I spent the early part of the week in Indiana and Maryland…aside from the excitement of seeing the new Indianapolis airport (when you travel as much as I do these things are really important) I was again reminded of the holistic focus, pragmatic approach, and speed of execution of our community college and for-profit institutions. Those who know me recognize the affection I have for these institutions because of their importance, passion and relevance, but I was also impressed by the end-to-end “learner workflow” mapping that is inherent to their operations. With purity of focus, they help students improve their lives and thrive in the 21st century workforce. With freedom from department by department decision making, for-profit and community colleges can move quickly and make a direct and measurable impact on student outcomes. As all schools and universities struggle to respond to tightening budgets WHILE enhancing services and workforce readiness of students…the examples and best practices of non-traditional education may help inspire and provide an innovative roadmap.

Some of the key elements of the community college/for-profit approach that map to broader education trends I witness across the US include:

  • Curricula, offerings and programs are mapped to local workforce needs.
  • There is a strong sense of community and public/private resource usage creates a sense of inclusion.
  • End to end student care is a reality…from the first website visit to the first job…community colleges monitor student experience, apply rigorous analytics to improve services, and execute triggers to identify and rescue students at risk.
  • They insist on connected systems and tools – community colleges don’t have the luxury of supporting endless platforms, yet they’ve managed to come up with innovative ways to think broadly about how everything works together and is centrally and easily supported.
  • Because of the broad populations they serve, community colleges have to address access and equity. Their creativity drives new models of tuition affordability and access to technology.
  • 21st century learning outcomes are embedded into core curriculum and assessment…students don’t wait till graduation to “enter the real world.”
  • Total cost of ownership, return on investment, and speed of deployment…the language of business is embraced by these institutions and creates urgency and efficiency.

Many of the above elements are being explored and even mastered by institutions both in the US and worldwide. However, as you seek to identify ways to link assessment to collaboration, classroom, and curriculum, reduce costs, and address 21st century skills gaps, be sure to add community colleges and non-profit institutions to your best practice investigation.  Chances are you’ll find they have end-to-end plans in place to improve student learning and institution health that deliver on the promise of technology, and chances are they’ll also be happy to share lessons learned.