New report identifies specific IT-enhanced characteristics of successful community colleges across the country.

tech-community-collegeAccording to a new report, a handful of community colleges across the U.S. are incorporating technology-based innovations that are revolutionizing access to postsecondary education for nontraditional students—and these best practices can be applied to a diverse number of institutions.

The report, “Community Colleges Online,” by Rachel Fishman, senior policy analyst with New America’s Education Policy Program, recognizes—like the Obama Administration—that the open access of community colleges is one of the country’s greatest postsecondary strengths, but also one of its greatest challenges.

“While community colleges provide access to higher education, they can perpetuate the barriers to success faced by [nontraditional] students who have lives outside the classroom that often interfere with academics,” writes Fishman.

For example, a “sad truth” noted in the report reveals that only about eight percent of part-time students in two-year associate degree programs manage to graduate within four years, due to what Fishman calls the “barriers” to success.

Generally speaking, these barriers are often caused by lack of online options for students, lack of credit transfer options, and lack of options for remediation.

“What [nontraditional] students need are more high-quality, flexible support services, courses, and credentials,” explains Fishman. “Information technology has the potential to support students through their degree path and increase the number of courses a student takes per semester, hastening time to degree.”

According to the report, a handful of community colleges in different states have implemented innovative strategies and technologies to eliminate barriers to degree completion success.

(Next page: 4 innovations from successful community colleges)

Fishman describes four distinct barriers to successful degree completion for nontraditional students enrolled in community colleges, as well as four ways to overcome those barriers. She then lists the community colleges that are implementing these innovations:

1. Barrier: Remediation

The report notes that 40 percent of undergrads at community colleges enroll in remedial coursework; but only 10 percent of first-year students who start off in remediation will graduate within three years.

Tech-enhanced solution: Individualized learning through a computer learning lab

Community College: Jackson State Community College (JSCC) in Tenn.

JSCC decided to overhaul its remedial math courses by adopting an “Emporium” model, where student are required to attend mandatory computer lab sessions using Pearson’s MyMathLab adaptive software. In 2008, before the remedial courses were redesigned, 41 percent of students earned passing grades in this coursework. By 2010, after the redesign, 54 percent of students earned a passing grade. The redesign has also reduced the cost per student by over 20 percent. Learn more here.

2. Barrier: Life events interrupting students’ class attendance

Tech-enhanced solution: Flexible, online course and program options

There are three modalities that can incorporate this solution, says the report: Hybrid, fully online, and competency-based.

Community College for hybrid: Frederick Community College (FCC) in Md.

FCC experienced enrollment growth during the Great Recession because adults were looking for the skills and credentials needed to compete in the workforce, explains the report. But as the economy recovered, enrollment flattened, except in hybrid and online courses, which the College says is due to the flexibility offered. Learn more about how FCC’s Director of Learning Technologies redesigned courses to go Hybrid. According to FCC, 80 percent of the students who begin in a hybrid course complete it, and the courses have an overall success rate (students with a grade of C or higher) of 80 to 90 percent.

Community College for fully online and credentialed: Rio Salado College in Ariz.

In 1996, Rio Salado became one of the first colleges—and the first community college—in the U.S. to move totally online, says the report. It developed its own LMS called RioLearn to administer and track its online education. Learn about Rio Salado’s best practices and how they became recognized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for helping retain students who are the most prone to dropping out of college.

Community College for competency-based: Kentucky’s Community and Technical College System (KCTCS)

KCTCS developed an online system called Learn on Demand (LoD) that allows students to access online programs through a single, streamlined website to begin, continue, and complete their online degree program, with little or no need to be physically present at any campus location. Learn more about the program here.

3. Barrier: Advisors overburdened or unavailable after-hours to help students who need scheduling flexibility

Tech-enhanced solution: Integrated planning and services

Community College: Sinclair Community College (SCC) in Ohio

With the help of federal grant money, SCC developed the Student Success Plan (SSP) in the early 2000s, says the report, which is a software suite “designed to support students through completion.” SSP is part of a broader movement by some institutions toward integrated planning and services (IPAS). The software helps advise, counsel, and provide web-based support to students. The year-to-year retention rate of active participants who use the software as part of the Pathways to Completion (PTC) program is 40 percent higher than similar students who are not in the PTC program. The average PTC minority students is over 50 percent points higher than non PTC students; and PTC students are also five times more likely to graduate within six years. Learn more.

4. Barrier: Starting all over upon transfer

Tech-enhanced solution: Articulated transfer pathways

Community Colleges: Those located in Florida

According to Fishman, Florida “has been at the forefront in having state policies that make it easy to transfer college credits.” All public colleges and universities within the state use a common course numbering system—English 101 at one campus will count for English 101 at another. “This has helped many of the state’s universities create articulation agreements that guarantee admission for students who have finished their associate degrees at local community colleges,” she explains. For example, the articulation agreement at the University of Central Florida (UCF) is known as DirectConnect and is a partnership with Eastern Florida State College, Lake Sumter State College, Seminole State College, and Valencia College. The agreement guarantees admission to UCF with an associate degree from one of the partner colleges. Learn more here.

For more information on the impact of tech innovations for postsecondary learning; specific college best practices; as well as suggestions for federal, state, and institutional policymakers, read the full report here.

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