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Strategies for Increasing Community College Student Success Highlighted in New Series of Papers

Strategies for Increasing Community College Student Success Highlighted in New Series of Papers

New York, NY (January 20, 2011)—New findings lay out a blueprint for increasing community college graduation rates. Colleges should streamline student decision-making processes, revise online education models to facilitate course completion, and favor college-wide reform over small-scale interventions.
These are findings from three working papers released today by the Community College Research Center (CCRC), Teachers College, Columbia University. They mark the start of an eight-part series on strategies for improving the success of students who attend community college. Working papers in the CCRC Assessment of Evidence Series gather and evaluate the best research available in eight major topic areas: developmental education assessment, developmental acceleration, developmental math pedagogy, contextualization of basic skills instruction, online learning, non-academic support, institutional program structure, and organizational improvement. The aim of the series is to draw conclusions and make practical, evidence-based recommendations to educators and policymakers for improving student success and increasing graduation rates on a scale needed to meet national goals.

To remain competitive with other major economies, the U.S. must sharply increase its supply of educated workers over the coming decade. In order to meet national goals for increased college attainment, community colleges—which enroll nearly half the nation’s undergraduates and disproportionately serve low-income and academically underprepared populations—will need to raise low completion rates and dramatically increase the number of students who earn community college certificates and degrees.

One key finding of the series is that community colleges need to move beyond the implementation of small-scale programs and instead engage in broad institutional reform. Said CCRC director Thomas Bailey (, “Successful stand-alone programs in isolation will not do enough to improve outcomes for large numbers of students. Strategies must work in concert across the institution, and faculty need to be at the center of sustained, college-wide efforts to improve student success.” Major funding for the series was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Working papers in the eight-part series, as well as summary Briefs, will be made available on the CCRC website ( as they are released over the coming weeks. Today, three papers and an introduction to the series were released:

•    Introduction to the CCRC Assessment of Evidence Series (
This short paper explains how the studies were carried out, and it outlines four overarching recommendations for colleges.

•    Redesigning community colleges for completion: Lessons from research on high-performance organizations
( Davis Jenkins ( argues that in order to increase rates of student completion on a large scale, community colleges will have to make fundamental changes in the way they operate. Based on practices found to be effective among a broad range of high-performance organizations, he outlines practical steps community colleges can take to bring about continuous improvement in student learning and progression. (Brief of this paper now available at

•    The shapeless river: Does a lack of structure inhibit students’ progress at community colleges
( Judith Scott-Clayton ( argues that complexity in navigating college and in making important choices often confuses students. It leads to decisions about whether and how to persist toward a credential that may waste time and resources and reduce the chances of successful outcomes. She also highlights several promising programs. (Brief of this paper now available at

•    Online learning: Does it help low-income and underprepared students?
( Shanna Jaggars ( argues that while online learning affords flexibility and convenience, students also encounter challenges in online coursework that contribute to low completion rates among community college students. She provides recommendations to improve online learning access and success rates. (Brief not yet available.)

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) ( is the leading independent authority on the nation’s nearly 1,200 two-year colleges. Founded in 1996, CCRC’s mission is to conduct research on the major issues affecting community colleges in the United States and to contribute to the development of practice and policy that expands access to higher education and promotes success for all students.

Contact: Shanna Jaggars
(212) 678-3091

Published Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011


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