about cerc

Founded in 2013 by a small group of educators, the Catalyst Educational Research Center, Inc. (CERC) has conducted original and groundbreaking research in developmental education that is delivered online. In 2015, CERC accepted the invitation of the Elijah Glenn Ward Family Foundation to become the Foundation’s research division. CERC’s hypothesis is that while all communities have the capacity to be healthy and whole, some face very real and seemingly insurmountable economic and social challenges that can be addressed through the production of pertinent data that is based upon research.

The goal of CERC, working with the Ward Family Foundation and Ward College, is to leverage the voices and resources of these three entities through research that brings permanent change in the African American and other low-income communities of Chicago. The ultimate goal of our research is to provide community stakeholders and policymakers with the evidence that they need to enact significant change in their communities.

mission & purpose

The mission of CERC is to conduct research and to sponsor action that provides social and educational opportunity for low-income, minority and / or at-risk men, women and children.

The purpose of CERC is to conduct basic and applied research. Research at CERC is designed to employ rigorous methodologies to support a specific inquiry. The work that we do at CERC is intended not merely to educate or to inform, but to serve as a catalyst, triggering the action needed to call forth meaningful and lasting change through policy and through the collaborative efforts of stakeholders.


In Fall 2014, CERC conducted a highly-successful pilot research project that delivered an exclusively-online suite of developmental education (i.e., college-readiness) courses to 500 students who were concurrently enrolled in traditional, face-to-face course work at several community colleges in the Chicago metropolitan area. This study addressed an area of higher education (the exclusively online delivery of a suite of college-readiness courses) that had not previously been investigated by researchers.

This research is significant because (1) the issue and challenge of college readiness is more colossal in scope than the society currently realizes and (2) the future of higher education lies in innovative and effective online programming and delivery. For example, American College Testing data indicates that only one in four high school graduates who takes the ACT and is planning to attend college is fully college-ready in their academic preparation (ACT, 2014). Bear in mind that some students do not even take the ACT (or the SAT). Moreover, many students attend or return to college after accumulating life experience, including employment, raising a family or other types of activity, and have not been involved in formal education for years.

In addition, each year for many decades to come, an urgently increasing number of Americans will need to be educated with bachelors and associates degrees, and many more still with vocational certificates and training modules, than is currently taking place — merely in order to fill the jobs that will be required across all sectors of our unprecedented and continually evolving, knowledge-based economy and society. Thus the vast majority of Americans attending college, whether for degrees or certificates, will require developmental education (or college-readiness course work) in order to be prepared for their educational program of choice, for productive contribution in the workplace, but even more so, simply in order to be an educated citizen in the midst of an increasingly information-based and deeply interconnected global reality.

Therefore, CERC is engaged in pragmatic, future-oriented research that will lead the way in more innovative approaches to education and enlightened social programming for our target communities through producing data that will allow for a determination of best practices. The role of CERC is to catalyze public policy and social action that is directed toward the improvement and realignment of social conditions through significant involvement in evidence-based research.

Pending research activity at CERC includes design, implementation and assessment of the following: (1) a scaled-up developmental education program delivered online, (2) a holistic, pragmatic, state-of-the-art student support infrastructure that complements both hybrid course delivery and a groundbreaking approach to academic support, and (3) the provision of developmental education and of an innovative, associate in liberal arts degree program to inmates of correctional facilities.

To learn more about the research on CERC’s pilot study of the suite of online developmental education courses or about our planned assessment of other Ward College educational initiatives, please review the following documents:

Identifying Factors Contributing to Student Retention and Persistence in Online deved© (Developmental Education) Courses

Addressing the Issue of College Readiness through Ward College