The National Community College Research Alliance (NCCRA) met for the first time in Raleigh last week to begin building a common research agenda for community colleges.
Participants included research centers from around the country, such as the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE), and the Community College Research Center (CCRC), as well as individual researchers whose work involves deployment Decision makers with the information needed to advance community college efforts.
NC State University’s College of Education and the Belk Center hosted the three-day event.
“The alliance — the first of its kind — grew out of conversations with fellow researchers across the country who welcomed more opportunities to collaborate and improve community college research,” said Dr. Audrey J. Jaeger, executive director of the Belk Center. “It’s time to cultivate rigorous research that uplifts community college leaders and provides them with valuable information to support their respective missions.”
During the convening, participants laid the groundwork for the research agenda. The agenda is informed by the group’s “collective knowledge of pressing challenges, promising practices and proven solutions”.
National Community College Research Alliance (NCCRA) meeting. Courtesy of the Belk Center
dr Cameron Sublett, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee and a research partner at the Belk Center, said the basis for this convocation is the idea of collective impact. Sublett said that various community college research centers across the country are individually doing amazing work, but there is no established network to share that work and increase the capacity of these centers.
Researchers used the first day of the event to identify the challenges and opportunities that the nation’s community colleges will face in the years to come. Some of these challenges include adult learner mentoring, funding models and labor market conditions. As for opportunities, the researchers found workforce equity funding, stackable credentials, and scaling college innovation, to name a few.
These challenges and opportunities helped to pinpoint key themes throughout the event, including distance learning and learning, people development and study pathways. Alliance participants then compiled research questions in each topic area that will guide future conversations and partnerships.
Panel discussions during the National Community College Research Alliance meeting. Courtesy of the Belk Center
The event also included talks on bridging the gap between research and practice, and helped the centers find ways to make their work more accessible and actionable for academia and policymakers alike. Leaders from four national research centers, including Achieving the Dream and the Aspen Institute, spoke about effective, collaborative approaches that centers can implement to shape the national discussion about post-secondary education and improve its reach and impact.
“There is an opportunity for us, researchers and practitioners, to collaborate in new ways to curate and disseminate strong action-based or reflective practice research produced at the collegiate level. This may require us to think about how we can work together to build stronger support for our IRs [institutional research] Offices to support this type of action research. Not every community college IR office can do this, but many can if they have support and encouragement to do so.”
dr Karen Stout, President and Chief Executive Officer of Achieving the Dream
National grantees such as the John M. Belk Endowment and the Lumina Foundation also discussed their foundations’ funding processes and goals over the next few years. Subsequent discussions highlighted how collaboration and partnerships between centres, universities and funders are key to promoting academic success.
Meeting of the National Community College Research Alliance. Courtesy of the Belk Center
“We are very excited to bring together these research centers from across the United States. As we see and promote each other’s work at existing academic conferences and online, it gave us all an opportunity to learn about the research priorities of community colleges in other states and what different centers are working on,” said Dr. Holley Nichols, NCCRA event organizer and associate director of research and evaluation at the Belk Center. “We believe the work we have done in the Alliance can support collective efforts to answer the crucial research questions that are more collaborative, thorough and efficient.”
Before closing, participants emphasized the importance of maintaining momentum in this collaborative opportunity and identified ways to move forward. Some of these next steps include collecting ideas generated during the convening to share at upcoming community college research conferences, creating an online collaborative space for research centers to share their work, and establishing alliance Working groups to address the most pressing research questions in each subject area. Organizers also considered how future events could capture other voices not represented at the first meeting.
Editor’s Note: The John M. Belk Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.
Emily Thomas is a Policy Analyst for EducationNC.