Planning for Scale 

What do we Mean by Scale? | Strategies to Promote Scale

It is never too early to start planning for scale. Given the high level of need for improved adult education programs, innovative programs that only improve outcomes for small numbers of students are not enough. It’s essential to develop models that can reach a critical mass of students, but scaling up what works and creating real, sustainable, high-impact change remains challenging. In this section we have included some strategies to help states and colleges expand the reach and impact of their work.

What do we mean by scale?

Developing a state scale-up plan is partly about determining how you will ensure that your redesign efforts impact large numbers of students. It’s also about establishing how you will institutionalize the policies and practices developed through this initiative at colleges across the state. The goal of the redesign process should be to create deep lasting change that impacts students both during and after the three years of the initiative. A scale-up plan should include a timeline of how the initiative will grow to serve more students. It should also include strategies for ensuring that the initiative goals are embedded in state and college priorities. Communications, capacity building professional development, policy, and financing are all integral parts of scaling up. Strong leadership and a strategy for getting stakeholder buy-in are also essential for getting to scale.


At JFF we view scale as an ongoing process across four distinct phases: planning, implementing, expanding, and sustaining. We also see scale taking place along two dimensions. One is institutional scale—increasing the number of pathways available and the college’s capacity to enroll and serve a significant proportion of the eligible population. The other is statewide scale—expanding the model to additional campuses beyond the initial eight or nine colleges. To achieve scale in a state-led initiative, both dimensions are essential.

For more resources on getting to scale, visit the Virtual Academy or read Jobs for the Future's publication Thinking Big: A Framework for States on Scaling Up Community College Innovation.

Strategies to Promote Scale

While there are no foolproof strategies for getting to scale either within an institution or across a state, it is helpful to have a systematic plan for the mechanics of bringing more instructors/faculty and more colleges on board. For example:

  • How will new colleges and their faculty be convinced of the benefits of the model?
  • What is the process for joining the initiative?
  • How will training happen?
  • Will there be any funding for new colleges?

There are some promising strategies for scale that draw on the example of Washington’s I-BEST initiative, which started as a small pilot and now has expanded to all of the state’s community colleges. They include things you can do before you’ve even started implementing your program to manage the change.

Getting Started:

  • Get a critical mass of colleges (or instructors) engaged from the start so that everyone can see how they might fit into the initiative.
  • Use pilots to test out strategies, then use the data from the pilots to identify the core program elements that are essential for success, and then require that all programs include these core elements. You can then allow colleges the autonomy to adapt the model to local conditions as long as they stick with the core.

Managing Change:

  • Manage expectations. There will be a learning phase with any initiative—you won’t have all the answers right away.
  • Don’t assume everyone knows how to do what you’re asking them to do, even if they understand why they’re supposed to do it. Make sure you’re providing technical assistance, professional development, and ongoing support.
  • Create incentives to get on board. In Washington, the State Board included opportunities for extra points in its RFPs for proposals that included the I-BEST model. This led colleges to think creatively about how to integrate I-BEST into the college.
  • Determine the key data elements you will need to understand your progress. 
  • Collect data throughout the initiative and review it as often as possible so you can make timely course corrections.
  • Make sure faculty and staff see the benefit for themselves as well as their students.
  • Create opportunities for college-level input and customization (including administrators, instructors, and support staff)–this will help create a sense of ownership at multiple levels.
  • Cultivate champions