National Study of Community Development Higher Education

Photo Credit: Bryan Hains

Photo Credit: Bryan Hains

Community development philosophies, epistemologies, and contexts vary widely among post-secondary education programs. Curricula and pedagogical practices have not been compared, contrasted, or debated in any systematic way, and there remains no agreed upon or clearly articulated foundation for community development education. This splintering of the field is compounded by its multidisciplinary nature - because community development is a process, it transcends diverse community contexts, an aspect often not realized when trained in a traditional discipline.

To better understand the current state of community development higher education, the Community Innovation Lab at the University of Kentucky in collaboration with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change (CRC) has documented both undergraduate and graduate community development programs in the United States. After completing an initial inventory of existing programs, we have compared three phases of research as follows:

  1. Programmatic Survey

  2. Faculty Survey

  3. Program Site Visits

Through this exploratory study, we aimed to identify foundational knowledge and skills to advance the impact of community development higher education programs, and subsequently strengthen national communication and knowledge about curriculum development, instructional delivery, and student inclusion in program design.

Photo Credit: UC Davis Center for Regional Change

Photo Credit: UC Davis Center for Regional Change

Programmatic Inventory

The first phase consisted of inventorying current post-secondary community development programs across the United States. Parameters for the inventory included those with the terms “Community Development” in their title. Second tier evaluation included those programs with the terms “Community Development” in their mission and/or vision.

Click to see an overview of CDE programs nation wide and their programmatic categorizations.


Review the dynamics between undergraduate and graduate CDE programs within the United States.

Examine the list of CDE certificate programs nationwide


Explore the number of emphasis programs focusing on CDE within the United States.

programmatic survey

Once U.S. CDE programs were identified, a questionnaire was distributed to program leaders gathering basic information about program structure and demographics. Baseline data was analyzed and compiled complimenting the existing inventory. Additionally, the survey requested the names of up to five community development faculty that teach in the program. This was used to create a faculty sample for the third phase of research. 

Photo Credit: University of Detroit Mercy

Photo Credit: University of Detroit Mercy

Faculty Survey

The third phase of research involved the distribution of an online survey to community development faculty identified in phase two. The faculty survey was designed to gather information regarding program epistemologies, philosophies, structure, and educational practices. Surveys and basic descriptives have been analyzed and reported.

Photo Credit: University of Detroit Mercy

Photo Credit: University of Detroit Mercy

Program site visits

Once the initial stages were complete complete, an intensive qualitative inquiry was conducted to gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the educational practices used in community development higher education. Members of the research team were able to immerse themselves in five selected institutions chosen for maximum programmatic variation. The team spent two to three days at each institution observing classroom instruction, interviewing faculty and students, and collecting instructional artifacts. (ANALYSIS FORTHCOMING)