Ten years ago, to complete a master’s program at Shippensburg University in college counseling and personnel services, Hana Lahr needed to choose a field apprenticeship. Shippensburg offered a number of options, but Lahr chose to work for two years as an academic adviser and counselor at Harrisburg Area Community College, purely because it was closest to where she was living.

Hana Lahr

Turns out that decision struck home in ways Lahr could not have imagined at the time.

“As an adviser only working with the student in front of you, it’s at times difficult to make any changes,” she says. “I began thinking about how we can change the system to help more students.”

Community Colleges are “really changing how people are thinking of the student experience and how they are moving through college.” – Hana Lahr, Ph.D, Education Policy

In 2011, those questions brought Lahr to Teachers College and TC’s Community College Research Center (CCRC). The Center is the nation’s leader in seeking to strengthen an education sector that serves more than four in 10 U.S. undergraduates, including millions of first-generation and under-served students, but has not yet succeeded in ensuring that most of these students complete their degrees.

First as a master’s degree student and then, for the past five years, as a doctoral candidate, Lahr worked closely with CCRC founding director Thomas Bailey, who will become TC’s 11th president in July, and Kevin Dougherty, Professor of Higher Education & Higher Education Policy.

Much of her effort has focused on the introduction of the “Guided Pathways” approach to 120 community college campuses in Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington State. Devised in great part by CCRC (and the focus of the book Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, published in 2015 by Bailey and CCRC researchers Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins), Guided Pathways calls for schools to abandon a cafeteria style of course offerings and instead help students make early choices about their academic and career tracks.

“It’s really changing how people are thinking of the student experience and how  they are moving through college,” Lahr says.

Lahr’s research and involvement in implementing the Guided Pathways model has brought her into contact with hundreds of community college faculty, staff and students.

“The people who work at these institutions are invested in the betterment of all their students,” she says. “What makes CCRC so respected is the amount of time we spend at community colleges. We are there every week talking to people and teams.”

Somehow, Lahr also found time at TC to complete her dissertation, on a different but related topic: the developmental strategies of educational foundations to address reforms and influence policy. That work ties into her longer-term goas of improving teaching and learning at two-year institutions.

“I have a lot of respect for community colleges, but I also understand their limitations and challenges,” says Lahr, who remains a Research Associate at CCRC. “I want to help them get better.” – Steve Giegerich

Read about TC's 2018 Convocation ceremonies.