The Mixed Methods Blog

Perspectives from our researchers, highlights from recent studies, and other news about CCRC

Announcing the Community College Practice-Research-Policy Exchange

An overhead shot of students studying at tables

By Lawrence Nespoli, Rey Garcia, Ken Ender, and John Braxton

This is a guest post by the founders of the new Community College Practice-Research-Policy Exchange. CCRC is one of several partners in the initiative.

Now more than ever, community college leaders need research-based solutions to the challenges facing their institutions. While there’s a growing body of community college research, it’s not always connected to the immediate needs of college leaders trying to make changes on their campuses. To connect research to practice more directly, the authors—whose careers span decades of research and service to community colleges—have formed the Community College Practice-Research-Policy Exchange. Our goal is to build a two-way loop between practitioners and researchers that will deliver empirical findings into the hands of practitioners in the field.

With the recent community college initiatives announced by President Biden, a well-informed community college research agenda is especially relevant. Free community college tuition is the centerpiece of the plan, and community college leaders are rightly calling it a once-in-a-generation proposal. But the president’s related call for an investment of $62 billion in evidence-based strategies that strengthen completion and retention is equally important. The Community College Practice-Research-Policy Exchange is being created in large part to help identify evidence of this kind and broadly share it with community college leaders in states across the country.

This project is grounded in the work of former SUNY Chancellor and U.S. Secretary of Education Ernest Boyer, whose Scholarship Reconsidered report proposed a broader definition of scholarship to include studies that address important societal and institutional problems. More recently, John Braxton, professor emeritus at the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, and others have expanded Boyer’s work through their scholarship of practice and the two-way loop between practitioners and researchers that is the core framework for our Practice-Research-Policy Exchange.

In short, the goals for our Practice-Research-Policy Exchange are to (1) develop a first-of-its-kind practitioner-defined national community college research agenda and (2) disseminate research findings in consumable formats that will promote research-informed policies and best practices at community colleges throughout the country. While the official launch of this national project will occur in fall 2021, several states are participating in a pilot this spring.

This project has two lead managing partners: the University of Maryland Global Campus Program in Community College Policy and Administration and the North Carolina State University Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research. These organizations will be the host institutions for this national project, providing staff and administrative support, plus overall coordination among the other partners.

A key partner in this important work is the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges. The state directors of community colleges will work with presidents in their states to identify the research that is most needed to better inform the decision-making of community college leaders. Each year, we will produce a nationally informed research agenda that can be widely shared with the research community to address the needs of community college practitioners and policymakers in the field.

Another key partner is Achieving the Dream (ATD), which will provide access to the presidents of its member colleges to supplement the research agenda identified by the state directors, develop consumable and actionable research briefs, and provide assistance in disseminating these research briefs. ATD will also offer opportunities to present findings at its learning events and at DREAM, its annual flagship conference.

Other partners affiliated with this initiative include the Aspen Institute, the Community College Research Center (CCRC), and Jobs for the Future (JFF).

The Aspen Institute offers both a New Presidents Fellowship and a Rising Presidents Fellowship. We will seek the insights of these Aspen fellows on which research topics to include in the Practice-Research-Policy Exchange.

CCRC has long set the gold standard for conducting research about community colleges in collaboration with practitioner partners. It has a national advisory board that helps shape its research agenda and works directly with practitioners to conduct research and share findings with the field. We hope to build on the leadership and infrastructure that CCRC has provided for the past 25 years by similarly promoting strong practitioner-researcher collaborations.

Finally, JFF will draw on its practitioner networks to inform and activate the research agenda. Its national advisory group of community college presidents and state system leaders, the Policy Leadership Trust, will help to refine and prioritize research agenda items formulated by the state directors and others. In addition, JFF will endeavor to make the research agenda actionable on college campuses through its partnership with the national network of Student Success Centers, which collectively help more than half of all community colleges implement evidence-based student success reforms.

The results of these many collaborations with key national partners will be broadly shared with researchers, faculty members in community college leadership programs, doctoral students, postdoctoral research scholars, and others to encourage research that will produce actionable findings for use by community college practitioners and policymakers throughout the country. We will also share this practitioner-defined research agenda with federal agencies and foundations that fund postsecondary research.

You can read more about this national project by going to our website. You can also offer your own recommendations for the anticipated national community college research agenda here.

Lawrence Nespoli is a recently retired state-level community college leader. He is a trustee at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey and a faculty member in community college leadership doctorate programs at the University of Maryland Global Campus and several other universities. Rey Garcia is program chair and professor in the University of Maryland Global Campus Doctorate Program in Community College Policy and Administration. Ken Ender, a recently retired community college president, is a professor of practice in the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research at North Carolina State University. John Braxton is a professor emeritus at the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. He has published extensively on the scholarship of practice, which identifies areas for stronger collaboration between practitioners and educational researchers, and he is currently engaged in a related line of inquiry to include the community college presidency in his research.

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