Making community colleges better

Making community colleges better

28 Jun 2017     By Brad Stauffer | CEHS Director of External Relations

Community colleges in Nebraska and across the country serve a diverse student population. Increasingly, these students are first generation college students or from migrant or refugee backgrounds. To support community colleges in the challenge to serve a diverse student body, the Department of Educational Administration is committed to applying its teaching, research and outreach to strengthen community college leadership and to educate a new generation of leaders.

Teaching leaders

Katherine Wesley
Katherine Wesley

Nebraska has become nationally respected for developing community college leaders. Katherine Wesley, assistant professor of practice and executive director of the National Council of Instructional Administrators, oversees the Community College Leadership Certificate (CCLC) program. The program is geared toward working professionals who are in, or aspire to be in, an instructional leadership role or a senior administrative position. Coupled with EDAD’s community college concentration in its doctoral program, dozens of community college leaders are being prepared for the next step in their careers. In fact, nine current community college presidents or vice presidents, from Massachusetts to the state of Washington, have completed community college leadership programs at Nebraska. 

“One of the things that makes our leadership certificate unique is the personal attention given to each student’s professional development,” said Wesley. “Through required mentoring relationships, students are assisted in identifying how they can improve their individual leadership abilities through professional development.”

Amy Morrison Goings
Amy Morrison Goings

“The CCLC certificate track, in parallel with my Ed.D. from UNL, prepared me for my college presidency,” said Amy Morrison Goings, president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland, Washington. “I was encouraged at all steps to apply my learning in real-time and leverage my dissertation research to refocus my college on the importance of student completion.”

“Students network and make friends with other administrators and faculty across the United States,” says Wesley.  “They often share the same issues in their institutions, and through this network, they build a community that helps them be more successful and informed leaders.”


Elvira Abrica and Deryl Hatch
Elvira Abrica and Deryl Hatch.

Nebraska is also elevating research on community colleges. EDAD assistant professors Elvira Abrica and Deryl Hatch are faculty affiliates in Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), based at the University of Texas at Austin. It is a platform for researchers across the country to share their work about the educational inequities faced by men of color and in particular Latino men. The purpose is to impact practice at the community college level and influence educational opportunities for this underserved population. Both researchers were recently published in a special issue of the “Journal of Applied Research in Community Colleges.”

Abrica is exploring the resilience of these men as they attempt to navigate the financial barriers they frequently face. The persistence of these students, she says, is remarkable and can help inform community college leaders.

“The discourse on financial aid and college access is sometimes limited,” Abrica said. “It doesn’t always tell the story of how resilience comes into play and how students persist in spite of obstacles. Students have their own way of conceptualizing these problems. It’s not our job alone to interpret these problems. We can look to them for understanding, as we try to address these issues.”

Hatch’s Project MALES research is a little closer to home. He is looking at U.S. Census and U.S. Department of Education data to “track down some of the policy and contextual influences for equitable participation in higher education.” Specifically, he is looking at demographic data on Nebraska community colleges to examine how Nebraska is faring compared to other states regarding equitable access to community college.

“It’s true that higher education, including community colleges, are becoming more diverse,” says Hatch, “but I’m taking a more critical look at the variation across the country to see whether equitable participation is increasing or decreasing.”

Equitable participation, in this case, Hatch explains, is not just more Hispanic males enrolling in school. It’s looking at state population data and seeing if enrollment numbers are keeping pace with overall population increases in this underrepresented demographic.

“Despite making huge gains in Latino enrollment, Nebraska has lost ground in equitable representation,” says Hatch. “Increasing diversity is a desirable outcome, but too often we limit ourselves to that.”


Richard Torraco
Richard Torraco

Another important piece of EDAD’s impact on community colleges is service or outreach. Associate Professor Rich Torraco has been working in this arena for many years at Nebraska. “Pathways Out of Poverty” was a grant-funded program to assist immigrant, refugee, homeless, unemployed and other disadvantaged populations by combining basic academic skills and job training. The project was a collaboration of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Southeast Community College, the Center for People in Need, and Community Action in Lincoln. Torraco developed an innovative curriculum that integrated basic math, reading and writing skills with specific job skills that were in demand in Nebraska.

“This was very applied learning,” said Torraco. “For example, students learned basic math—decimals, fractions and ratios—in the context of measuring and ordering construction supplies.”

Many of these individuals had no marketable skills prior to the program, said Torraco. The program provided specific skills to help participants get good jobs. Nearly 200 people gained employment after participating in the program.

These examples of teaching, research and outreach reflect the progressive nature of the Department of Educational Administration and hold promise for making a positive difference in the success of underserved college students.