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The Mixed Methods Blog

CCRC in 2020: A Year in Review

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There’s no use sugarcoating it: 2020 was a challenging year. Like many of our colleagues across the country, CCRC has operated remotely since mid-March, adjusting not only our lives but also our research to the realities of the COVID-19 era. The ongoing pandemic and national reckoning over race and police brutality have permeated our work and prompted us to ask new questions, shift organizational practices, and connect in innovative ways. In this blog, we take a look back at the themes that animated CCRC during this year and some of our accomplishments.

A typical start to the year

In February, Martha Kanter, the executive director of the College Promise Campaign, visited Teachers College to give a presentation on the free college movement. At the time, a large field of Democratic primary hopefuls was debating several policy proposals to guarantee Americans access to higher education. Kanter discussed the success and diversity of various Promise models across the country, as well as the next phase of the work, which is focused on program sustainability and boosting student outcomes across the socioeconomic spectrum.

At the end of February, several members of the CCRC staff traveled to Seattle for the annual League for Innovation in the Community College conference. Our researchers presented on topics including guided pathways, advising reform, and dual enrollment.

COVID-19 and the community college

When the pandemic shut down community college campuses in March, CCRC began thinking about how we could best support the field during this tumultuous period. In the early days of the crisis, CCRC Director Thomas Brock expressed concern that the pandemic would widen equity gaps and reaffirmed that CCRC was ready to assist as colleges reimagined policies and practices for the COVID era. To that end, we quickly published blog posts compiling resources for advisors, as well as reflections from college leaders describing the challenges they faced as they transitioned to a fully remote environment. 

Although community college enrollment tends to rise during recessions, it has plummeted in the last nine months, in large part because students most likely to attend open-access institutions come from communities that have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic. In April, Senior Research Scholar Davis Jenkins and Senior Research Associate John Fink looked at Great Recession-era data to make predictions about how the pandemic would affect enrollment among older, traditionally-aged, and dual enrollment students.

Additionally, in the wake of the Great Recession, states across the country slashed community colleges’ funding, and early in the pandemic, Jenkins, Fink, and Brock warned that the sector should brace for even harsher cuts and more instability. In the past, colleges have raised tuition, counted on federal funding such as Pell grants, and sought additional revenue sources to make up for budget shortfalls, but those options seemed less likely this time around—particularly as the economy nosedived and federal lawmakers struggled to pass a coronavirus relief bill for months.

Finally, the rapid shift to online learning upended the student experience. Colleges across the country reconsidered how best to support learners, implementing new technology like virtual advising sessions and pivoting to multiple measures assessment and placement when in-school testing became impossible. Additionally, rising unemployment put a spotlight on workforce training in community colleges. In two blog posts, CCRC researchers explained how integrating credit and noncredit programs could help colleges prepare students better for today’s workforce; a separate post documented shifts in employers’ skill demands amid the pandemic.

You can find a complete set of CCRC’s blogs on COVID-19 and community colleges here.

Racial reckoning

CCRC stood in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers in May, and we began a period of intense examination of what we needed to do to become an antiracist organization.

Internally, CCRC staff members began implementing a framework that prompts us to apply an equity lens to each stage of the research process, from conception and data collection to writing and editing. We are also working to increase staff diversity through our hiring processes, ensure that our compensation and promotion practices are equitable, and make our workplace a more inclusive environment that allows everyone to bring their whole self to work.

CCRC also addressed racial equity in our research projects. Among others, projects like the Launch Years Initiative and English Learners in Community Colleges center the experiences of minoritized students and examine the efficacy of policies intended to improve outcomes and eliminate gaps in achievement among racial groups. Our work on dual enrollment specifically focuses on policies and practices that community colleges and high schools can adopt to ensure that large numbers of low-income and racial minority high school students benefit from these programs. We were excited to partner with the Aspen Institute to publish a guide on equitable access to dual enrollment in October.

Finally, as protests against racialized police brutality swept the nation, Senior Research Scholar Nikki Edgecombe and Senior Research Associate Jessica Brathwaite teamed up with Research for Action’s Kate Shaw to write about why adequately funding community colleges will lead to a more antiracist higher education system.

Funding updates

In the midst of this tumultuous year, CCRC was fortunate to secure several new grants that will allow us to continue doing valuable work to support community colleges. Over the summer, the Institute of Education Sciences awarded us two major grants. One will support a project evaluating the effects of Federal Work-Study on student outcomes. The other will support us in training doctoral students in applied postsecondary research. The research fellowship, named the Postsecondary Education Applied Research Fellowship, or PEAR, will cover the full costs of 15 students’ graduate studies over the next several years. Fellows, who will be selected from students admitted to PhD programs at Teachers College, will participate in CCRC research projects and carry out research apprenticeships with state and local higher education agencies or nonprofit research organizations.

Finally, IES and other funders awarded additional grants to extend the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) until 2023. CAPR’s next phase will include producing a synthesis on developmental education research and conducting long-term follow-up on the center’s evaluations of Dana Center Mathematics Pathways and Multiple Measures Assessment.

Major report releases

Despite this year’s unexpected challenges, CCRC remained productive. We published 36 blog posts on top of 30 papers, briefs, and reports. This work covers student supports, teaching and learning, developmental education, the high school to college transition, workforce development, and guided pathways. You can browse all of our publications and blog posts on the CCRC website, but here’s a sample of releases from this year:

  1. A Framework for Advising Reform
  2. Redesigning Community College Student Onboarding Through Guided Pathways
  3. How Can We Improve Teaching in Higher Education? Learning From CUNY Start
  4. Unpacking Program Enrollments and Completions With Equity in Mind
  5. How Did Six Community Colleges Design Supports for Part-Time Faculty? A Report on Achieving the Dream's Engaging Adjuncts Project
  6. The Dual Enrollment Playbook: A Guide to Equitable Acceleration for Students
  7. Lessons Learned From Advising Redesigns at Three Colleges
  8. Who Should Take College-Level Courses? Impact Findings From an Evaluation of a Multiple Measures Assessment Strategy
  9. Funding Guided Pathways: A Guide for Community College Leaders
  10. Scaling ASAP: How Expanding a Successful Program Supported Broader Institutional Change at Bronx Community College

From all of us at CCRC, we hope you have a joyful and relaxing holiday season. We look forward to connecting with you in the new year.

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