Our Story


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. 

OCCRL researchers study policies, programs, and practices designed to enhance outcomes for diverse youth and adults who seek to transition to and through college to employment. OCCRL’s research spans the P-20 education continuum, with an intense focus on how community colleges impact education and employment outcomes for diverse learners. Results of OCCRL’s studies of pathways and programs of study, extending from high school to community colleges and universities and to employment, are disseminated nationally and internationally. Reports and materials are derived from new knowledge captured and disseminated through OCCRL’s website, scholarly publications, and other vehicles.

OCCRL accomplishes this goal through research and development (R&D) projects in three areas: Equity-Driven Change, Comprehensive P-20 Educational Pathways, and Transformative Leadership.

Our Story

The Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) was formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in fall 1989 with a grant from the Illinois State Board of Education to the College of Education’s then Department of Vocational and Technical Education. Soon thereafter, OCCRL attracted funding from the United States Department of Education’s National Center for Research in Vocational Education, of which the College of Education was a consortium member. Focusing its agenda on aspects of community college education, OCCRL added funding from other federal and state government agencies over the next 25 years of its existence. Of note is the continuous funding of the Illinois Community College Board since the mid-1990s, totaling over $2 million to this day for research and development dedicated to understanding and improving community college education in the state of Illinois.

From its inception through April 2015, Dr. Debra Bragg led OCCRL's projects having secured over $17 million in grants from numerous government and private funders. During this 25 year period, OCCRL supported more than 100 graduate research assistants pursuing masters and doctoral degrees. Throughout the years, there is a litany of full-time researchers and faculty who affiliated with the Office of Community College Research and Leadership including Steven Aragon, Lorenzo Baber, Elisabeth Barnett, Carianne Bishop, Marisa Castellano, Mark Combs, Dan Cullen, Donna Dare, Carolyn Dornsife, Jeffrey Flesher, Heather FoxMatt GianiDon Hackmann, Tim Harmon, Ann Jones, Sadya Khan, Catherine Kirby, Frankie Laanan, Jane Loeb, Julia Makela, Heather McCambly, Kat Oertle, George Reese, Deborah Richie, William Reger, Collin Ruud, Jason Taylor, Donna Tonini-Larkin, Anjalé Welton, and Eboni Zamani-Gallaher. Also noteworthy is the late Barbara Townsend, a treasured collaborator of Dr. Bragg’s with whom she is forever grateful to have co-authored numerous grant proposals and publications.

Since the beginning, the breadth of research associated with OCCRL has been extensive, with the central focus on studies of college access and completion leading to employment for underserved student populations. These OCCRL studies steered by Dr. Bragg through 2015 included career-technical education and career pathway policies (U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Labor, and Joyce Foundation), transfer education (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), transformative change of community college education (Lumina Foundation and Gates Foundation), and applied baccalaureate degrees (National Science Foundation and Lumina Foundation). In addition, Dr. Bragg is the creator and initial principal investigator (PI) of Pathways to Results (Illinois Community College Board), an equity-focused continuous improvement process that has proliferated through the Illinois Community College System and to many other states.

In April 2015, Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher was named director of OCCRL. She is professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at UIUC, having completed her PhD at Illinois, during which time she worked at OCCRL. After completing her degree she held faculty positions at West Virginia University and Eastern Michigan University, where she was promoted to full professor and became a visionary and leader of the community college leadership graduate program. Throughout her career, her scholarship has focused on adjustment and transition of marginalized collegians, transfer, access policies, equitable student outcomes, student development, and services at community colleges. Now heading up OCCRL, she has also conducted work on dual credit programming and STEM college readiness. She currently is extending her work on marginalized student populations at community colleges (students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students) relative to access, participation, and completion. She has been successful in obtaining two National Science Foundation grants funding her work on HSI Transfer and the Undergraduate STEM Pipeline at Two-year Hispanic Serving Institutions and Collaborative Research: Transitioning Learners to Calculus in Community Colleges (TLC3): Advancing Strategies for Success in STEM with colleagues Helen Burn, Vilma Mesa, and J. Luke Wood. Her leadership is also integral to continuing grants with the Illinois Community College Board, including research on STEM pathways at Illinois minority-serving community colleges, CTE apprenticeships, and Illinois programming to improve student transitions via Pathways to Results (PTR).