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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  • 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 (HBCSs) 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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  • Affirming Acts in Broadening Access: The Fisher Ruling

    On Thursday June 23, 2016, the Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 14-981 case finally ended with challenges to affirmative action rejected by the Supreme Court. In a 4-3 vote, the high court’s decision in Fisher upholds UT’s race-conscious admissions program and has larger implications for affirmative action in higher education. The Fisher case is one of many (e.g., Bakke v. University of California, Davis 1978; Hopwood v. University of Texas 1996; Gratz v. Bollinger 2003; and Grutter v. Bollinger 2003) that have contested the use of race (as one of many factors) to be considered in college admissions. Thirteen years ago from the Fisher decision (i.e., on the same date, June 23, in 2003), Grutter v. Bollinger was the official U.S. Supreme Court decision, which upheld the value of student body diversity until the recent Fisher ruling. Hence, the SCOTUS decision in Fisher v. University of Texas reaffirms that when universities select incoming students, they may consider race as one factor among many factors for admittance.

    Affirmative action policies are an area that has long held my interest. I have studied affirmative action over the last 20 years, having written a master’s thesis, doctoral dissertation, articles, and a textbook, as well as taught a course titled “Access, Equity, and Affirmative Action for Educational Leaders.” While it is commonplace for affirmative action to be described as a singular concept whereby race is thought to be a lim­iting factor in admis­sions deci­sions, it is a broad set of activities comprised of various tailored policies and practices designed to address context-derived problems of discrimination and unfairness. Many incoming students (like Abigail Fisher), families, and the general public don’t often have an opportunity to further their understanding of the role of diversity in American schools or the multifaceted interrelatedness of culture and learning or fully comprehend affirmative action as a form of social justice in P-20 educational settings. Not every group in the U.S. has had access to the historical or contemporary repositories' social and cultural capital; because American institutions did not voluntarily seek diversity it was legislated. The existence and retrenchment of voluntary and compulsory forms of affirmative action in educational settings (e.g., outreach, recruitment, admissions, hiring, targeted training, financial aid/scholarships, goals, and timetables, etc.) have often resulted from court orders, constitutional mandates, regulatory laws, and institutional initiatives. Notwithstanding, challenges to affirmative action are nothing new in spite of evidence that demonstrates the positive impact of affirmative action (Bowen & Bok, 1996; Garces & Mickey-Pabello, 2015; Orfield, 2001).

    Interesting Times…But It’s Not Over

    The Fisher case is landmark in so many ways. The recent challenge of the state admissions program in Texas was the second time the court heard Fisher’s case, as the 2013 case was sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, though the Fifth Circuit ruled that the UT plan met the legal requirements. Another rare occurrence with this case is the ruling reflects only 7 justices weighing in as Justice Elena Kagan recused due to her work on the case while serving as a U.S. solicitor general. Her recusal could have resulted in a 4-4 tie if there had been a replacement for the late Justice Scalia. Supporting affirmative action were Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, and Sonia Sotomayor, finding that UT’s undergraduate admissions plan withstood strict scrutiny in achieving the permissible goal of campus diversity and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The University of Texas affirmative action program guaranteed admission to 75% of the incoming freshman class at public universities in the state of Texas to students who graduated from a Texas high school in the top 10% of their class. However, the plaintiff, Abigail Fisher was not a graduate in the top 10 percent of her high class; arguably, UT’s “Top Ten Percent Plan” isn’t as race-conscious as Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the use of race in higher education was permissible in achieving diversity a compelling state interest.

    So what does all of this mean? Thursday’s decision is the definitive ruling (for now) that applies countrywide in every court that affirmative action is legal and will continue in public and private universities across the nation. This is yet another narrow victory as there are lawsuits pending with Harvard and the University of North Carolina that leave this matter still dangling. In fact, tomorrow, June 28th, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) will be hosting a public briefing “After Fisher: What the Supreme Court’s Ruling Means for Students, Colleges, and the Country” at the National Press Club.  

    Contextualizing Affirmative Action: Relevance of Ruling to Community Colleges

    The profile of community college students is unique with many community college students coming from diverse backgrounds and having aspirations for baccalaureate degrees and beyond. However, community colleges are not immune to challenges to affirmative action in hiring, with student scholarships, as well as in admissions. As for the latter, the case Camarena v. San Bernardino Community College District (1995, Case No. 95AS01512; later moved to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California CIV-S-95-589 MLS GGH) related to issues of academic access in the two-year context. Janice Camarena charged that she was excluded from a section of an English 101 course that was earmarked for the Bridge Transition Program because she was white and resented being told she could find another section in which to enroll. The Board of Governors entered into a settlement in Camarena. The Board agreed that it would not develop, endorse, coordinate, or sponsor any academic program or service that discriminated against students based on race, color, national origin, or ethnicity or that was intended for, designed for, or targeted to students of a particular racial/ethnic background while programming based on gender was still permissible. The out-of-court settlement in the Camarena occurred amid racialized affirmative action retrenchment in the state of California with Proposition 209 banning affirmative action statewide through ballot referendum passed shortly after Camarena in 1996 in which the consideration of race, ethnicity, and gender were prohibited.

    When it comes to community colleges, open door does not automatically equate to open access, especially when considering high-skill, high-demand, technical areas such as nursing and other health sciences programs. Little research has been done that is inclusive of the community college sector. What we do know about attitudes toward affirmative action among community college students with baccalaureate aspirations is that students of color and women were less likely to agree with abolishing affirmative action in college admissions in contrast to Whites and males. In particular, among community college baccalaureate aspirants, those with higher GPAs and those that felt that racial discrimination is no longer a problem expressed more in favor of ending affirmative action (Zamani-Gallaher, 2007).

    Engaging Students in the Discourse

    It is important for postsecondary educators to be aware of student attitudes toward affirmative action at two- and four-year institutions of higher learning. One of activities that I have had my students do in considering the utilities and complexity of affirmative action in college admission is for them to complete a web-based simulation called “Diversity vs. Merit.” It introduces students to a fictional case study involving admissions decisions at a hypothetical university. This exercise allows students to weigh admissions and affirmative action considerations independently and then enter a conversation in person in small groups where I ask them to deliberate on the applicants who represent a range of diverse groups and render the final judgment. I require that students use the scenario, related discussion, and analysis of the various arguments made as a springboard for writing case study papers to highlight “real” issues related to affirmative action, aimed at illustrating theory-to-practice, and activist leadership. The aforementioned assignment or similar activities can be modified for use with undergraduate and graduate students in reconciling the following:

    • Who is college for?
    • What are the pros/cons of percentage plans?
    • Should a single measure of merit, such as standardized test scores or high school performance, be used to judge all students?
    • Are some ways of measuring "merit" inherently biased against certain groups? Is there any way of judging "merit" that is fair to all groups?
    • How should "equal opportunity" be defined? If all groups are legally entitled to apply to and attend college, does this constitute "equal opportunity"?
    • Do students from more privileged groups get unfair advantages in college admission and are special efforts needed to make sure that less privileged students get a fair chance?
    • What were the simplicities and difficulties of this selection process?

    The above listed queries for reflection are but a sample of the possible queries and considerations in discussing affirmative action in college admissions. In addition to the aforementioned, I invite students to consider pro/con arguments for affirmative action using Rawls's theory of Justice as Fairness. His original position holds that the nature of justice as fairness is a social contract designed and accounting for impartiality that is fundamental and should guide our reasoning about the fundamental principles of justice. While his original position holds that everyone decides on the rules for society from behind a veil of ignorance (being blind to one's own social status for example; in considering affirmative action one must not know whether one is going to be a beneficiary or not if deciding on what is fair). From this original position, Rawls (1957) believes that there are two principles of justice – the liberty principle, which holds each person has an equal claim basic rights/liberties, and the difference principle, which only permits inequalities that work to the advantage of the worst-off. Very interesting classroom discussions have resulted from having students frame their arguments for and/or against utilizing Rawls's Theory of Justice. 

    Having students take part in deliberative dialogue on affirmative action is an opportunity to engage learners on conflict, diversity, issues of access, equity-mindedness, and activist leadership. Despite the SCOTUS ruling on Fisher Thursday, contesting affirmative action continues. It will be interesting what emerges over the remainder of 2016 with the presidential election and possible confirmation of a new Supreme Court judge before year’s end. In the interim, steps toward activist leadership can be made across collegiate contexts (Zamani-Gallaher, Green, Brown, & Stovall, 2009) by moving beyond merely stating a commitment to educational access, equity, and diversity to taking a position, acknowledging/promoting the panorama of access, and articulating a clear message regarding the importance of the tenets of affirmative action to an inclusive campus community. 


    • Bowen, W. G., & Bok, D. (2016). The shape of the river: Long-term consequences of considering race in college and university admissions. Princeton University Press.
    • Garces, L. M., & Mickey-Pabello, D. (2015). Racial diversity in the medical profession: The impact of affirmative action bans on underrepresented student of color matriculation in medical schools. The Journal of Higher Education, 86(2), 264-294.
    • Orfield, G. (2001). Diversity challenged: Evidence on the impact of affirmative action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Publishing Group, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
    • Rawls, J. (1957). Justice as fairness. The Journal of Philosophy54(22), 653-662.
    • Zamani-Gallaher, E. M. (2007). The confluence of race, gender, and class among community college students: Assessing attitudes toward affirmative action in college admissions. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40(3), 241-251.
    • Zamani-Gallaher, E. M., Green, D. O., Brown II, M. C., & Stovall, D. O. (2009). The case for affirmative action on campus: Concepts of equity, considerations for practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
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  • Resilience, Resourcefulness and Revelation in Black Female Achievement

    One of my SHEros is Fannie Lou Hammer. Ms. Hammer was a civil rights activist, she was particularly key in advancing Blacks voting rights in the State of Mississippi. She once said, “You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something God is not going to put it in your lap.” I thought of her words as prophetic when reading an article this morning. The commentary released last week is entitled “African-American Women Now Top the List of Most-Educated Group in the Country” featured on by Kali Holloway is eye-catching. The feature highlighted a study by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) that found when examining educational achievement, African-American women have the highest educational outcomes across any demographic. Hence, when looking at the percentage of degrees by sex and race for 2009-2010, 62% of associate’s degrees were conferred by females, with more women than men earning degrees across each race. This difference between genders was highest among the Black graduates. Black women earned 68.3% of the associate degrees awarded to African American’s in 2009-2010. At the baccalaureate level, women earn 57.4% of all BA/BS degrees but for African Americans two-thirds of those with baccalaureates are female in contrast to 56% White, 60.7% Hispanic, 54.5% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 60.7% of American Indian/Alaska Native women have a BA or BS degree.

    Similar patterns hold true for postbaccalaureate degrees. Overall, women earn 62.6% of master’s degrees but African American women hold the largest share of masters when looking by race and gender at 71.1%. Overall, more than half of doctorates awarded in 2009-2010 were awarded to women. Women in each racial group reflected in the NCES study earned a higher percentage of the PhDs, EdDs, or MDs awarded than men. The percentage of doctoral degrees earned, by women in each race, were: White 55%, Hispanic 55%, Asian/Pacific Islanders 56.5%, and 54.8% American Indian/Alaska Native 54.8%, and Black 65.2%. 

    The aforementioned statistics are encouraging, demonstrate increased access and persistence. However, this does not acknowledge the unique confrontations Black females experience in P-20 education when compared to their peers. Research has identified core challenges (e.g., stereotype threat, pressure to prove their intellectual ability, macroaggressions, racial battle fatigue, sexism, etc.) that shape Black girls' success in school and college, the literature also notes their resiliency to traverse chilly educational climates (Baldwin, 1987; Campbell, 2012; Evans-Winters, 2005; Stambaugh & Ford, 2015). There is a common assumption that Black girls and women are exempt from some of the interventions for Black boys and men when the truth is both stand to benefit from guidance on rejecting microaggressions based on their unique characteristics, externalizing microinvalidations, and tackling predicaments with support. In spite of the great gains, there is still work to be done in addressing the successes of Black girls and women amid having to square off with formidable structures that present catch-22s (e.g., misconceptions that all Black females have made it, don’t have racialized gender role strain, already have agency and are not burdened to perform gender in school and work).

    Over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year, OCCRL has hosted Twitter Live Chats that cut across an array of topics germane to pathways to and through college that advance equitable student outcomes. In late April, our Twitter Live discussion focused on Black Girl Excellence #BlackGirlExcellence. The conversation was robust and engaging yet only scratched the surface of the issues and dilemmas that emerge as problematic for African American females across the educational pipeline. We look forward to continuing the dialogue in this area in addition to raising the conversation on equity and outcomes affecting student groups across the spectrum of difference in the months to come.


    • Baldwin, A. Y. (1987). I'm black but look at me, I am also gifted. Gifted Child Quarterly, 31(4), 180-185. doi: 10.1177/001698628703100410
    • Campbell, S. L. (2012). For colored girls? Factors that influence teacher recommendations into advanced courses for black girls. The Review of Black Political Economy, 39(4), 389-402. doi: 10.1007/s12114-012-9139-1
    • Evans-Winters, V. E. (2005). Teaching black girls: Resiliency in urban classrooms (Vol. 279). Peter Lang.
    • Holloway, K. (2016). African-American women now top the list of most-educated group in the country. Alternet, Independent Media Institute.
    • National Center for Educational Statistics. (2012). Degrees conferred by sex and race. Washington, DC: Author.
    • Stambaugh, T., & Ford, D. Y. (2015). Microaggressions, multiculturalism, and gifted individuals who are black, hispanic, or low income. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93(2), 192-201. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2015.00195.x
    • Zamani-Gallaher, E. M., & Polite, V. C. (Eds.). (2013). African American Females: Addressing Challenges and Nurturing the Future. Michigan State University Press.
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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