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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  • 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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  • Eboni Zamani-Gallaher
  • 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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  • Moving from Symbolism to Praxis: Insights on Equity for Men of Color from the M2C3

    About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit San Diego to attend a working group meeting put on by the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3) at San Diego State University. The meeting was designed to promote institutional capacity building to better support men of color in and through the community college. This meeting was appealing as it directly related to the work we do with Pathways to Results (PTR), as the model is designed to facilitate pathway improvement through collaboration, equity guided data analysis and interpretation, and evaluation. My primary goal for attending the meeting was to gain a different perspective on improving pathway outcomes for men of color and other traditionally marginalized student populations on the basis of regional, institutional, and state-level policy difference. Additionally, it was my hope to share relevant work that we do at OCCRL.

    Day one kicked off with a bang with a rousing opening keynote from Estella Bensimon from the Center for Education at the University of Southern California. This opening session was especially valuable for me for two reasons. First, our PTR work is largely informed by the Equity Scorecard, especially how we have come to think about equity and its role in pathway improvement. Second, Dr. Bensimon’s keynote challenged me to be unapologetic in my pursuit of an equity agenda and unrelenting in striving for social justice for those who have traditionally been pushed well beyond the margins. It also reinforced the connection between equity and equity mindedness and pathway improvement that is central to the work of PTR and OCCRL in general.

    The president’s panel was another great aspect of the meeting. Three community college presidents sat on a panel and discussed their philosophies on equity. They shared how under their leadership their institutions are changing their culture to serve all students in a manner that promotes positive outcomes, with particular attention to underserved student populations. Perhaps the most compelling thought from that panel came from Pamela Luster, president of San Diego Mesa Community College. The thought was predicated on the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats, which she noted as being true but posed the question, “what happens if all the boats aren’t in the water?" This was profound for me in that rising tide only addresses the needs of those who are acknowledged or recognized, whereas those who traditionally reside on the margins or on the shores of the water are not reached.

    An additional goal for attending this meeting was to challenge my preconceptions about students and pathways so I decided to attend a session on formerly incarcerated or reentering student populations. This session was particularly eye opening for me as it relates to pathways, as my scope has often been limited to traditional secondary to post-secondary, adult basic education, workforce development, and other similar pathways. Though I have worked with reentering students in the past, I often attached an additional identity, such as an adult basic education student, without consideration for the nuanced intricacies within their experiences. As the primary entry point to education for males of color, the work done at community colleges to promote equity will not be successful unless we recognize the intersection between educational opportunity and other social justice issues such as mass incarceration. As such, greater attention needs to be made first to expanding educational opportunities for males of color and reducing the prison populations, and second to providing seamless transitions post-secondary education for currently or formerly incarcerated individuals.

    As I attend meetings such as this I try to walk away with more than what I came with. My goal is to bring something back to improve upon the work I am engaged in here at OCCRL and to challenge my existing perspectives of the world as I continue to grow as a scholar. This meeting challenged me to expand my conceptions of equity and to be unapologetic in pursuit of it.

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  • Redesigning the Nursing Curriculum to Make an Impact on Student Learning

    Over a year ago now, the Nursing program at Illinois Central College decided to use the Pathways to Results methodology to tackle their state-mandated program review process. Working through the PTR process revealed some interesting findings that produced the following initial goals.

    Findings and Goals:

    1. Program information on the Nursing pathway could be marketed more effectively and consistently.  Identified Goal: Leverage partnerships and update resources to assist students in preparation for the program and combat misperceptions. 
    2. Student “intent” as recorded in our data systems may not be accurate. Identified Goal: Address the issue of intent in advising sessions with all students to improve our data and then track the data to improve retention and completions.
    3. Students are starting programs with less required general education courses completed. Identified Goal: analyze why less General Education classes are being completed.
    4. Fewer qualified students may be applying to nursing programs. Identified Goal: recruit more qualified students and adapt to emerging criteria in the workforce.

    At first glance you can see evidence of the deficit mindset within the stated problems and goals. A deficit mindset is the tendency to explain equity gaps solely as a result of student deficits, rather than what institutional agents can do to better support student success.  We began with the initial assumption that declining exam performance may have been a result of declining quality amongst our student cohorts. As the data was more closely analyzed from the PTR outcomes-focused equity lens; we began to see that our efforts to improve these outcomes would be better focused on faculty development and reworking the program curriculum to really target the types of skills and learning students needed to be successful both on their final exams and as healthcare professionals.

    Together, the faculty decided that the best way to move from students’ current outcomes to reaching desired outcomes was to transform the Nursing curriculum and pedagogy completely based on a “concept-based curriculum” framework. Under this framework, which can be applied in many different fields, nursing instruction moves from the current “medical model” where students learn about one medical area or body system at a time, to a concept-based model where students’ knowledge is integrated and applied to better align with students’ needs for critical thinking, problem solving, and rapid response in patient care. A core group of faculty learned about this process when they attended the conference, Implementing and Evaluating the Concept-Based Curriculum 2015.

    Contemplating such a major change in their program, the nursing faculty’s big question was: where should they begin? Working through this planning process and trying to keep the overall goal of improving equitable student success along the way has been the major focus for the entire nursing faculty as they have engaged over the last six months as a PTR Year 2 Implementation team. Today the team is totally immersed in redesigning ICC’s content-driven curriculum into a concept-based curriculum using the ideas and roadmap developed last year.

    Phase I     Mission, framework, student outcomes
    Phase II    Health , illness, professional nursing concepts and plan of study
    Phase III   Course descriptions and learning outcomes
    Phase IV   Selecting exemplars and placement in each course
    Phase V    Evaluation methods, textbook selection, syllabi

    The new curriculum will have the concepts organized into the courses with designations of introduce, reinforce, demonstrate; eliminate any prerequisites that are unnecessary barriers; and lay a foundation for documenting the three competencies of knowledge, skills and behavior in each course. We are utilizing our excellent workforce partners and stakeholders this summer by facilitating a DACUM (Developing A CurriculUM) job analysis workshop to obtain duties, tasks, general knowledge and skills necessary in a nursing position which we will tie back directly to our curriculum. The next step will be professional development for all faculty focusing on teaching methods that involve students in their learning as an effective way to advance equity and strengthen student outcomes. We plan on developing a clear communication plan to promote and advise students, parents, counselors and community partners. And lastly, our long-term evaluation plan will look at student outcomes and changes in student outcomes on the NCLEX as well as industry impressions of the students trained under the new CBC.

    We have a lot of moving pieces in redesigning our Nursing curriculum and we are blessed to have dedicated staff and a supportive administration at Illinois Central College. This committed engagement is absolutely critical to the success of this project. Two years ago, a small group of faculty asked where should they begin? Today we are excited to have the tools and resources necessary to carry out this project and we are asking ourselves, what’s next?

    Judy DietrichJudy Dietrich received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Illinois State University and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Bradley University. She has been a PTR Leader since 2009 and would like to thank the core group of faculty involved in this PTR project: Michael Gallagher, Ron Lombard, Sandi Kokotek, and Beth Reese. 

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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