Peer Review

From the Guest Editor: Creating Community College Roadmaps for Success

In 2010, as part of AAC&U's signature initiative, Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP), twelve community colleges embarked on a journey to develop institutional models for student success through a new project called Developing a Community College Roadmap. The models were designed to advance learning and promote achievement early in a student’s college career. Funded by MetLife Foundation, the Roadmap project includes in its definition of student success both the demonstrated achievement of essential learning outcomes as well as degree or certificate completion. Quality and completion are recognized as interdependent, and aren’t pursued as separate and distinct outcomes.

The goal of the Roadmap project is to create integrated, robust, and proactive programs of academic and social support—tied to expected learning outcomes—that engage students at entrance and teach them how to become active partners in their own quest for educational success. Based on a common theory of action that evolved from prior LEAP projects (see fig. 1), the institutional models designed by the participating campuses, and described in this special issue of Peer Review, originate from individual assessments that identified specific campus needs related to quality learning and pathways to completion. The Roadmap project’s theory of action identifies four primary elements for achievement of Essential Learning Outcomes within the greater framework of inclusion and excellence for all students

  • Cross-divisional collaboration between academic and student affairs,
  • Program integration for a clear and comprehensive pathway for student success,
  • Use of high-impact practices for engaged student learning, and
  • Enhanced assessment strategies that measure quality of learning and student outcomes.

In their respective communities, campus teams applied the theory of action through a variety of campus projects. They created integrated roadmaps across divisional boundaries; used various assessment strategies to build and act on available evidence of “what works”; aligned high-impact practices, student learning outcomes, and student support efforts in the curriculum and the cocurriculum; and engaged students in the process of project planning. Through communities of practice, based on specific topics (e.g., using e-portfolios, gathering evidence and measuring success, building navigable roadmaps), participating campuses were encouraged to share ideas, to explore solutions, to take risks, and to learn from failed starts. Understanding that one size would not fit all, each institution was given the support and freedom to design a context-sensitive model for student success. Each institution addressed specific areas of need in order to improve teaching and learning while strengthening pathways to completion.

Figure 1. Roadmap project’s theory of action
Roadmap project's theory of action


Why this Project Matters

Community colleges are most commonly where new majority students in the United States are being educated. According to the American Association of Community Colleges’ 2013 Community College Fact Sheet, in fall 2012 forty-five percent of all undergraduates, with an average age of twenty-eight, attended community colleges, representing

  • 45 percent first-time freshmen,
  • 49 percent Hispanics,
  • 42 percent black,
  • 44 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and
  • 56 percent Native American.

Therefore, it makes sense to develop institutional models for student success that can both benefit a significant number of undergraduate students and serve an increasingly diverse student population.

By focusing on both quality and completion, this project unites campus efforts to improve persistence, retention, and completion while also emphasizing a high-quality liberal education for all students. These institutions all are committed to providing a liberal education emphasizing broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g., science, culture, and society) as well as achievement in a specific field of interest to every student. They want to help students develop a sense of social responsibility; strong intellectual and practical skills that span all major fields of study; and the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings. According to the report summarizing findings from AAC&U’s 2013 employer survey It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (Hart Research Associates 2013, 2), “74 percent of employers would recommend this educational approach to a young person they know as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy.” While most campus leaders agree with this viewpoint, many struggle to design institutional models that advance efforts to achieve both quality and completion. The Roadmap project seeks to address this need.

As Lane Community College states in an article included in this issue, “An intentional institutional shift from a freedom to fail culture to a right to succeed culture” serves as the starting point for designing models for student success that emphasize both quality and completion. Intentionality is a key word. Roadmap campuses are “connecting the dots” for student success by building on strengths and recognizing opportunities for improvement through internal assessment. They are reforming institutional cultures that focus on assets and talents that students bring to campus rather than on student deficits. Roadmap teams include individuals from many sectors of each institution and, thus, are able to think critically and creatively about strategies to demolish the traditional silos that hinder progress. In project models, faculty and staff development and administrative support are all central to the implementation of institutional approaches to increase student success. Such models are critical to long-term sustainability of institutional change.

In 2012, AAC&U president Carol Schneider wrote in her Liberal Educationpiece, Where Completion Goes Awry: The Metrics for “Success” Mask Mounting Problems with Quality, “When we create incentive systems for enhanced degree production, with no questions asked about the sufficiency of learning, the door is literally wide open to choices that deplete rather than build educational quality.…The real key to economic opportunity and advancement depends not on whether the student possesses a credential, but rather on whether students actually leave college with that rich portfolio of learning that employers seek and society urgently needs.” As the articles in this issue ofPeer Review show, the campuses participating in the Roadmap project are leadership institutions focusing on completion and quality. They are committed to engaging in continued self-reflection and to designing student success models that will endure.

As we enter into the second phase of the Roadmap project, ten new colleges have joined the project: Alamo Colleges, Brookdale Community College, Chattanooga State Community College, College of the Canyons, Community College of Allegheny County, Community College of Baltimore County, Manchester Community College, Massachusetts Bay Community College, Monroe Community College, and Wallace State Community College–Hanceville. The current colleges will serve as mentors to the new campuses. As the title of Miami Dade College’s article maintains, “It Takes a Village” to create resilient leadership among educators intent on defining student success by completion and quality.

Institutions participating in phase one of the Developing a 
Community College Roadmap project include

  • Georgia Perimeter College
  • Hostos Community College (CUNY)
  • Lane Community College (Oregon)
  • Miami Dade College (Florida)
  • Middlesex Community College (Massachusetts)
  • Mt. San Antonio College (California)
  • Northern Virginia Community College
  • Prince George’s Community College (Maryland)
  • Queensborough Community College (CUNY)
  • Salt Lake Community College (Utah)
  • Tidewater Community College (Virginia)
  • University of North Georgia (formerly Gainesville State College and
  • North Georgia College and State University)



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