Building Capacity for Reform at Scale in the Community College Field
Over a decade of intensive focus on improving student success in community colleges has produced notable effects: a dramatic increase in awareness of the challenges and commitment to college completion as a critical goal; a sea change in the use of data to assess and monitor student success and institutional performance; a growing body of evidence regarding effective educational practice in community colleges; and increasing numbers of institutions that are putting that knowledge into practice and demonstrating encouraging results. These promising developments can be attributed to the unprecedented efforts of a collection of philanthropies, national organizations, state systems, and institutions that have worked both collectively and individually to investigate practice, implement change, and produce results.
Now, there is a striking convergence of research and lessons of experience, as these people and their organizations have come to the shared understanding that progress, while evident in some places, is too slow. The favored solutions of the past decade, while often necessary components of change, do not adequately address the magnitude of the challenges community colleges and their students face; and that typically, the changes thus far achieved have not been fundamental enough—and certainly not scaled enough—to achieve the improvements in completion of college credentials with strong labor market value, especially among low-income students and students of color, that are necessary to reclaim the American Dream.
Recognizing these realities—and affirming the critical role of America’s community colleges—the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) undertook, with initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the AACC Pathways Project. This national project focused on building capacity for community colleges to design and implement structured academic and career pathways for all their students.
Building on emerging research and experience in the field, the two-phase project supported AACC’s commitment to advance recommendations set forth in the 2012 report of the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges, Reclaiming the American Dream, and the 2014 implementation guide, Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future.
In the initial phase of the Pathways Project, launched in 2015, AACC worked with national partners and a competitively selected group of 30 community colleges to design and execute a series of six pathways institutes. In response to an expressed need in the field, AACC committed to the 2017 launch of Pathways 2.0, which afforded AACC an opportunity to continue to improve upon the pathways model, expand the work to 13 more colleges, and work with its national partners.
AACC served as the lead organization and fiscal agent for the multi-year grant. Other partners were:
- Achieving the Dream (ATD)
- The Aspen Institute
- Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE)
- Community College Research Center (CCRC)
- Jobs for the Future (JFF)
- The National Center for Inquiry and Improvement (NCII)
- SOVA (formerly Publica Agenda)
For more information, visit the Pathways Resources website.