Feb 04 2019

Community Colleges Rise to the Challenge of Supporting Diverse Learners

Data-driven initiatives give students integrated support and personalized interventions.

The role of the IT department is evolving at colleges and universities across the country. Moving away from the silo model as a provider of only technical support, IT leaders are claiming their seats at the table as strategic partners with colleagues across campuses. Innovation in IT cannot be achieved with technology alone; it depends on people and processes.

At Montgomery County Community College, we believe in taking an all-inclusive approach to using technology in collegewide initiatives

Our IT team works with colleagues across our campuses to develop a deeper understanding of their business challenges and goals, and to identify ways that technology could help them. 

As the college updates and develops academic programs to prepare students for today’s technology-reliant global market, IT is a partner in the process, in both planning and implementing the necessary infrastructure and support.

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Community College IT Staff Must Be Nimble and Responsive

Community colleges are not always thought of as technologically advanced in comparison to four-year institutions. However, the reality is that community colleges are hubs of IT innovation

We have to be in order to meet the needs of our ever-evolving student populations. We serve diverse groups of learners, including dual-enrollment students who are earning college credits while they are in high school, traditional college-age students seeking to complete their first two years before transferring to a four-year institution and adult students who are up-skilling or changing careers.

At Montgomery, we take all these students into consideration when developing and implementing technology. It must be accessible, user-friendly and part of a process with a support team in place. To fully support the technology needs of students with such a wide range of skills and abilities, we must be nimble, responsive and creative. IT works closely with faculty members, who rely on technology not only for teaching but also for monitoring students’ progress. 

Planning and Advising Initiative Leverages Tech for Student Success

Our redesigned advising process is an example of how we use technology to improve student success and completion. With a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we developed and launched our Integrated Planning & Advising for Student Success initiative as part of our overall student success work. 

While technology played a key role in the effort, the holistic approach leveraged the tools instead of depending on the tools alone. 

The redesign included an early alert system to monitor progress and implement early intervention, an academic program planning tool and a dashboard to consolidate students’ financial and academic information in one place. 

During the course of our IPASS work, we saw an increase of 11 percentage points in associate degree-seeking students achieving credit threshold rates (30 credits per year for full-time students and 15 credits for part-time students). We also saw an increase of 20 percentage points in associate degree-seeking students completing gateway courses during their first year, and an increase of 10 percentage points in associate degree-seeking student retention to the second year.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Three ways community colleges can leverage technology successfully.

Cross-Functional Teams Collaborate on Personalized Interventions

In addition to the IPASS initiative, we are leveraging predictive analytics tools to identify more personalized interventions for students based on leading indicators and behaviors. 

A cross-functional team from departments across the college, including IT, uses predictive analytics tools and data in an ongoing iterative cycle involving inquiry, insight, action and assessment. The insights we glean from these tools enable faculty and advisers to provide support for students earlier in the semester. 

As technology continues to evolve on campuses, IT leaders and their teams must be an integral part of the planning and implementation of collegewide initiatives

IT is much more than a provider of technology tools and support. When technology is combined with a bold vision, strong leadership and a culture that encourages creative solutions, it has the potential to transform the educational process.

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