In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1,000 community colleges shifted to online instruction. It wasn’t the first time community colleges faced a crisis and showed they can improve access and instruction. During the Great Recession, Congress created the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program to support innovation at community colleges. Grants were made to individual colleges and to college consortia.

Our research on these grants shows that groups of institutions often built programs better together than each could have done on its own.


Colleges can use these lessons to improve quality during and after the COVID crisis. Although collaboration in online and simulated learning is a challenge, its rewards are substantial. Below are recommendations to support that work:

For federal policymakers

Encourage collaboration

New investment should prioritize consortium building and collaboration. Research shows that collaboration fostered through the TAACCCT grants was among its biggest benefits. 

Build on existing work

Federal investments should prioritize proposals that build on successful online and simulated learning initiatives over proposals that start from scratch. 

Invest in online and simulated learning environments

The pandemic has given the federal government an opportunity to support the improved quality and sustainability of collaborative online and simulated learning environments.

For practitioners

Figure out funding

Revenue sharing is important. If start-up costs for a program are covered by a grant, colleges and consortia must decide who gets what share of the tuition revenue. 

Share challenges and solutions

Working with employers to build simulated learning environments can aid employers seeking qualified workers and the colleges that offer hands-on instruction. 

Build on what works

Once colleges understand their shared challenges, they should inventory each other’s strengths. Projects that leverage the TAACCCT grants to build on successful work were more likely to persist.