of Color

    Through data collection and analysis, Harry S Truman College (Truman) found equity gaps for Black and Latino males in their cosmetology program. Black and Latino males were not persisting or completing at rates comparable to their White or female counterparts. Truman identified two contributing factors that impacted completion for the males of color in their program. The first factor was identified through an analysis of COMPASS reading assessment scores. This analysis revealed reading supports could be important in supporting students’ academic success. Second, they learned through a survey of males of color that male students were interested in barbering. To address these factors Truman implemented new integrated and proactive reading supports and incorporated barbering-specific content into the programs curriculum. Truman’s reading interventions include pre- and post-course assessments, integrated reading center supports, and reading tutoring supports.

    Truman was one of five colleges who were part of PTR’s first cohort of second-year implementation and evaluation grants. These teams are expanding on the work completed in the first year of the PTR project. Truman's PTR team is setting the stage for scaling change at their institution. Truman is an exemplar in translating critical data analysis into actionable transformative changes that improve equity and outcomes for their students. The work being done at Truman may inspire you in ways that support students of color at your institution. Read Edmund Graham’s, Ready and Interested: Harry S Truman College’s Multipronged Approach to Improving Retention and Completion Among Males of Color to learn more.

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  • Employing Content-Based Curricula in Nursing at Illinois Central College to Improve Equity and Outcomes for Students

    Pathways to Results has undergone a number of changes over the years in being responsive to practitioners who use it to improve student outcomes within community college pathways. This past year (FY15), OCCRL implemented one of our largest transformations yet – a second year grant focused on the implementation and evaluation of solutions. Five teams piloted this work, Illinois Central College being one. This made sense as Illinois Central was also a part of the original PTR pilot in 2009 and has been a perennial PTR partner over the years.

    Our new strategy briefs series highlight the experiences of teams as they work to improve student outcomes through the implementation and evaluation of high impact solutions. In the case of Illinois Central College, their teamed discovered that students had trouble in various healthcare pathways and so decided to embark on a five-year curriculum redesign –shifting from a content based to concept based curriculum. To learn more about Illinois Central’s work, check out Employing Content-Based Curricula in Nursing at Illinois Central College to Improve Equity and Outcomes for Students.

    PTR team 2

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  • Two Illinois Community Colleges to Participate in Pell Eligibility Experiment for Dual Credit Students

    On October 31, 2015, the dual credit/dual enrollment policy landscape changed, at least in part, when the Department of Education (ED) announced an experiment expanding access to Federal Pell Grants to low-income high school students taking college coursework. This is the first time that high school students will be able to use Federal Pell Grants to pay for dual enrollment courses (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

    While the ED reports that over 1.4 million high school students participate in dual enrollment nationwide, the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative is limited in time and money: three years, with $20 million in 2016–2017, “benefiting up to 10,000 students from low-income backgrounds across the country” (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Postsecondary institutions around the country were invited to submit applications to participate in the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative. Importantly, the announcement situates the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative within President Obama’s overall concern for student access to community colleges.

    Illinois Community College Participation

    In May 2016, ED announced a list of 44 postsecondary institutions across 23 states that were invited to participate in the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Among the participants in Illinois are Carl Sandburg College, in Galesburg, and Illinois Central College, in East Peoria. Lori Sundberg, president of Carl Sandburg College said, “To be selected for this program is an incredible opportunity for us and for high school students in our district” (Carl Sandburg College, 2016). She continued, “Dual credit students are and will continue to be an important piece of our enrollment. Allowing them to have access to these federal grants expands that opportunity to even more students and puts them in a position to be more successful in college once they graduate from high school” (Carl Sandburg College, 2016). Twelve of the fourteen school high school districts within Sandburg’s district have more than 40% of their students classified as low-income (Carl Sandburg College, 2016). Carl Sandburg expects that the new Pell resource will help “expand access to dual enrollment courses for low-income, first-generation students” (Carl Sandburg College, 2016).

    Illinois Central College

    Bruce Budde, then-interim president of Illinois Central College (ICC) said,

    We are grateful to the Dept. of Education for the opportunity to participate in this groundbreaking experiment. The program aligns well with our focus on student success and our long-term strategy to accelerate the completion or transfer of our students district-wide, particularly those who have historically been under served. (Illinois Central College, 2016)

    This summer, OCCRL contacted Carl Sandburg and ICC to congratulate them and to learn more about their hopes for the Experiment. In particular, we asked each college to touch on some of the more immediate impacts they anticipate. Over the course of three years, the Experiment will be well studied by the DOE and colleges are just beginning to implement plans. Our hope was simply to gain a window into each dual credit program and how students (and schools) might benefit right away from the new resources. Both colleges were kind enough to share their thoughts on what is in store.

    ICC Vice President of Student Services Tracy Morris spoke to the Pell Initiative in conjunction with the launch of the Strong Start program, which puts qualified high school students on track for an associate’s degree at ICC.

    We saw the most immediate impact of this initiative with the spring 2016 launch of the Strong Start program within the Peoria Public School system. At first, there was limited interest in the program, with only two students participating. At the time, we suspected that the cost to participate in the Strong Start program (with no opportunity for financial aid or scholarships) was a major factor, although this was not confirmed.

    Upon hearing of our selection for the Pell Grant Experimental program, the Peoria Public School system was at the forefront of those interested in the program and sent out a communication to all students eligible for the Strong Start program. More than 100 interested students came to informational sessions, and more than 50 students applied for consideration. While not all students were eligible for financial aid, the interest generated in Strong Start was outstanding. We ended up with 21 students enrolling in the Strong Start program. We anticipate that this number will grow in the next cycle, since the enrollment and promotion was done in the summer.

    In addition, this program has opened access to students in the two most underserved high schools in the Peoria Public School District. In one school, seven of the eight interested students were eligible for financial aid, and in the other school, six of the 11 interested were eligible. These two schools, in particular, lack access to dual credit options, so this participation in Strong Start is the only opportunity for students attending these schools.

    Carl Sandburg

    Carl Sandburg Dean of Extension Services Debra S. Miller talked about the immediate benefit for students already taking dual credit courses, but perhaps paying out of pocket for tuition and other expenses.

    My colleagues and I believe that this program will be very important to schools and students in subsequent semesters. This summer, we contacted our current dual credit students to encourage them to apply for Pell and those current students are the ones who mostly took advantage of the program for fall.

    We think, given we have the high schools helping to promote this program to their students during this fall and we also have many avenues to communicate to all high school students in our district through the structures of the high school, we believe we will have more student applications this fall and next spring. Hopefully, this grant program will allow our current dual credit students to be able to afford to take more credit hours and, somewhat more importantly, provide access to students who are in families who could not afford dual credit without Pell and were unable to participate until now.

    Therefore, we believe that the Pell can be a transformative opportunity for many low-income students who can now have access to dual credit coursework for a pathway to a credential and, later a career.

    Congratulations to Carl Sandburg College and Illinois Central College! OCCRL looks forward to learning more about your successes and challenges as the Initiative unfolds.


    Carl Sandburg College. (2016). Sandburg chosen for dual enrollment Pell Grant pilot program. Galesburg, IL: Author.

    Illinois Central College. (2015). ICC and Washington High School partner to offer students a strong start in college. East Peoria, IL: Author.

    Illinois Central College. (2016). U.S. Department of Education selects ICC for nationwide experiment on dual enrollment. East Peoria, IL: Author. 

    U.S. Department of Education. (2015). Department of Education launches experiment to provide Federal Pell grant funds to high school students taking college courses for credit [Fact Sheet]. Washington, DC: Author. 

    U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Expanding college access through the dual enrollment Pell experiment. [Fact Sheet]. Washington, DC: Author.

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  • Implementing Contextualized Math to Address Barriers to Completion for Students in the MultiCraft Technology Pathway at Sauk Valley Community College

    Sauk Valley Community College initially sought to explore gender equity within the MultiCraft Technology pathway. However, the data revealed that students in general were electing to take technical courses in the first few semesters and delaying general education requirements until the end. Skills gaps in math and reading that required developmental coursework compounded this problem. Thus, the team identified developmental education needs and structures as distinctive barriers to completion.

    After an exploration of the math curriculum within the pathway, the team concluded that the curriculum could be revamped to integrate math concepts within the technical courses in lieu of requiring one technical math course. Feedback from students and industry partners indicate that the integration of math in the technical curriculum had the potential to alleviate obstacles to completion, boost confidence, and better prepare students for the workforce.

    Sauk Valley was one of five colleges who were part of PTR’s first cohort of second-year implementation and evaluation grants. These teams are expanding on the work completed in the first year of the PTR project. Sauk Valley’s PTR team is setting the stage for scaling change at their institution. With approximately 56% of their incoming students placing into at least one developmental course, institutional efforts to support students in overcoming this barrier to completion have been embraced beyond this pathway. Administrators were able to see the opportunity for scale and sustainability in an institution-wide effort to redesign developmental education. The work being done at Sauk Valley may inspire you to embrace innovative strategies to alleviate barriers to completion for students placed into developmental education at your institution. Read Integrating Contextualized Math in the MultiCraft Curricula at Saux Valley Community College to learn more.

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  • Utilizing Degree Audit and Reengagement Strategies to Improve Student Retention and Completion at Rend Lake College

    Rend Lake College initially sought to identify potential barriers to completion for a cohort of high school students who had taken CTE dual credit courses, enrolled at the college but did not persist to completion. Data indicated that 6% of students who did not persist or transfer actually completed a certificate but never received it. Furthermore, an even higher percentage were within one semester of completing a CTE degree or certificate. These numbers combined to represent 20% of students being one graduation application or one semester away from completion. Low-income students were particularly impacted with reductions in financial aid distribution as a result of non-attendance leaving a balance on their student account and serving as a barrier to reenrollment.

    As a result of these findings, Rend Lake instituted a credit and credential attainment strategy. Students that had completed but not applied for a degree or certificate were identified as well as those who had stopped out near completion. From there, transcripts were systematically audited and staff made outreach to individual students. At the end of the Spring 2016 semester, these efforts resulted in the identification and awarding of 350 certificates that had been earned but never applied for by students no longer attending the institution. Since that time, the team reports that the number has increased by an additional 635 certificates bringing the total conferred as a result of this project to 992 certificates. 

    Rend Lake was one of five colleges who were part of PTR’s first cohort of second-year implementation and evaluation grants. These teams are expanding on the work completed in the first year of the PTR project. Rend Lake’s PTR team is setting the stage for scaling change at their institution. In addition to the degree audit and outreach, the institution removed the graduation fee, instituted professional development for faculty and staff to stress the importance of completion, and strengthened campus partnerships related to early alert and other student support strategies.  The work being done at Rend Lake may inspire you to institute or strengthen strategies to support student retention and completion at your institution.

    Read Improving CTE Student Retention and Transfer at Rend Lake College with Degree Audit and Reengagment Strategies to learn more.

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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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