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Advancing Equity-conscious CTE Program Review via Cross-Campus Collaborations, Dialogue

by Jewel Bourne / Aug 6, 2021

This past spring, in partnership with the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), OCCRL facilitated technical assistance to support campuses with preparing to submit program review reports for selected career and technical education programs of study. As defined by the goals of the ICCB Program Review Manual (2022-2026), the sessions offered an opportunity to “support the submission of quality, relevant, contextualized and culturally responsive reviews.” 

Further, in alignment with the objectives of the ICCB Program Review Manual, the sessions provided an opportunity to develop submissions focused on reducing inequities, strengthen programming, and contribute to the economic development of the state (ICCB Program Review Manual FY 2022-2026, pg.2).

By way of supporting campuses in promoting continuous improvement that prioritizes program need, cost effectiveness, quality, performance, and equity, OCCRL engaged campus program review teams in dialogue and action-oriented activities to promote success for students and communities. An additional goal was to foster institutional practices that align with current and projected future industry needs.

In a two-workshop series for each campus, OCCRL supported teams at the following institutions selected by ICCB: Black Hawk College, City Colleges of Chicago, Moraine Valley College, Rend Lake College and Lincoln Land Community College. These schools were selected through an application process, and all had identified specific programs of study for assistance in adopting an equity-minded lens to completing a thorough and thoughtful program review submission.  

The community college teams included program directors, deans, program support staff, and faculty. The workshop focused on facilitated conversation geared toward the campuses making progress in their program review submissions. Additionally, the OCCRL team provided points to consider as the groups worked to analyze data and identify areas for future research and discovery in their programs. 

During the sessions, conversations emerged about how the campuses could respond and deliberately incorporate ICCB’s definitions of success with campus- and program-specific benchmarks to ensure efficient and sustainable programming, as well as ensure academic and student success.  

Imperative to working with these colleges, OCCRL reviewed the programs of study and campus cultures to understand the context of all the programs, their origins, the fields of study, and the local and national industry landscape using the Illinois Postsecondary Profiles System. This system, which Is supported by ICCB, continues to be developed to broaden data accessibility. The usage of the tool allowed us to identify our own knowledge gaps, which developed into questions from an outsider’s perspective for the community college teams to consider and assess, with the goal of providing context for the institutions’ program review submissions.

In preparation for the first workshops, the participants were asked to prepare any of the following items to establish a context about the needs of their community colleges:

  • Environmental scan or district demographic data
  • Labor market information for their region
  • Disaggregated data at the program, departmental, or institutional level
  • Advisory council membership listings
  • Any applicable or relevant industry-specific accreditation standards

This information contributed to a deepened understanding of each program in a context that enabled OCCRL to understand the disaggregated data and support teams in identifying equity gaps, particularly by race, in each respective program.

The first workshops of the series included discussions with the community colleges’ teams to discuss their needs regarding receiving assistance and goals for the process. These initial events offered a chance to learn more about the programs in order to steer guided conversations in the most useful manner. 

Additionally, in our two-hour sessions, a timeline was shared for the process as well as a discussion about the differences between equity and equality as a means of level-setting. The goal of the first workshop was to provide additional context and clarity surrounding the purpose and importance of the program review process. Further, it provided an opportunity for participants to ask questions. 

Using the 2017-2021 program review manual and template, the sessions included an evaluation of the mission and vision of career and technical education within Illinois to advance dialogue on the role of community colleges to advance equitable outcomes. The workshops, while varied among the individual campuses, expanded and unpacked the elements of the questions being asked and provided additional reflections for participants to assess what was being asked of them.  

Furthermore, the workshops centered on identifying and articulating program successes, as well as quantifying challenges. To establish action-oriented solutions, the participants were asked to highlight benchmark programs that they felt were examples to model similar and comparable successes on their own campuses. The community college teams were asked to engage in and respond in these sessions based on evidence, with the objective of ensuring accountability for implementing changes that lead to improvement.

The second series of workshops recapped the ways in which these programs are currently supporting students to navigate and complete pathways as a means of identifying and increasing educational equity, particularly for currently marginalized members of special populations, as defined by Perkins V. The participants were asked to engage in and provide responses on how the programs are providing career-connected learning opportunities to build students’ essential and technical employability skills. Designed to be idea labs, the workshops provided a space for those responsible for these programs to expound on the level and capacity of the support provided to students to advance through higher levels of education, training, and employment success, with respect to the goals of ICCB and the Illinois career and technical educational system. The questions that emerged from these sessions provided an opportunity for teams to be transparent about their accomplishments, trials, and ideas for development.

Additionally, in identifying action steps, participants were asked to evaluate the progress of their institutions in developing a culture of evidence, which is broadly defined as environments in which “decisions are based on facts, research and analysis…where services are planned and delivered in ways that maximize outcomes and impacts for stakeholders” (Office of Quality Assurance, Carleton University, 2014).

In an effort to analyze areas of success, challenges, and opportunities for growth, the participants were asked the following questions:

  • How can their programs better serve the learning and career goals of students?
  • How are program and curricular decisions made?
  • How can program and curricular decisions continue to develop based on data and systematic observations rather than hunches and suspicions?  
  • Where do you envision your program going based on what was discussed?
  • What action steps are necessary to accomplish your program goals?
  • What are the steps, resources, and people needed to accomplish these ambitions?  
  • What resources do you feel are necessary to complete the program review?
  • Who is responsible for fulfilling these needs and roles?

Engagement in opportunities that probe and facilitate equity-conscious dialogue are essential as we engage in the work of building and expanding student success and completion across the state. These efforts enable support from individuals outside of the daily operations of institutions, departments, and daily purviews to provide objective considerations.  

Further, workshops such as these allow for reflecting on the expectations of the program review process and manual, as well as support to think about the value of striving toward innovative and continuous improvement. In talking through our programs, we can gain insights about relevant and quality information and the ways in which they can be incorporated.    

Moreover, program review is an opportunity to discuss data and narratives that depict the full context of our programs in concise ways. These valuable sessions prioritize the program review process and are a purposeful tool in identifying areas for continuous improvement to address racial, gender, and social-economic gaps.

Technical assistance labs and workshops are an opportunity to engage in truly collaborative methods to ensure the process is documented well and that the results inform campus-planning initiatives, quality improvement efforts, and budget-allocation decisions.



Carleton University (2014). Learning Outcomes Assessment Newsletter: What is a Culture of Evidence?

Illinois Community College Board. (2021). Program Review Manual Fiscal Year 2022-2026.

Illinois Postsecondary Profiles (2021). Institutional Profiles.