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The Mixed Methods Blog
The Mixed Methods Blog

Letter from the Director: Reflections on a Year at CCRC

Thomas Brock smiles in front of a brick wallThis post is the third in a series of letters from CCRC Director Thomas Brock. In the first installment, Brock describes the center's emerging priorities, and in the second he focuses on developmental education reform.

Dear Colleague,

When higher education makes the headlines these days, it is usually bad news. Admissions scandals, student debt, misalignment between student skills and faculty or employer expectations ... the list goes on. But there is a counter-narrative that warrants far more attention: Across the nation, many states and institutions are taking demonstrable steps to improve college access and student success. Community colleges—the portal to higher education for roughly four out of 10 undergraduates—are at the forefront of this movement.

I make this claim confidently. In my first year at the Community College Research Center, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with education policymakers and practitioners who are implementing reforms that they believe will lead to better education and employment outcomes for students, often with a particular focus on students who are low-income or historically underrepresented in higher education. Some states and colleges are undertaking whole-college guided pathways reforms to make their programs of study more coherent and career-focused, and to provide more structure and support to students from initial entry through college completion. Others are undertaking targeted reforms to remake developmental education, use technology to improve student advising, and upgrade workforce education programs to prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs.

CCRC’s 2018-2020 biennial report highlights these and other initiatives that are at the core of our learning agenda. The report also explains the values that undergird our work, and it provides some facts and figures to illustrate why community colleges are so critical to increasing social and economic mobility throughout the nation. Finally, the report identifies philanthropies and other partners who make CCRC’s work possible. We are deeply appreciative of their support.

Our learning agenda continues to evolve, building on past lessons to address new questions and provide practical tools that states and colleges can use to inform policy decisions and make program improvements. For example, we know from prior research that relatively few community college students take courses or earn degrees in science and technology-related fields, despite growing demand for workers with STEM training. Under a new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), CCRC will deepen understanding of the potential of guided pathways reforms to improve STEM outcomes for community college students. Through in-depth fieldwork and analysis of student records in three states—Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington—we will identify practices that lead to increased enrollments and higher achievement in STEM courses and majors and develop metrics that colleges can use to measure their progress implementing reforms.

We are also launching new research on English learners in community colleges, including recent immigrants as well as students who have grown up in families where English is not the primary language. While this population is presumed to be large, it has not been systematically identified or studied. With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)—and working in close partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago—researchers at CCRC and the University of California, Santa Cruz, will explore the characteristics, goals, needs, and trajectories of these students. Our ultimate objective is to identify policies and practices that contribute to improved academic outcomes for English learners.

We are enthusiastic about these new studies and believe they can inform the development of future reforms. As always, we welcome your feedback on our work, including new questions of interest and ideas about how we can make our research more useful to policymakers and practitioners. Please write to us at ccrc@columbia.edu.

Sincerely,

Thomas Brock

Thomas Brock
Director

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