New book from UW-Madison’s Wang highlights innovation at community and technical colleges during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

By Laurel White

Like most educational institutions, community and technical colleges across the United States were forced to make big changes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. A new book from a UW–Madison School of Education faculty member digs deep into that tumultuous time, unearthing inspiring innovations and changes that could have lasting impact. 


The book, “Delivering Promise: Equity-Driven Educational Change and Innovation in Community and Technical Colleges,” is the latest effort from leading higher education and community college scholar Xueli Wang. Wang is the Barbara and Glenn Thompson Professor in Educational Leadership in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She is also the president-elect of the national Council for the Study of Community Colleges.

“Delivering Promise” is the product of Wang’s interviews with 126 community and technical college educators in seven states between 2021 and early 2023. The interviews with administrators, faculty, and staff, along with extensive document reviews and site visits, allowed Wang to shed light on how campuses adapted to the pressing needs of students during the height of the pandemic. 

Wang says the book is animated and inspired by those educators’ resilience. 

“A few months into the pandemic, I had been deeply inspired by the change, commitment, and compassion demonstrated by practitioner colleagues at community and technical colleges,” she says. “There was a lot of talking about how bad it was going to be, but I saw all of these educators, not just leaders but instructors and advisors as well, who were really rising to the occasion with remarkably innovative ideas and efforts.”

“Delivering Promise” focuses in particular on how principles of equity were central to many of the pandemic-inspired changes. Those changes ranged from altered classroom practices to new approaches to student support, institutional research, external partnerships, and leadership. 

Image courtesy Harvard Education Press

Wang says the central argument of the book is that innovation and equity are the two key ingredients of a just community and technical college education — and that one won’t work without the other. 

“Historically when we talk about innovation, equity tends to be an afterthought rather than being a centering anchor,” she says. “This work shows that innovation cannot be true innovation without centering equity, and equity-based solutions must be innovative.”

In its exploration of both successes and struggles in pursuit of change, “Delivering Promise” offers insight to community and technical college leadership and practice on a number of the sector’s most challenging priorities, including removing barriers to access for students, increasing enrollment, and better serving minoritized students. 

Karen Stout, president and CEO of education nonprofit Achieving the Dream, calls the book “an essential read for every community and technical college practitioner.”

“Wang offers a unique, compelling, and inside look at what equity-inspired and equity-centered innovation looks like in our classrooms, student support functions, data-informed support systems, community-based partnerships, and institutional cultures,” Stout said.

John Fink, senior research associate and program lead at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, offered similarly high praise for the work. 

“Wang, the preeminent community college scholar-storyteller, guides readers into a heartening journey of individual and institutional transformation, synthesizing findings into concluding imperatives that outline a path forward,” he said. 

Wang points out that the book also illuminates how human-centered practices, structures, and policies serve students, faculty, and staff. 

“Figuring out how to ground humanity when supporting the educators is so important,” Wang says. “Education is both ‘students first’ and ‘educators first’ — education thrives when everyone’s humanity is centered.” 

Overall, Wang sees “Delivering Promise” as a satisfying, if unexpected, follow-up to her first book, “On My Own: The Challenge and Promise of Building Equitable STEM Transfer Pathways.” While her first book focused on flawed institutional practices and structural barriers for students transferring from two-year colleges to four-year institutions, “Delivering Promise” turns toward equity-driven solutions and the people behind them.

Kimberly Lowry, director of leadership and impact at the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit dedicated to advancing new ideas across a wide range of fields, calls the work “a guide to transformative educational change.”

“With a central message of hope and possibilities, it highlights community and technical colleges as potent grounds for equity-driven innovation,” Lowry said.  

“Delivering Promise” will be released by Harvard Education Press on April 16. More information about the book is available here. Harvard Education Press is also hosting a meet and greet with Wang at the American Educational Research Association’s 2024 Annual Meeting. 

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