2009 Campus Technology Innovators: Online College Planning
- By Mary Grush, Matt Villano
SINCE THE VIRGINIA Education Wizard launched in mid-March, it has logged more than
100,000 visitors. The average user spends more than 6 minutes on the site and browses
more than 8 pages.
ONLINE COLLEGE PLANNING
Innovator: Virginia Community College System
VCCS created a one-stop online resource to help users
research career interests and drive them toward the
education resources needed to meet their goals.
At the 23-school Virginia Community College System, an
old cliché has proven true: Sometimes the best ideas are conceived
on the back of a napkin.
Back in 2006, Chancellor Glenn DuBois was discussing
one-stop travel sites like Expedia.com over drinks with the
CIO, and pondered why a similar planning tool couldn't
be created for navigating a path through postsecondary
education and on to careers. DuBois soon secured federal
funding to support the development of a tool dubbed the
Virginia Education Wizard, and hired Craig Herndon, director
of career and educational resources, to orchestrate the
Herndon began by conducting a needs analysis that identified
a strong need among students for information and tools
aimed at helping them pay for college, as well as a need
among college faculty and advisers for resources to help students
select and plan for careers. The analysis also noted that
students needed help transferring from community college to
four-year institutions, and lacked a one-stop web-based system
for finding and applying to local community colleges
Programming for the Virginia Education Wizard was tackled
by local software solution provider Chmura Economics & Analytics
as well as Virginia Community College System internal
information professionals Emilio Acevedo and Shinaya Seth.
Guidance on the development of the Wizard's functional content
areas was provided by task groups comprised of content
experts from across the state. And after extensive beta testing
with students, faculty, and advisers throughout Virginia,
the Wizard was completed in early 2009.
The Wizard brings together information to help students
select careers based on personal interests; determine majors;
compare costs of different higher education choices; apply to
any of Virginia's community colleges; and identify transfer
pathways from two-year to four-year schools. Specifically, the
tool links occupational information (i.e., user interests, local
salary, local occupation demand) with specific information on
related educational offerings of Virginia community colleges.
Then it helps students map the required curricula to help them
prepare for their desired career paths.
The site also helps students with financial concerns by
comparing the cost of attending colleges and universities
across the state,
aid award estimates,
and offering step-by-step instructions for completing
the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
At Adelphi University, machines
in the campus computer labs were
wasting 2,520,000 watts of power
every night, until software was
installed to automatically shut down
the computers at 11 pm. The school
now saves $9,000 of ‘found' money
each month, or $108,000 each year.
The Wizard presents all of this information through a virtual
assistant named Ginny, an avatar created with a product from
interactive digital character vendor CodeBaby. Two separate
avatars, Chris and Maria, host the FAFSA tutorial. Technologists
say they opted to incorporate these virtual narrators to make
the process even more user-friendly.
Monty Sullivan, VCCS's vice chancellor for academic services
and research, notes that to his knowledge, no tools on
the market replicate what the Wizard offers for Virginia higher
education students today. "It stands apart from college exploration
tools provided in other states in that no other site provides
the desired breadth and depth of dynamic
information specific to the region or locality of
the student," he says.
Though the tool is still relatively new, early indicators
signal a positive public response. Metrics
show there have been more than 100,000 visits
to the site since it launched in mid-March, and
that the average user spends more than six minutes
on the site and browses more than eight
pages. The tool also has gained strong attention
and praise from students, educators, and politicians
all over Virginia.
Moving forward, officials hope to expand the
Wizard beyond community colleges to become
the statewide portal for career and college planning.
The Virginia Community College System is
in the process of partnering with the State Council
of Higher Education for Virginia and the Virginia
Department of Education, to develop new
enhancements related to four-year schools and
provide individualized college planning for students
in grades seven through 12.
Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.
Matt Villano is senior contributing editor of this publication.