Spotlight Turns Onto U.S. Community Colleges

I suspect this is true: I am the very last blogger to write observations about the Community College circumstances in 2009. This is an amazing and truly dynamic situation. The extreme economic downturn has created a perfect storm for U.S. job losses, industry skill shifts, and realignment of government strategic priorities. So all of a sudden, it has become swimmingly popular to proclaim the unique benefits of our U.S. community college system. Everyone is awake.

"Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy?"

Here is a headline article in the mainstream press - Time magazine, July 20, 2009. Coming to your living room, live from Austin (TX) Community College. In the feature photograph, students assemble a wind-energy turbine. Retraining our workforce to "Green" jobs is as in-tune to today's national imperative strategy as it gets.

10 Reasons to Pick a Community College

Also, June 17, 2009: U.S. News and World Report. As with the article in Time, this mainstream media publication devoted its attention to educating the general readership about the benefits and unique opportunities offered by this nation's 2-year community and technical colleges. Reason #1 cited is "Affordability", followed by the "Convenience" factor, which allows mixing a work routine into college studies.

Ever feel like a sandwich?

While all the media attention, and the new government stimulus programs, is appreciated, our Community College presidents have been very aware of their unique "buffer" mission for some time. Theirs is a balancing act. Missions are assigned, but rarely funded in full. The readiness and quantity of incoming students is mostly beyond the control of a community college. Even the definition of student success varies over time, and across geographies. Now, superimpose the latest "Accountability" trends.

Well, every challenge is an opportunity

The April AACC conference in Phoenix was an energetic opportunity to focus on the unique role served by U.S. community and technical colleges, in the context of the extraordinary external circumstances at present. The current economic climate, the ARRA stimulus bill, student demand pressure, and the high level of tension for federal and state budgets, seemed to place all the top topics on an especially high pedestal this year. The Oracle team interacted with the general membership at AACC, and we spotted many opportunities for strategic IT contributions through advanced use of our enterprise software products.

There are undoubtedly dozens of important points of pain, representing potential opportunity for better application of information technology. Here is a digest of the recurring themes heard around AACC that seemed most important to Community College leaders.

Since Oracle is in the business of providing enterprise solutions, in support of business process improvement, it would seem that the AACC themes provide numerous high yield targets! We are fortunate to have a broad set of software products, including some interesting capabilities that can be applied across any brand of transaction system (e.g. Banner, Datatel, Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft). Suggestion: CC senior leaders should take advantage of this very timely opportunity. Ask Oracle representatives to meet with your key managers on campus to discuss your community college direction and needs on any of the above topics.

Innovation by Oracle's Community College Customers

Our Oracle Higher Education practice started a strategic emphasis program for our community college customers in early 2008 (guess we foresaw the large spotlight, right?). We are encouraging the cross-fertilization of innovation and successful business processes across this vital segment of our U.S. higher education customer base.

Did you know that the Higher Education User Group currently has 5 community college representatives on its Board of Directors?

  • Vicki Janowiak, Grand Rapids (MI) Community College

  • Paul Czarapata, Kentucky Community and Technical College System

  • Ellen Raue, Fox Valley (WI) Technical College

  • Doug Roberts, Kentucky Community and Technical College System

  • Traci Sickinger, Palomar College (CA)

Of course, we also need to recognize and salute former HEUG President, Joe Moreau, formerly of Miracosta College, now relocated to State University of New York (SUNY). How's the surf in Oswego, Joe?

The HEUG Board activities of these directors, and many current and previous members of the Product Advisory Groups (the PAGs), have all contributed to communication of user techniques, process improvement possibilities, and new enhancement requests. I personally believe that there is even more potential for the collaborative efforts of our community and technical college customer set. Oracle featured progressive steps by 3 of our CC customers in a recent press release:

  • Houston Community College - extensive student self-service including bill payment

  • Grand Rapids Community College - electronic recruitment starting with adjuncts

  • Cerritos College (CA) - online Student Center featuring shopping cart

When Karen Willett, Oracle Industry Marketing Director, and I met recently with Dr. Mary Spangler, Chancellor of Houston Community College, we experienced first-hand the exciting innovation that Time and U.S. News and World Report are writing about. HCC has more than 65,000 students, and is growing fast. HCC, a true innovator, has recently has a long-standing international partnership education program in Vietnam and is developing a new one with Brazil. In addition, they are providing similar services in Saudi Arabia and expect to be expanding into several other countries in the near future. Current student enrollment growth rate is 23% for international programs. HCC has invested in technological innovation for the classroom, using "M-Learning" via iPhones, Online Tutoring, and Faculty Readiness online. Houston's underserved student population has responded very favorably to Online Tutor, which is proving to mitigate the under-readiness situation. The working students in Houston are benefiting from a flexible enrollment program called "Ready When You Are", or "RWUR". Dr. Spangler presented these initiatives recently at a middle-eastern college symposium in Amman, Jordan. Sounds like if the U.S. wants to retain its leadership in 2-year education methods, we need to step it up!

If Oracle is going to be an effective enabler of so many of these innovations in education, then we will need to rely on the partner ecosystem to prepare the applications and technology infrastructure across the CC landscape. I would like to recognize Miracosta College, California (albeit San Diego Padre country) and Ciber consulting for the recent successful upgrade of all ERP and Campus Solutions to Oracle's PeopleSoft Enterprise 9.0 platform. Our California Community College customers form a great affinity group for sharing business processes and expertise about PeopleSoft. Hats off; but Go Dodgers.

Another bit of positive news for our concentration on Community Colleges: we have a brand new account relationship with Lone Star College System (formerly North Harris County College, Texas). Lone Star gathered current customer and product satisfaction data from a number of current HEUG members (thanks) before selecting Oracle-PeopleSoft. Flexibility and adaptability to meet rapidly changing needs was Lone Star's overall decision factor. We hope to capitalize on our new strategic initiative to share best practices. Lone Star presented some exciting new ideas in Student Services at AACC. They will utilize the latest Oracle-PeopleSoft products for ERP, Campus Solutions, Business Intelligence, and technology infrastructure. Oracle Consulting is the primary consulting services assistance provider. Welcome LoneStar! Read more in the news released Tuesday, August 11, 2009.

Community Colleges - A New 2009 Revelation?

Community college students have realized advantages like access, affordability for a long time. Certainly it is positive that the media surge around our current events provides increased and renewed attention on the role and the possibilities of our 2-year educational institutions.

By the way, El Camino College was the author's introduction to the world of Higher Education, Vietnam War era. Very affordable, convenient access, tough core course material, but only a wizard could figure a curriculum plan that would transfer to the 4-year university. That was before standards in Transfer Credit. Oh, we are still waiting for standards?

Our nation's education leaders may not have seen the economic collapse of Fall 2008 coming, but they did foresee the need and potential for systemic change. Earlier in 2008, during the presidential election campaign, 21 of these leaders prepared thought-provoking essays, which were published as a book:

Letters to the Next President: Strengthening America's Foundation in Higher Education,
Edited by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Gerald B. Kauvar; published by Korn/Ferry International

Community College potential yield was the subject of the essay by Dr. Spangler, "Community Colleges: the Relevant and Essential Link". She detailed many key areas and examples wherein socio-economic improvement could be gained by closer program and resource coordination between the workplace and community colleges. One example was workforce retraining, which requires more emphasis on traditional disciplines of science, engineering and math, citing collaboration in Michigan with the multi-disciplinary field of homeland security. A second collaboration noted was in Texas, with emphasis on Energy-related curricula, mapping to that region's petroleum industry. The subjects discussed in her essay and throughout the book are more valid and insightful today than when written. This is worth a good read, now in 2009!

From an Oracle standpoint, our Higher Education practice members and partners need to work more closely with our CC customers. We have a high potential, flexible platform for helping the community colleges in nimble design of the innovative educational curricula and programs. Oracle also has the world class planning, reporting and performance management tools to provide valuable information, insight to guide our CC leaders as they embark on all this change.


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