May 19 2009

Technology Makes A Difference At Community Colleges

As enrollments grow and budgets shrink at community colleges, keep pace through more targeted use of technology.

As enrollments grow and budgets shrink at community colleges, keep pace through more targeted use of technology.

As workers of all stripes lose their jobs and the cost of education at four-year institutions skyrockets, community colleges are a logical choice for many families.

At El Centro College near Dallas, enrollment is up 22 percent. Iowa Western Community College saw its numbers rise by 8 percent last fall. And at Montgomery College in Maryland, where I work, we’ve added more than 6,000 new students since last year. That number will likely increase this fall as economic pressures convince even more students to consider community colleges.

Unfortunately, as enrollments grow, our resources shrink. The reality for community colleges is that there will be little or no new money in the months ahead for additional teachers or new construction projects, making it difficult to meet the growing demand. But in crisis there is also opportunity, and one prospect for relief may be found through smarter use of our technology.

Great Expectations

Before we consider technology as a solution, we need to understand changing student demographics. As research shows, today’s students have grown up literally surrounded by technology, bringing new technology skills, preferences and expectations to our campuses. They might expect us to offer ubiquitous wireless connectivity and the ability to manage educational content on a wide variety of handheld devices.

Research also shows that younger students are coming to community colleges, and they are even more prolific users of technology. It is important for IT administrators to know how these new student characteristics will affect both our ability to provide services and ultimately the IT bottom line. But most important, we need to know how effective our current technology is and whether that resource translates into increased learning and improved test scores. For that answer, we can ask the students.

In Maryland, for example, we asked more than 4,000 students at 16 community colleges how they felt about the technology at their institutions and what impact it had on their learning. The results were enlightening: Sixty-one percent either agreed or strongly agreed that technology improves their learning; 64 percent agreed or strongly agreed that using technology in their courses helps them communicate more effectively with their instructors; and 50 percent agreed or strongly agreed that technology helps them better communicate and collaborate with classmates.

Technology Works

Our study also showed that there was a positive correlation between those students who reported higher usage of technology in their academic lives and higher grade point averages. That underscores the importance of providing the right technology for the right students. While this data does not prove that access to technology improves student performance, we do know that among students, access to technology is highly valued.

My recommendation is to start measuring the effectiveness of your IT. Whether it’s expanding a wireless network or adding new self-service apps, all of these technologies can be studied in real time before, during and after deployment. That information can support your IT planning and also demonstrate the value of your technology investments to concerned stakeholders. Finally, by asking your students and faculty what works for them, your institution can further ensure that the valuable technology resources that you deploy are effectively improving the overall learning experience.

21st Century Conveniences

Student responses to the question: Which of the following benefits of using technology in your course(s) is the most valuable to you?

  • 25% Improves my learning
  • 43% Convenience
  • 14% Helps me manage my course activities
  • 11% Helps me communicate better
  • 4% No benefits
  • 3% Other

Source: Montgomery College