Creating a One-College Student Experience Across Four Campuses
“We’re building a culture on campus with Presence. We’re changing how students get information, how they learn about things happening around campus, and we want to drive that.”
For many community college students, the “student experience” means they park their car, they go to class, they get back in their car, they get on with their day (or night) — school is just one component of their busy lives.
It’s a problem that community colleges across the United States are familiar with: When the vast majority — or all — of your students are commuters, how do you convince them that there is value in staying on campus for programs? How do you do that when those same students also have off-campus jobs and responsibilities?
According to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (2011-2012), 69% of community college students work while they’re in school, and 33% work more than 35 hours each week.
For Harford, those two facts were compounded by their geography. Harford Community College is located in a rural/suburban area of Maryland, which means that public transportation options — which their students rely upon heavily — aren’t as abundant as you might find in large cities or metro areas.
“A lot of our programs are centered around the public transportation system. You can’t start a program too early in the morning, because that could mean students leaving their homes at 5 a.m.” — Jo Chase
Harford’s team knew that if they were going to engage students, they were going to have to build programs that were compelling and valuable and that met students where and when they could show up.
Goal #3 on Harford Community College’s 2013-2017 strategic plan is to “develop resources and infrastructure required to meet future challenges.” One strategy they identified for this was to “identify and invest in technology that will increasingly support student success and employee productivity.”
“Our students are coming to us as digital natives. If we don’t create systems around tools that they’ll use and understand, then we’re not going to thrive in the way that we could.” — Beth Mosser
Presence was one of the tools that Harford turned to in order to meet this goal. Rather than requiring Harford’s students to adapt to fit the college, the college integrated a tool that fit how students already obtained information.
Harford was able to combine knowledge of the public transit schedule with Presence’s data insights, showing their Student Life staff the best days, times, and spaces to host programs for their students. Additionally, Presence’s simple interface and mobile app makes it easy for students to learn about what’s happening on campus, even if their route doesn’t take them past the Student Center.
“Presence shows students anything and everything they could need to know about engaging on campus. That could be volunteer opportunities, athletic events, visits from four-year colleges on campus, or anything else that’s happening.” — Jo Chase
Having access to real-time data has also been exciting for the team at Harford — it allows them to know in the moment who is and isn’t attending programs. Student leaders have been excited about this new data accessibility, too. Beth Mosser, faculty advisor for Psyched Up!, shared that “Psyched Up!’s executive board loves to check the involvement data in real time to see how many students are showing up to their events.”
Harford Community College knew that for a tool to be successful in truly fostering student engagement in the long-term, it needed to work for both the staff using it and for the students who interface with it every day. Additionally, whatever technology tool Harford turned to, it would need to empower student leaders to be able to make informed decisions.
“I’m inspired when I see our student leaders naturally use Presence so that they can make better decisions based upon the data they have in front of them.” — Beth Mosser
Now that the Harford team has access to comprehensive involvement data, they are able to strategize to create a student experience that meets the specific needs of their students. Presence helps connect Harford’s students to their institution, which in turn connects them to their region and contributes to Harford’s local economic impact. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, Harford Community College alumni generated $381.6 million to Harford County’s economy.
In the future, Harford will look to expand the types of programming they offer to include experiential, reflection-driven learning more thoroughly with the support of Presence’s new co-curricular opportunities tools. Harford believes that their students should be active agents in the construction of their own knowledge. Beth Mosser alludes to that value, noting that “Presence is a tool for leadership development for our students. It helps them not only recruit new members, but also facilitate member knowledge.”
Harford Community College is using technology to redefine and strengthen community at a community college.
“Presence is a true student engagement software. It’s not online conversations, it’s sending them to a place where they can engage in person.” — Jo Chase