Thinking Big: A Framework for States on Scaling Up Community College Innovation

At a Glance

In the education and workforce fields, it is often difficult to properly scale up "boutique" programs that aim at improving student outcomes. Thinking Big brings the process (and common issues) of scaling up programs to light.

It is a truism of American social policy that our nation has great success generating innovative programs that improve outcomes for participants—but that we are far less effective at moving from small, “boutique” programs into broadly applied solutions that improve the prospects of large numbers of individuals. This is certainly true in the education and workforce fields.

We at JFF are not the first to tackle the question of scale. We felt the need, though, to undertake our own inquiry to inform our thinking about scale and to specify a framework that could be useful to both policymakers and practitioners. We mined the extensive research literature on scale and sustainability, and looked in depth at efforts in Arkansas, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington State, and interviewed key policy and practice entrepreneurs, college and system leaders, and experienced evaluators of community college initiatives, in Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, and Texas.

Thinking Big suggests a comprehensive process of four phases—planning, initiating, expanding, and sustaining—while highlighting common issues that arise in scaling up and how to address them.

Related Blog: Thinking Big about Student Success