To improve academic and economic outcomes for community college students, this report recommends comprehensive community college reform that leads to more students earning postsecondary credentials that improve economic opportunity.
This reform needs to address all four of the following areas. Community colleges should:
- align program offerings with labor market demand, using input from employers and labor market information;
- make basic skills education more targeted and accelerated, allowing students to improve without derailing progress toward completion;
- make it easier for students to combine work, caregiving, and education, with strategies such as block scheduling and childcare assistance; and
- help students structure their programs of study effectively through innovations in advising and simplification of offerings into program pathways, ideally beginning with the end goal, a career, in mind.
Major Findings & Recommendations
Findings: -Knowing small pilot or “boutique” innovations are not enough does not also imply that simply scaling innovations and embedding them in an institution’s ongoing operation is easy. -Reform efforts to date have highlighted challenges to systemwide reform and finding and retaining leaders with a vision of change and the skills to manage complex change efforts. -Getting faculty and staff to engage and buy into reforms necessary to make cultural and organizational changes. -Connecting accreditation to educational quality, with a greater emphasis on programs’ relevance to the workforce. -Ensuring sustainable financial resources for changes in operational reforms, professional development, and implementation and operation of specific reform models. -Finding and retaining leaders with a vision of change and the skills to manage complex change efforts. Recommendations: -Community colleges have the potential to be engines of economic mobility. For their students, including many who are low income, working, caring for children, or people of color, earning a postsecondary credential aligned with labor market demand can be an important step on the path to improved economic outcomes, career advancement, and a better quality of life. -Evidence of specific reform strategies coupled with findings from small but comprehensive pilot programs and outcomes from wide-ranging efforts at a few community colleges suggest that comprehensive systemwide reforms can improve student academic and economic outcomes. -Philanthropy continues to play a key role in expanding reform to more community colleges. -The initiatives described above educate community colleges on evidenced-based changes, facilitate peer sharing with colleges making reforms, provide technical assistance on system reforms, and fund innovations. -One aspect of community college reform has been to encourage the development of a culture of collecting and using data for measuring outcomes. -The federal government has a role to play in the continued development of measures and assistance with access to necessary data. -Efforts to make measures of progress public should be considered, in ways that encourage competition and improvement across colleges and provide information for students making choices.