Colleges, universities, and community college systems are grappling with how best to plan, implement, and deliver artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to the maximum benefit of students, faculty, administration, and community stakeholders. As I interact with colleagues across the country, they all know it’s no longer a question of “if” but “how and when and to what end.”

While the needs of every institution are obviously going to vary based on size, student profile, public versus private, I would like to offer up some useful observations and takeaways based on our first steps in this AI journey at the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS).

About us: We’re the third-largest community college system in the United States, with 58 campus locations, more than 750,000 students, and more than 30,000 faculty and staff. The taxpayer investments in the system have been consistent, considerable, and continue to generate economic growth and development across North Carolina.

3 takeaways about our higher-ed AI projects

Takeaway 1: Start small and grow incrementally.

The best and most effective strategy won’t work unless you can show early successes. Provide your campus community with the roadmap and be clear what success looks like for every step. Here at NCCCS, that crucial low-hanging fruit is in organizing and mapping our knowledge.

Related: What will AI and robotics mean for higher education?

3 takeaways from North Carolina Community College System’s #AI projects

We have a tremendous amount of intellectual capital that’s dispersed, which is at risk both from a tech and a human perspective. To start with the latter, we look at the graying of our talented faculty population, what we call the Silver Tsunami, carrying around an incredible amount of wisdom and knowledge gained over the course of long careers; there’s a risk of that knowledge disappearing as they retire.

Then there’s our “Area 51” warehouse full of information and knowledge—from ceramic pots to videos to structured data to conference papers. We need to digitize, categorize, and curate all of these assets in a searchable form.

And speaking of institutional intelligence, we’re lucky to have an extremely skilled professional staff, without whom projects of this magnitude would be difficult to pull off.

We are in the midst of this process now and will soon be making our first presentation to faculty and staff. This is our starting place.

About the Author:

Jim Parker is chief information officer and senior vice president for technology solutions for the North Carolina Community College System.


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