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Innovation in Professional Development:
The Community College Cooperative

by Norena Badway and W. Norton Grubb

Community colleges pride themselves on being "teaching institutions", concerned as no other form of formal schooling is with teaching a wide variety of students. But herein lies a paradox: few states require preparation in pedagogy or curriculum for teaching in the community colleges. And comprehensive pre- or in-service staff development programs that focus on teaching instruction are rare (Grubb & Associates, 1999).

The Community College Cooperative (CCC) seeks to fill this gap. Led by the UC Berkeley site in partnership with Teacher's College and the University of Illinois, Champaign, the CCC delivers technical assistance in on-going and systematic ways, bringing faculty, administrators and counselors together to examine successful teaching practices and new developments. The Cooperative taps what is known about excellence in instruction from several sources: key evaluation findings, case studies of promising practices, and most importantly the classroom practices of effective instructors. In doing so, NCRVE researchers are forming a cooperative with practitioners, community college professional associations, and regulating agencies.

The CCC emphasizes three forms of help for community colleges attempting reform: direct technical assistance, expert-peer networks and policy advocacy.

DirectTechnical Assistance: The direct technical assistance offered by the CCC differs substantially from conventional professional development, which tends to provide one-shot introductions that do not allow sufficient time for faculty to understand or adopt innovative practices. Instead, the CCC delivers several-day workshops, engaging a broad array of academic as well as occupational faculty, full- and part-time instructors, administrators, counselors and institutional researchers. The workshops require active participation, with members meeting in large and small groups to adapt promising practices to their own local conditions. Since real change occurs incrementally over time, rather than all at once, initial workshops establish a community of practitioners, while subsequent workshops continue to develop curriculum and instruction in light of student outcomes. These workshops rest on a base of research which has investigated promising practices; for example, Badway and Grubb (1997) have compiled exemplary course outlines, student learning activities, capstone projects, and organizational structures used by faculty and administrators as they adapt academic courses to the career goals of students, Grubb and Associates (1999) have documented the institutional mechanisms that can enhance teaching, and still other NCRVE research has identified the characteristics of successful connections with employers, powerful co-op programs and other work-based learning , and effective workforce development.

Peer Networks: A second initiative is the establishment of a network of expert peers--faculty, administrators, and counselors who have been successful in implementing curricular or instructional reforms, and who then provide assistance to others seeking to innovate. The peer network is modeled after other instructor-centered communities, especially the National Writing Project at the U. C. Berkeley, based on the assumption that successful, faculty and administrators have greater credibility with their colleagues than outside experts. The first steps in identifying these "experts" have already begun. A recent survey of the nation's community colleges discovered a number of instructors who have integrated academic and occupational skills (Badway, 1998). Local and regional workshops have added to the list, and CCC staff conduct continuous surveys to identify others. Beginning in fall 1999, these experts will be brought together for Regional Invitational Institutes to expand their own knowledge of curriculum reform and to prepare them to teach other instructors in future workshops sponsored by the Cooperative.

Policy Advocacy: Curricular and instructional reform is likely to receive limited attention as colleges grapple with two immediate problems: accountability mechanisms, and turnover in personnel. Under the Carl Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Amendments of 1998, local colleges and states must report retention and completion rates, employment and transfer outcomes. But new accountability mechanisms will not necessarily change practices, since accountability can be implemented either by cooking the numbers, by restricting access to programs, or by improving instruction. While reforming instruction and curriculum is more challenging, the CCC will argue to colleges that it is the only effective way to meet accountability requirements in the long run.

Another development will be the replacement of faculty and administrators as massive retirements take place in the next few years. Without backgrounds in pedagogy or curriculum, the next generation of community college leaders could address accountability simply by limiting access to courses of study for which outcomes must be developed. To address these concerns, the CCC is collaborating with American Association of Community Colleges and the League for Innovation in sponsoring national institutes to acquaint future faculty and administrators with best practices for reshaping instruction to prepare all students for both careers and further education.

In addition, the Cooperative plans to work with regulating agencies to overcome the current confusion about accountability mechanisms, in order to smooth the way for future reforms. Norton Grubb, principal investigator of the Cooperative, has advised the Department of Education about the design of the next National Assessment of Vocational Education, in particular working to distinguish innovations from the status quo so that federal policy can continue to press for greater effectiveness (Grubb, 1999). It is hard to imagine a better marriage than the joining of high federal and state standards with local staff development programs such as the Community College Cooperative. n

Norena Badway is a member of NCRVE's Community College Cooperative project.

W.Norton Grubb is the site director of NCRVE's UC Berkeley site and director of NCRVE's Community College Cooperative project.


Badway, N. N. (1998). The politics of compliance: Federal policy for postsecondary curriculum reform. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.

Badway, N. N., & Grubb, W. N. (1997). A sourcebook for reshaping the community college: Curriculum integration and the multiple domains of career preparation: (MDS-782). Berkeley: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, University of California.

Grubb, W. N., & Associates (1999). Honored but invisible: An inside look at teaching in community colleges. New York and London: Routledge.

Grubb, W. N. (1999, May). Edging toward effectiveness: Examining postsecondary occupational education. Prepared for the National Assessment of Vocational Education, U.S. Department of Education.

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