How Technology Can Help Community Colleges Master Student Outcomes
Faced with a sharp drop in enrollment and rising dropout rates, community colleges must rethink how they engage students. Here are three technology-enabled strategies to support student success.
Over the past two years, a global health crisis and an uncertain economy have undermined admissions and enrollment in higher education, especially at community colleges. As a result, many community colleges have decided to step back, reflect, and consider how to invest in student engagement and outcomes to better adapt to a changing landscape.
Community colleges serve everyone, including non-traditional, underfunded, and underrepresented students such as first-generation students, working parents, and BIPOC populations. Many of these students were disproportionately affected when the pandemic hit and, at the same time, some community college students were unprepared for the rapid transition to online learning. All of these factors have contributed to a sharp decline in enrollment and an increase in dropout rates.
So community college leaders asked, “How can we increase student enrollment while establishing clear pathways to prepare all students, especially the most vulnerable, for postgraduate success? ” A three-pronged strategy is emerging.
1) Increase accessibility and improve communication for student services
The first step to ensuring that all students have access to services and supports is to improve communication so that they are aware of all the options and resources available to them. Proactive, timely, and humane outreach must be initiated to anticipate issues through early intervention, and communications must be personalized to meet students wherever they are – online, in person, etc. Using live, automated outreach capabilities, schools can connect with students about any academic concerns or financial barriers, as well as make students feel the institution is investing in them. With a personalized, data-driven approach, institutions can easily tailor communications to a student’s preferred medium, whether that’s email, text, or through a student information system.
According to a report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSSE) at the University of Texas at Austin, 57% of students surveyed said they were unsure whether their college had support services to help them cope with pandemic-related stress. One approach to highlighting mental health supports could include clear, easy-to-find, and easy-to-follow materials on the school website; SMS and email alerts to remind students of scheduled sessions with counselors; and make teachers aware of the existence of support services. Not only should students be able to quickly find information about services, but they should also be able to easily book appointments or request more information in a centralized hub, with a focus on confidentiality and removing the stigma that some students may feel upon access. mental health supports.
2) Invest in community partnerships and real-world career opportunities
One of the best ways to ensure college students are work-ready is to put them in real-life situations where they can network and gain first-hand experience in their industry of choice. Two-year institutions are called community colleges for a reason, due to the close connection to their local communities and the employers residing there. By building and maintaining strong relationships with industry professionals and offering internships, apprenticeships, and mock interviews, schools can help guide the trajectory of a student’s academic experience into their future career.
Additionally, institutions that connect the dots between programs offered and specific career opportunities can provide clarity for students on the journey from classroom to paycheck. Students should be able to easily access professional outcomes and associated programs and/or certificates through websites and online course catalogs. Institutions must also empower students to identify and match the skill sets of their course programs and what they can expect to achieve upon completion of courses and programs. This essential data gives them increased confidence that their study program is truly helping the student prepare for and contribute to their future career.