Case Study

Assessing student impacts of faculty mindset at California Community Colleges


Focus Groups With
Faculty & Counselors
students surveyed


Many students embark on their higher education journey at community colleges with the goal of transferring to a university for a bachelor's degree. However, as of 2010, roughly 80% of community college students in California were placed in remedial courses that don’t count towards four-year degree requirements; less than half of those students managed to earn an associates degree, or achieve transfer readiness within six years. Students from structurally disadvantaged or underrepresented groups often faced challenges in completing college at the same rate as their more advantaged peers and were disproportionately placed into remedial classes. California Assembly Bill 705 (AB705), and subsequently AB 1705, were enacted to rectify the problem by mandating the placement of students into transfer-level math and English courses, and encouraging completion of those courses within one year. The need to effectively enact this promising reform compelled faculty and advisors to examine whether their teaching practices met these new demands and student needs in this context.

I feel very taxed as a faculty member… [AB705 is] more time, more work, more meaningful connections with students, which is wonderful. But I don't feel we’ve necessarily gotten the resources we need to be able to support them at this capacity.

English Faculty


Previous research conducted by the Equity Accelerator (EA)  revealed that the mindset beliefs of faculty and staff significantly impacted students' experiences and performance. Creating Cultures of Growth in classrooms led to increased student success and more equitable outcomes. Recognizing the potential of mindset as a lever for narrowing equity gaps and enhancing motivation and positive student outcomes in California Community Colleges, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with EA to assess the extent to which faculty’s mindset beliefs were being effectively communicated in their teaching practices, whether their mindset beliefs aligned with students’ experiences, and faculty’s attitudes towards AB705. EA conducted a needs assessment and analysis with students, faculty, and staff across nine California Community Colleges. We held focus groups with 53 math and English faculty members and 29 counselors. We also surveyed 135 counselors, 109 faculty members teaching transfer-level math and English courses, and 1,064 of their students.


Key Findings

  • Misalignment of Student and Faculty Mindset Perception
  • Teaching Practices are Mindset Indicators
  • Instructors’ Mindsets Predict Student Experience & Outcomes

What did our analysis and assessments find?

  • Students’ & faculty’s perceptions of faculty’s mindset did not align!
    Overall faculty overwhelmingly self-reported endorsing growth mindset beliefs about their students’ abilities to learn and grow. A number of faculty also reported developing more of a growth mindset after AB705. However, students perceived their faculty as having more fixed mindset beliefs. This misalignment suggests that faculty mindsets were not effectively reflected in their teaching practices and behaviors. 
  • Students used teaching practices as indicators of their instructors’ mindset beliefs. Faculty’s self-report of having more growth mindset beliefs did not predict their use of growth mindset teaching practices. It turns out, students based their perceptions of instructors’ mindsets on their teaching practices. For instance, when students perceived that their math instructor helped them cultivate positive attitudes about learning, it was associated with an increase in their perception that the instructor endorsed a growth mindset. 
  • Students’ perceptions of their instructors’ mindsets predict their psychological experiences and outcomes in their courses. When students perceived faculty and counselors had a growth mindset, they reported more belonging and confidence in their own abilities, along with feeling more secure and affirmed in their social identities. For example, perceiving their math instructor as having a growth mindset was associated with a decrease in their experiences of “identity threat” in the class. 

These findings underscore the importance of providing faculty with the support to effectively align and communicate their beliefs and mindsets through their practices and messages, as it shapes students’ perceptions and experiences in class. EA has developed high impact, low-lift, evidence-based tools to help faculty create Cultures of Growth in their classrooms, so their policies, practices and messages reflect their mindset and goals. Some of our online tools are available to access here. Learn more about additional work with California Community Colleges, where we worked with faculty to put these tools to practice.

This idea of growth mindset - you know that they can persevere, they can make mistakes, they can struggle and be successful - that’s actually something I’ve been incorporating in my classes. I have students that were planning on just taking one math class, that are now saying, well what else can I take, you know they’re actually challenging, so that’s really exciting.

Math Faculty

California Community College Partners: Sacramento City College, Irvine Valley College, Cuyamaca College, Porterville College, Santiago Canyon College, College of the Redwoods, Riverside City College, Sierra College, Imperial Valley College 

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