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Community College Academic Support Ecosystems
Ithaka S+R Launches New Research Project

Thirty-nine percent of all US undergraduate students attend community colleges, with roughly nine million enrolled in public two-year colleges annually. These institutions serve a wide range of students, including underrepresented minorities, veterans, low-income, adult, and first-generation students, as well as underprepared and non-traditional learners. But with only 37.5 percent earning a degree from either a two- or four-year institution within six years of starting, community colleges must do more to ensure that these students meet their educational goals.

Thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we are embarking on a three-year initiative to help community colleges more effectively support their students. The Community College Academic Support Ecosystems (CCASE) project will examine:

  1. What types of academic support services community colleges need;
  2. How academic support services are currently organized, funded, and staffed to address these needs, and what the key success factors, tradeoffs, opportunities, and challenges are associated with the organization of these services;
  3. How the library can best organize itself to develop and sustain programs or services that contribute to the community college’s mission and student success.

As we have uncovered in an ongoing multi-year examination of community college student needs from the student perspective, many students aren’t aware of what academic support services exist at their college or don’t know how to access and navigate them effectively. The CCASE project will allow us to continue studying how college structures can improve student success in navigating these services.

Starting in November, we will first survey community college chief academic officers on the value of the academic support services provided by their college, the services they offer that are successful, and the challenges they face, to enable us to examine the way library and other academic support services are organized, funded, and what strategies exist at diverse institutions. Based on the findings from this national survey, we will select five community colleges for in-depth examination through site visits in order to build a more detailed picture of how services are developed, organized, and sustained. During these site visits, we will engage with a variety of stakeholders including administrators, librarians and other academic support providers, faculty members, and students.

To provide a more complete understanding of the challenges community college library directors face in strengthening and reconfiguring services, we will also conduct a national survey of community college library directors. The survey will explore the role that community college libraries play within the larger field of academic support services, including their priorities, resource allocations, and constraints. Lastly, we will convene an invitational workshop to discuss actionable recommendations for community college academic support services based on the findings from the CCASE project, the Community College Libraries and Academic Support for Student Success (CCLASSS) project, and other recent research and innovation in community college library and academic support services. This workshop will bring together key leaders and participants from the projects to discuss action agendas for community college libraries and related academic support entities.

We are joined in this project by an outstanding group of advisors:

  • Braddlee, Dean of Learning and Technology Resources and Professor, Northern Virginia Community College
  • Rosemary A. Costigan, Vice President for Academic Affairs (CAO), Community College of Rhode Island
  • Mark McBride, SUNY Senior Library Strategist
  • Karen Reilly, Dean of Learning Support, Valencia Community College

Through this project, we aim to not only conduct research but also collaborate deeply and thoughtfully with community colleges to help them provide the highest level of support to their students. We will provide regular updates during the course of the project through interim reports, blog posts, and presentations, and we look forward to engaging with the higher education community as our work proceeds.


About IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This project is made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services LG-96-18-0198.

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