Community Colleges Point Toward New Directions in Digital Innovation

Community Colleges Point Toward New Directions in Digital Innovation

Educating roughly half of undergraduate students in America, community colleges are at a crossroads. Access and affordability are under a magnifying glass, as are concerns related to engagement and outcomes.

But change is afoot. To help you navigate an evolving—and often inspiring—landscape, we’ve put together this guide exploring digital innovation and how it’s impacting both students’ experiences and their educational outcomes.

Technology abounds on community colleges campuses, of course, helping to keep students enrolled while reducing tuition and other fees. Digital textbooks deliver content to students who’ve grown up in interactive environments, while tech-friendly classrooms and state-of-the-art fab labs weave innovation into physical spaces. With increasing numbers of courses available online, we show you what’s offered where. We’ve also got an overview of technologies that target specific student needs, including tools addressing early warning systems, ELL, and virtual reality.

But innovation comes in many forms—not just tech. An explosion of partnerships is helping schools fill gaps and expand services. States such as California are better connecting their community college networks, sharing both courses and student data. Increasing numbers of two-year programs are teaming up with four-year universities to better prepare students; we spotlight a handful of forward thinking initiatives. Companies, too, are working with students to create employment pathways and ensure future hires have the skills they’ll need in the workforce. Even middle and high schools are in the mix, working with associate degree-granting institutions to help reduce the eventual need for remedial courses.

Looking at the big picture, we dig into recent enrollment trends, and the challenges and opportunities driving them. We also explore free tuition programs, data-informed decision making, and community college as the American dream. We'll continue to report on new angles, so please check back frequently. And make sure to scroll all the way down this page; we've included an assortment of visual aids!

For their part, community college administrators are very clear about what they want to see on the path ahead: innovation aimed at their specific needs—whether it’s tools for remote learners, assistance in navigating tech solutions, or help with on-site implementation. Now that sounds like a roadmap.

Mary Hossfeld—Guide Editor

Tools and Tech

Partnerships in All Directions

Equity, Access and the Big Picture

Higher Ed in the Job Market

Full size image here. More infograms here. Data source here. Infogram by Sydney Johnson.

Student Engagement

Full size image here. More info here. Graph by VitalSource.

Where Do Distance Learners Go to School?

On the map below, blue circles represent community colleges where students took at least one distance learning course in 2015. The bigger the dot, the more distance learners enrolled. The largest circle on the map belongs to Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, IN, with 37,791 distance learners. The smallest—barely visible on the Canadian border—is Rainy River Community College in International Falls, MN with nine distance students. The Houston, TX area's neighboring Houston Community College and Lone Star College System together boast more than 40,000 students. And a whopping 20 Los Angeles County, CA community colleges account for a combined 66,000-plus distance learners.

Full size image here. Source: 2015 Survey of Online Learning; StudyPortals and Babson Survey Research Group.

Four-Year Partner Programs

These innovative programs show how community colleges and four-year universities are working together beyond agreements on paper.

Program What It Offers 4-Year Partners Perks
Chicago Star Partnership Provides scholarships to Chicago Public School graduates who complete an associate’s degree at City Colleges of Chicago 15 public and private Illinois colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago and Northwestern University Locked-in degree requirements and an assigned advisor at DePaul University
MESA Community College Program Increases the number of historically underrepresented students who transfer from six Washington community colleges and earn STEM bachelor’s degrees University of Washington and Washington State University Access to a study center, advisors and professional development opportunities
Link to FAU Program Guarantees admission to students who complete their associate’s degree at one of four Florida community colleges Florida Atlantic University Academic advising and tuition waiver opportunities
Transfer Admission Guarantee Guarantees admission to California community college students who meet certain requirements, including completing at least 30 transferable credits Six University of California campuses Online transfer planning tool
Commonwealth Commitment Guarantees admission and transfer of credits for Massachusetts community college students Massachusetts State University and UMass campuses Tuition rebate

Research by Marguerite McNeal.

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