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Can Community Colleges Survive the Pandemic?

There is no shortage of adjectives to describe 2020 and 2021: catastrophic, heart-wrenching, impossible, irritating, devastating. Whether we are applying it to our own personal experiences or to the broader world around us, no one can dispute that the COVID pandemic has created an environment of change and disruption.

This has been felt profoundly throughout our educational system. Schools have had to reinvent how they operate, and nowhere has this been more disruptive than in the community colleges space. While COVID has created headaches and difficulties throughout the higher education landscape, community colleges have experienced the brunt of the COVID-related fallout.

Why?

Colleges and universities had already been experiencing issues related to the cost of higher education and the student loan crisis. Schools have seen costs explode while revenues decline. In addition to the significant investments schools have made to transition to online learning environments — from training, course development, and technology improvements — they have also had to invest in infrastructure improvements to address other COVID-related issues (more space for in-person education, air filtration systems, etc.).

All this is occurring while many current and prospective students are questioning the value of higher education. Many have opted to delay a return to school until after the pandemic. Some question the cost relative to their online learning experiences. Schools have lost additional revenue as many students have not returned to on-campus living, sporting and other events have been canceled, state and federal funding may not be available, and alumni have not contributed as generously as in the past.

This list does not even touch on the additional COVID fallout — anxiety, vaccine availability, variants, etc.

So why has this hit the community college sector harder?

Unlike other economic downturns where community colleges have seen their enrollment numbers climb, the COVID pandemic has produced the opposite result. Community colleges have seen enrollment and retention numbers take a significant hit compared to other higher education institutions, especially for first-year students, where they see a nearly 20% drop.

Students at community colleges have also reported greater barriers to enroll and stay in school:

  • Job uncertainty — Many students rely on income from full- or part-time jobs that either disappeared or were severely hampered during the pandemic.
  • Family demands — This was especially difficult during the stay-at-home order when students found it disruptive to take online classes while also balancing family/childcare responsibilities.
  • Technology hurdles — Many students reported limited or no access to the technology required to complete online learning. Reliable broadband technology, as well as access to a computer or tablet, was a significant barrier to the new normal.
  • Limited emotional connection — Community colleges have historically had a more difficult time creating a sense of camaraderie and engagement compared to other colleges and universities. The transition to online learning has only exacerbated this sense of disconnect.
Will they be able to recover? Yes.

The answer is data. Community colleges are sitting on a patchwork of information that can be harnessed to help them answer key questions and pivot to meet challenges more effectively. Whether it be diving into enrollment metrics to help them improve existing programs or identify new opportunities; working with faculty and students to proactively seek out students that are struggling and develop programs to improve retention; or better forecasting for budget needs, especially when revenue targets and funding sources are shifting — this can all be addressed

by collecting and mining the data within these colleges.

And that is what we at Datatelligent can help with. We have partnered with colleges and universities throughout the country to develop data solutions to help them use their data to navigate these difficult times.

To learn more about our work with community colleges, visit: datatelligent.ai

by Steve Wightkin, Chief Operating Officer, Datatelligent

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What Does It Mean to Be Data-Driven?

Using data to drive decisions, being data-savvy, harnessing the power of your data…all of these buzz words get bandied about during meetings, at conferences, in the trades, and online, but what does it really mean? How do you even know if you are a data-driven organization?

At Datatelligent, and throughout my extensive career in data analytics, I see becoming a data-driven organization as an iterative process. Think of it as a continuum. While it might seem overwhelming to assess and implement the organizational changes required to be in the data-driven zone, it’s more realistic and manageable to break the evolution into steps.

Step 1: Data Aware

You first need to recognize that your organization has disconnected information — nearly every entity does. For those companies just beginning their journey, these pieces of data may be tracked using manual, non-standard reports. And decisions rarely are made using the available data.

Step 2: Data Proficient

Your organization is tracking and collecting data using standardized reporting tools or reporting platforms, but the information may not be shared collectively. The data may not be well utilized for decision-making or planning.

Step 3: Data Savvy

You’re getting there. Your company tracks and uses data to make some business decisions, but the information may be trapped in silos between groups/departments, and the methodology to collect and report data may be inconsistent.

Step 4: Data-Driven

You’ve arrived at the pinnacle! Your organization uses data-first thinking from the start. All people and processes are in sync for data collection, tracking, and utilization. And data analysis is embedded into your decision-making practices.

So How Do You Get There?

It’s essential to look at the big, broad picture for your organization first — try to establish a high-level plan that is connected to your institution’s mission. This will help ensure that the data you mine is connected to achieving the results that matter to your stakeholders. What data will help you reach your business goals? Do an honest assessment of where your organization is in its analytics maturity (as per the steps above). Do you need to make any changes/adjustments to get started?

Next, invest what you can and adopt an iterative approach. This is more cost-effective than tackling an enterprise-wide solution, and it allows you to focus on projects that bring immediate value and smaller wins. Snowball this and add on as you build confidence and support throughout the organization.

Lastly, it’s essential to establish a unified approach. Develop a unified data platform to be rolled out across all parts of the organization. Bring together stakeholders to set the tone of collaboration and resist the temptation to silo information. And empower staff to access the data and tools in order to make decision-making a data-driven exercise. Invest in consistency, connection, and training.

To learn more about how Datatelligent has helped companies large and small, as well as colleges and universities, become data-driven, visit datatelligent.ai.

By Larry Blackburn, Chief Solutions Officer, Datatelligent