Teachers College, Columbia University

Transforming Community Colleges to Accelerate Postsecondary Success for Low-Income Young Adults

NEW YORK, NY (June 30, 2009) — The Community College Research Center (CCRC), Teachers College, Columbia University, today announced a three-year $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to carry out research to help identify the most productive investments in community colleges for the foundation's Postsecondary Success (PS) initiative. Because of their open-access admission policies and relatively low tuition rates, community colleges enroll a high proportion of young adults from low-income families. The goal of the PS initiative, launched last year, is to double the number of low-income students who by age 26 earn a postsecondary degree or credential.

Led by director Thomas Bailey, CCRC will produce a set of concrete recommendations for the PS initiative by early 2012. These recommendations will be based on a synthesis of knowledge gained from past research, from ongoing studies by other organizations, and from a new set of CCRC studies chosen to fill gaps in what is known about strategies for increasing community college student success.

The ambitious goal of the PS initiative recognizes the value of a college education in reducing inequities in American society. Earning a college credential is indeed key to gaining entrance to career-path employment for young adults from disadvantaged populations. In announcing the initiative, Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success, at the Gates Foundation, voiced a concern that has long motivated CCRC researchers: "College enrollment rates have grown rapidly over the past forty years, but completion rates haven't kept pace. Getting students to college isn't enough-we must help them get through college."

The new studies--each conducted using a mixed-method approach involving both quantitative and qualitative components--will examine seven strategies that are based on promising but largely untested ideas about what works to increase community college completion rates for low-income young adults: (1) assessing incoming students' needs, not just their level of academic skills (this is sometimes called "actionable assessment"); (2) providing highly structured and focused programs; (3) offering high-quality and engaging online courses; (4) accelerating the pace of remedial instruction and thereby reducing the time needed to complete that instruction; (5) contextualizing basic skills instruction in the teaching of academic or occupational content; (6) providing underprepared students with "student success" courses and other non-academic supports; and (7) aligning programs and services to support student progression and success.

CCRC will examine these strategies in terms of their impact on student success, their cost-effectiveness, and their feasibility. The research team will also identify program characteristics and organizational practices that support effective implementation of each strategy on a large scale.

Since 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested more than $4 billion in grants and scholarships to increase opportunity in the U.S. by improving college-ready high school graduation rates and college completion rates.