Scaling up student success programs in community colleges: from “islands of innovation” to institutionalized practices

With educational attainment in the United States quickly deteriorating, ways to increase it have been a focus of educators, public policy analysts, accreditors, and state and federal policymakers, and is now a major concern of the President of the United States. Community colleges are perceived as not only an identified problem for the lack of educational attainment but also as the solution. Community colleges are, typically, the first gate of entry to higher education for low-income students, students of color, first-generation college students, English learners, foster youth, and other student groups in American society who have been underserved in higher education. With the rapid demographic changes in the United States, this country cannot sustain its economic and political leadership in the world if it does not invest in new ways to improve the success rate of underserved communities in higher education. The situation is more critical in the state of California given its vast population and the large percentage and fast growing number of underserved communities. However, current success programs continue to be “pockets of innovations” without being institutionalized in the entire system to reach more students and generate more success. What will it take to institutionalize these programs that are guided by the best research in the field of education? This researcher embarked on a journey to generate a scaling up framework for community colleges utilizing the grounded theory process. Fourteen intensive interviews that represented 307 years of work at various levels in community colleges provided significant insight into this framework. The product is a framework that provides an “all-encompassing” way to address issues of inequitable educational attainment in the state of California and focuses on the role of community colleges, communities, other educational institutions, and state and federal government. This framework provides a practical guide for every educator or educational leader who works to improve student success for all students.