Growing enrollments, shrinking budgets and unprecedented diversity in student populations are just a few of the challenges community colleges around the country are facing today. And there are no signs that the situation will change anytime soon.
The American Association of Community Colleges estimates that U.S. enrollment in two-year colleges increased 17 percent from 2007 to 2009, from 6.8 million students to 8 million. Anecdotal evidence says this trend will continue.
During an economic downturn, community colleges feel an even greater strain with enrollment. People go back to school to learn new skills or get certificates or degrees that help their careers. Many must learn new jobs because their previous ones have gone away. While it’s good to have more students, the growth has been so rapid that it has put pressure on the institutions. How do they handle more students every semester? How do they grow despite less funding from federal, state and county governments?
“Because community colleges are growing so fast, and because they’re relatively new as institutions, they don’t have
the infrastructure that the big universities have. And yet they are being asked to do more,” said John Halpin, Vice President of SLED Strategy and Programs at the Center for Digital Education (CDE), a national research and advisory institute focused on IT
policy and best practices in education.
A New Course Community colleges now have a terrific opportunity to evolve thanks to technology, Halpin said. Numerous technologies — wireless, broadband, cloud computing and others — have greatly matured in recent years. They’ve been proven in the real world, and they’ve become more efficient and less expensive.
At community colleges, whether it’s for teaching and learning or for financial aid or other back-end systems, technology is making a huge impact on productivity. Students are learning in exciting new ways. E-mentoring, e-advising, online tutoring and even educational gaming are effectively engaging students and enhancing the educational experience. Professors are incorporating audio/video content to deliver learning in a manner that grabs the student’s interest. Schools are processing incoming students more efficiently and less expensively by putting administrative functions, such as application, orientation and registration, online.
Online learning, or e-learning, is booming. “Students value distance learning,” said Wilton Agatstein, Senior Fellow with the CDE. “It is very convenient for them, as they can learn from any place and at any time. Schools value distance learning because they can serve more students and a larger student demographic without having to build new classrooms and campuses. Distance learning serves everyone well, which is why its adoption is accelerating.”
Technology expectations are sky high. Students step onto campus expecting to incorporate their own communications tools — phones, music players, e-book readers, laptops/netbooks and other devices — into the learning experience. They want wireless access from any point on campus. And they want the ability to connect to school resources even when off campus.
Teachers and staff want the best technology too, because the right tools help everyone.