With an urgency to leverage existing and emerging policy reforms to improve student outcomes by centering educational equity, this manuscript explores the critical role of policy implementation in higher education–specifically in community colleges. In doing so, we explore historical and contemporary approaches to higher education, highlighting how policy implementation often serves as an opportunity and barrier to educational equity. In the first half, we summarize the literature on policy implementation in higher education and weave together a conversation that centers on the importance of equity. Then, we highlight our Equity-Centered Policy Implementation Framework and its six tenets to consider in centering the role of the individual within the implementation process and how they influence what implementers can achieve with policy reform. These tenets are Identity Conscious, Implementation Imaginations, Institutional Complexity, Sociopolitical Context, Layered Reforms, and Leveraged for Educational Equity. Next, we share implementation stories that draw from our body of research conducted across two higher education contexts (i.e., the California Community Colleges and City University of New York [CUNY] community colleges) to showcase research-informed strategies and approaches to policy implementation that led to more robust and transformative equity-oriented implementation processes in community college.
We used Critical Discourse Analysis to examine the racial discourse within recent attempts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Specifically, we interrogated congressional markup hearings to understand how members frame student debt and the racialized dynamics embedded within. Our findings highlight three types of discourse: “All Students” Matter, Paternalistic, Race-Evasive, and Explicit Racial Discourse. We offer recommendations for research and policymaking.