When Victoria Rosario was tasked with developing new initiatives to help more students graduate from Los Rios Community College District, she knew she’d need to use technology to scale solutions across diverse teams. Rosario, associate vice chancellor at Los Rios, drew from her Ph.D. dissertation research on “Generational Differences in Technology Adoption in Community Colleges.”
The Los Rios Community College District is the second-largest in California, consisting of four colleges and six education centers with more than 77,000 students in the greater Sacramento region. Implementing any system-wide changes is a feat, and getting faculty and administrators of all ages on board requires extra consideration and tact.
Rosario facilitated the development of a successful district-wide initiative called “Los Rios Steps to Success” that required putting together six cross-functional work groups consisting of multi-generational staff, faculty and administrators from the Los Rios district office and the four colleges. Launched in February 2014, Steps to Success is a combination of five digital technologies and face-to-face components (for assessment testing at the four campuses) that Los Rios students now use in order to apply, complete online orientation, complete assessments, create an education plan and register.
Steps to Success was an answer to the California’s Student Success Act of 2012, the state legislature’s mandate for all the California community colleges to “restructure the way student supports services are delivered to improve assistance that students receive at the beginning of their experience.” The bill specifically addressed enhancing existing resources to support student orientation, assessment and education planning services.
How is Steps to Success working so far? For the four Los Rios Colleges in the 2014-15 academic year, 30,129 individuals completed the online orientation; 32,649 completed the assessment process; and 65,486 completed an electronic education plan. For the current academic year 2015/16 (July 1, 2015 through April 30, 2016—2 months less than a full reporting year), 24,642 students completed the online orientation; 22,582 completed an assessment process; and 67,592 completed an electronic education plan.
Rosario says that Steps to Success gives the four colleges better data to coordinate their student services. “Over the past year we have continued to work on our data capturing and programming logic, and, as a result our numbers are increasingly more accurate,” she says. “We learned that some interfaces with campus systems were not fully implemented and therefore data was not being captured accurately through the SARS [an integrated software system that captures student appointment data] upload process. With those corrections, more data on services rendered have been captured and more accurately reflect the number of students who have received, for example, education planning services.”
Calling All Ages
Rosario notes that in addition to Steps to Success, Los Rios has implemented several other edtech-oriented initiatives, including degree audit advisement services, the automation of electronic disbursements for financial aid, and early academic alert programs to help improve student retention.
The new programs require faculty and staff of all ages to learn new technologies and processes. “All these changes really push people to their limits. Not only are they doing what they need to do with paper and pencil, but now they have to learn new skills for these new technologies,” Rosario says. “This is a burden for people who have been in the organization for a while [baby boomers, in particular] and I think it is our challenge as leaders to bring these people along and not leave them behind.”
Rosario studied—and proposed advice on ways to tackle—generational differences in technology adoption in her dissertation, which she completed at Drexel University in 2012. In her research, she gathered perceptions and expectations concerning the utilization of technology and reviewed any evidence of generational differences between various community college professionals and students. She surveyed a total of 442 individuals: 186 students, 199 faculty members, 28 administrators and 29 IT staff. Thirty-five percent of the respondents were boomers, 37 percent were Generation X, and 24 percent were millennials.
Overall, Rosario has put into practice at Los Rios what she discovered through her dissertation research:
The conclusions drawn encourage a focus on professional development for baby boomers, allowing for the cross fertilization of input from millennials and Gen X and consideration of succession planning in terms of how inputs to an organization will change as younger generations take on positions of leadership, engage in strategic planning, and make decisions. . . By leveraging the leadership potential of members across all generational cohorts, community college leaders create a unique and engaging learning environment that has relevance for its employees and the students they serve.
“The perception of what a technological innovation is to a boomer is not an innovation to a millennial or Gen Xer,” Rosario says. “So, how do we shift our lens so that we become more comfortable with such change? I think it is a matter of exposure, repetition, building it into our routine, so that it does become something that we are familiar with. Innovations, when they are new, are novel and confusing. They do not always work initially, so you have people who are on the fringe disparaging the innovation for years until they become routine and just part of our everyday occurrences.”
She points to several years back when she facilitated the adoption of a new degree audit tool for academic advisement. When it was first rolled out, the audit tool required a lot of data entry. Starting with an initial baseline catalogue year during its early stages created a relatively short period of time in which the tool was not immediately fully comprehensive. Senior counselors came to the conclusion that the tool did not work.
“Over time, of course, more data got entered and it became a very rich database,” Rosario explains. “But there were counselors who never turned it back on.” A newly hired millennial counselor, however, became excited about using the new audit tool and saw how beneficial it was when advising students. “He got very good at using it; he found short cuts. We now have him going to each of the four colleges doing demonstrations to his peers and senior colleagues on how to use the audit tool. That is what we encourage: peer-to-peer contact.
“That is the kind of energy and passion that we need to jump on, and leverage,” Rosario continues, adding that some employees “get stressed out and then opt out” when the adoption of new technologies is absolutely necessary. Some may be near retirement, for example, and feel apprehensive about change. “So, what do we do?” Rosario asks. “We work with the people—mostly millennials and Gen Xers—who really want to learn new technologies, and we get them to clearly see its value and usefulness, and then we have them do the training and presentations. We call them uber users or super users. We, as managers, need to capitalize on that energy and that enthusiasm to expand adoption. It is critical to our success.”