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Meeting Students Where They Are — A New Cloud-Based Service Framework

A Q&A with Raúl Rodríguez

Today, students expect to conduct business with their college or university anytime, from anywhere, on their device of choice. And they've been weaned on services like Amazon, Google, and a host of other sites that make amazing search and related functions seem commonplace. Up until now, this kind of functionality hasn't been the easiest thing for a higher education institution to provide.

But a new offering from rSmart called OneCampus is helping campuses provide this type of service in the cloud. OneCampus is not an "app" itself, nor is it student services software in the sense of delivering the actual service. OneCampus simply provides access to existing campus services in a central location via an easy-to-use search functionality reminiscent of Google search, and it works with the gamut of existing smart devices that students rely on today.

CT talked with Raúl Rodríguez, chancellor of Rancho Santiago Community College District (RSCCD) in Orange County, California — the first institutional customer for the new campus services framework.

Mary Grush: rSmart announced that RSCCD is the first OneCampus customer. How did your institution get started with this?

Raúl Rodríguez: It's an honor to be the first, but there have been many others right there with us exploring this. We always have to be forward looking to try to meet the needs of our students, and when this opportunity came along it made perfect sense. Their dependence on smart devices and search engines keeps growing and growing. It's where our students live their day-to-day lives. Why wouldn't we want to do this?

There is a short video that Indiana University put together — they were the ones who developed the technology and blazed the trail initially. Given past relationships with IU through Kuali and other things, I certainly respect the work done there. When I saw the video, and what this technology could actually do, I realized that this is something our colleges needed.

We can't do it on our own, so it takes an rSmart to work with us to make it happen.

Grush: Is OneCampus really going to be an easy, quick way for your institution to offer this kind of functionality to your community?

Rodríguez: OneCampus is simple to use and easy to set up, but to answer your question, it really depends on what kind of programs you have behind it. Like anything else, some things will work well right out of the gate, but others will take more time. You can get many applications up and running pretty quickly, but for some of the major ones, there's more work we have to do behind the scenes [this is true at least for the initial cadre of implementors]. Things like registration, or paying enrollment fees and doing financial transactions through an app — these are things that are incredibly useful and worthwhile. But they tend to be harder and take a bit longer to implement. Still, it's exciting that we can jump to a new level of interaction with our students.

Grush: It sounds like you can take a modular approach, though, and get a few specific applications out there first.

Rodríguez: Yes, you could work for a week or two, and come out with several applications that are simple to implement and work right away. Others will take longer. So you're right, it is modular in effect.

Grush: Does part of your planning consider publishing issues like controlling the branding and look-and-feel?

Rodríguez: Yes. It can always be a problem if you get rouge or unauthorized logos and so forth out there for particular programs. Plus we have another layer of complexity here in California: We have a different problem than most other community college districts across the country in that our predominant model here is multi-college districts. So, we have a community college district with multiple colleges within that district, each with its own identity. That's different than, say, in Florida, where you have Miami Dade College, with several campuses, but they are all Miami Dade… just one college.

It's important for the colleges to have their own identity, and we want them to have their own branding and ability to differentiate themselves. But we don't want endless variations, and we want the branding to be consistent. We've been working with a branding consultant on that mixture.

I think we've done a pretty good job of reining these things in over time and controlling them at the district level… and we have people in place overseeing all this for the OneCampus project.

Grush: What are the advantages of OneCampus being cloud-based?

Rodríguez: When we first discussed OneCampus at our board of trustees meeting, our board was very concerned about security and about protecting any student information that might be out there. Once we explained the way the technology works in the cloud, with a lot of protections there to safeguard the integrity of the information, the board felt better about the process. It was a real selling point in the end that it is in the cloud. It's also less of a burden on our IT department, and the costs are really pretty reasonable.

Grush: Did you approach this project with cost savings as a goal?

Rodríguez: For us, we never fully implemented a student portal — it just never quite worked here at our district. So we see OneCampus as a way to leap frog the whole student portal thing, and come up with a new approach that is more in line with what our students want and what they are used to.

So, if you look at this from a cost-benefit ratio perspective, I think we are going to save money in the long run, but to me the bigger thing is that we are taking a giant leap forward in terms of technology. It's going to be something that our students are going to relate to much better than going to a Web site and looking through a student portal. I'm not as concerned about the money as whether students are going to use it, and whether it will make it easy for them to transact the business they need to do with us.

Grush: Looking a bit further into the future, are there particular new campus services you're looking forward to opening up with OneCampus?

Rodríguez: The exciting thing for me is, now that KualiCo is moving forward to accelerate its development, [its software] could work very well with the OneCampus technology framework and modular approach. There could be a real synchronicity between OneCampus technology and the Kuali Student system, Kuali Finance, and other open source applications.

Grush: What would you tell other institutions that want to look into OneCampus?

Rodríguez: Look at the video from IU, and get a demo

Grush: Is this technology a particularly good fit for community colleges? Will there be a lot of adoption interest there?

Rodríguez: I hope my colleagues see the benefit in this. I've talked to a few other community college chancellors and presidents, and I think there is potentially tremendous interest out there. Again, why wouldn't there be? Our students live on their smart phones and related devices… This is the day-to-day reality of our students, and we should meet them where they are.

[Editor's note: This week rSmart offered the first in a series of webinars on OneCampus. You can view the recording here. CT recently ran a related article here.]

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