Mobile | Feature

Going Mobile Across an Entire Community College System

Community colleges are leveraging systemwide resources to better serve their students with mobile apps.

Charged with serving large numbers of students, many of whom are working, commuting or raising a family, community colleges are increasingly reliant on mobile technology to build connections between students and their campuses.

"It's essential to be able to reach students with systems that communicate on platforms that they are using," said Dave Fuhrmann, associate vice chancellor for California's Ventura County Community College District. "Most of our students no longer use e-mail as a primary form of communication," he added. "A mobile platform gives a college the ability to reach students where they will most likely receive and read the message, and potentially respond."

With three colleges and more than 30,000 students per semester, VCCCD attracts students from a wider age range than a four-year institution. "Also, they may come for reasons other than obtaining a degree," Fuhrmann explained, "such as learning new job skills, getting a certificate or lifelong learning."

VCCCD rolled out a mobile app from Dub Labs districtwide in January, and within two weeks had exceeded the 10,000-download mark. A key consideration was the ability to brand the app for each individual college while relying on the resources of the district as a whole. "The platform we chose has the ability to provide a single application for multiple colleges within our district," Fuhrmann explained. "Once a student selects their 'home' college, the application is branded for that school." The student can still, however, get information from the other two colleges through the application.

It's a similar story at the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, which is in the midst of a large-scale mobile transition based on its systemwide Banner student information system.

"We have 13 two-year institutions and more than 100,000 students in our statewide system," said Eric Setz, VP for enterprise services and information technologies at LCTCS. "We're trying to change the paradigm. When I was in college, I had to meet the college where the college lived in order to interact with it. It was not efficient, and it was not a good customer-centric approach. Now we're flipping the approach."

"One of the biggest drivers in this mobile initiative is the ability to brand ourselves, but at the same time to leverage our numbers," commented Thomas Lovince, assistant vice chancellor and chief information officer at Delgado Community College in New Orleans. "Because we're all on Banner, one integration point is possible. We won't have to build something separate for each school. It's one system, but each school is individually branded, and each school chooses its own time frame."

Delgado, the largest college in the system with 17,000 students, is now in the midst of rolling out its mobile implementation, while another school, Louisiana Delta in Monroe, is just starting the process. "The rest of the schools in our system will line up once the first schools implement," said Setz.

Delgado's mobile app (built on the Dub Labs platform) will be introduced in two phases, with the first phase due to launch in June. "We'll launch 21 functions initially," said Lovince, including admissions, registration, mid-term and final grades, bookstore, library, campus tours, buses, sports, bill pay, and social networks. In phase 2, which will launch in the fall, all of the functions will be available on one mobile app platform, including student transcripts, faculty assignments, grades and various staff features.

"By June, we'll have a mobile presence that we didn't have before," Lovince said. "We want to keep our identity because we're the presence on the ground in the community. When our counterparts go live, they'll decide how their platform will look, what features they'll use and add whatever is missing." All of the schools in the system are poised to go mobile, most likely within the next year.

What advice do the administrators at VCCCD and LCTCS have for other community colleges implementing a mobile app? "Take your time," Fuhrmann cautioned. "Look at different technologies, and spend a lot of time prioritizing. Have clear goals in mind. You're not launching an app; you're working with your online presence as a whole."

"Do your homework," advised Delgado. "Find a vendor specifically for higher ed, and check with peer institutions who have done something similar. Clearly define what your expectations are, and make sure that vendors can demonstrate that functionality, as well as give references you can validate." He added, "There's strength in numbers. With a combined effort, or a consortium to reduce costs, you can get a good price."

"Our strategy was to do one integration for all colleges, some fiscally able and some less fiscally able, with the same services and functions for all students," concluded Setz. "At the same time, we were aware that every college has its own unique objectives and challenges. We're enabling technologies by building the plumbing prerequisites. Now everybody can choose their mobile look and feel."

About the Author

Toni Fuhrman is a writer and creative consultant based in Los Angeles.

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