To investigate what factors and conditions promote change in a community college system, MDRC is focusing on three systems being reformed under Completion by Design at all five case-study colleges: the academic advising system, the developmental education system, and the college-level course selection process. Importantly, these three areas span the spectrum of student experience from entry to developmental education to a course of study and eventual completion.
In all three areas, MDRC is examining how various factors (for example, vision, communication, and leadership) influence the institutional change process. The research team will identify cross-college patterns using an analytical, theory-based framework, and from these patterns formulate lessons about the systemic change process.
In addition to providing an independent assessment of the initiative, MDRC’s study of Completion by Design will have broader implications for the field of community college reform. The study seeks to build highly credible knowledge regarding the key elements of institutional change — particularly change aimed at improving completion rates — and regarding the costs of those key elements. College faculty members, staff members, and administrators should be able to use findings from this study to inform the implementation of future reforms that aim to boost completion rates. The study should also help them better understand the factors that facilitate institutional change both in general and specifically with respect to systems such as developmental education, advising, and streamlined academic pathways. Funders and policymakers should be able to use this information to better support community colleges as they undergo systemic change in pursuit of reforms that aim to improve completion rates.