Understanding Professional Learning Opportunities in California’s Community Colleges: Emerging Themes from Institutional Effectiveness Evaluations
Since 2013, the Education Insights Center (EdInsights) has been conducting evaluations to understand the sweeping changes in the California Community Colleges (CCC). That’s an exciting lens for us, helping community college educators examine the effects of their work and ways to refine it, while also contributing to the state’s own understanding of its investments. A major theme that has surfaced—and this is consistent with other studies of public higher education systems—is that educators need time and space to learn together in order to develop the kinds of changes that improve student learning, engagement, progression, and completion. In this blog, I share key findings from our evaluations of CCC’s Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative (IEPI), with the hope of informing other capacity-building efforts in higher education.
What is IEPI? IEPI is a collaborative effort in the CCC that supports the colleges’ attempts to improve fiscal viability, boost student performance and outcomes, improve compliance with state and federal agencies, and reduce accreditation sanctions. As part of the initiative, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) and its partners provide professional development workshops, summits, and online resources to the colleges. IEPI’s professional developmental model focuses on:
- engaging cross-functional campus teams in activities that develop new skills and knowledge associated with creating change;
- providing structured time to create action plans that the teams can implement back on campus; and
- affording opportunities to engage with colleagues from other colleges.
Participants found IEPI professional-development activities to be most valuable by helping them work together to understand, and plan for, change. They said that the most effective elements were those that built from and supported their own expertise by providing: a) space and time for faculty and staff to collaborate with colleagues from their campus, and b) opportunities to share successes and challenges candidly with colleagues from other colleges.
Participants also expressed a need for further, on-going support in the following areas, in order to contribute more effectively to change processes back at their home campus: a) learning to lead and manage change in the face of challenges, and b) streamlining institutional systems and processes.
Leading and Managing Change
Participants said that gaining support for change is the chief obstacle to implementing new programs, processes, and other reforms at their college. In particular, they said they could benefit from understanding how to work with and include campus colleagues and other partners who are not yet willing or engaged in the reforms. As such, education leaders might make sure that relevant content on managing change is incorporated into a wide range of professional development activities and resources at the system and campus levels. In addition, leaders might emphasize change management as a critical function for all campus roles and reform efforts.
Streamlining Systems and Processes
Participants also frequently mentioned workload, resource constraints, and initiative fatigue as significant obstacles to achieving their goals. As a result, education leaders might ensure that professional development activities offer strategies for addressing these kinds of obstacles. Additionally, system leaders might consider the wide range of reform efforts that are already underway and offer approaches that consolidate or align the initiatives. For example, the CCCCO sought to address this by supporting integration of the compliance and accountability reporting associated with the CCC’s Basic Skills Initiative, Student Equity Planning, the Student Success and Support Program. The CCCCO has also supported professional development opportunities, including workshops on Integrated Planning and the development of the Integrated Planning Applied Solution Kit, an online resource. For their part, state policy leaders, in encouraging these kinds of systemic approaches, might consider statewide policies that support integration and alignment of existing reforms.
Looking Ahead. In our IEPI evaluations, participants were enthusiastic about professional development in the service of student learning, engagement, progression, and completion. IEPI’s commitment to iterative, peer-to-peer networks can serve as a model for other systems—not only for information transfer, but also for forging relationships that can lead to new collaboration opportunities. It is important to note, however, that even these kinds of capacity-building efforts need to be actively maintained; faculty and staff face challenges in sustaining change and streamlining system processes at their home campuses. These lessons inform our work at EdInsights, and we hope they are useful to others engaged in capacity building in education.