Tarrant County College
With technology moving at warp speed, it can be tough for institutions of higher education to keep pace so that students are equipped with cutting edge skills when they graduate. It can also be challenging to help students know their career options.
Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, finds a solution to both dilemmas in what the administration calls “stackable” education.
On top of providing two-year associates degrees, with the option of transferring to a four-year college or university, the community college offers certifications, such as Cisco Network Associate or PC Network Technician, as well as technical programs in specialties like welding, upholstery and engine analysis.
“It’s a challenge to stay in front of, let alone keep up with, technology that is being deployed today. So we are offering people continuous training in the workforce by keeping a very close eye on what the market needs,” says CIO Guhan Raghu. “That’s where Tarrant County College has the additional X-factor because those industry partnerships allow us to be very dynamic.”
On the backend, the IT department manages the technical needs of nearly 100,000 students. More recently, Raghu says his team is trying a more proactive approach by revamping the community college’s online presence and establishing new CRM software.
Virtual first impression
When Raghu accepted the CIO position in January 2017, he felt that getting people to see the value of Tarrant County College started with getting them to the community college’s website.
“The virtual front door is really where the introduction starts, and I felt that my focus had to be improving this onboarding experience so students, employers and business owners could understand exactly what we are doing [as a school] and understand where they fit in and how they can be trained through us,” he says.
Over the past seven months, Raghu and his team have collected and analyzed information on the community college’s programs and services in order to offer a more comprehensive mobile app and online presence that makes career paths and workforce training opportunities easy to consider, even providing information like salaries and future outlooks for different occupations.
This transparency will help students better visualize their career and corresponding academic or workforce training path before they arrive. Though a tall order, Raghu hopes a vibrant and dynamic student information system will improve the typical progression of higher education, and help people rethink what Tarrant County College is capable of providing.
“A lot of times people might refer to community college as the last line of defense, but from our perspective it is the smart choice for education, career training and retraining. Not everyone knows what they want to do with their lives when they finish K-12. Instead of condemning, why not see it as an opportunity to capitalize on what we offer?” he says.
Understanding the student lifecycle
Drawing on his experience in the corporate sector—prior to working at the college, he worked in several technology vice president roles at JP Morgan Chase and Cash America Pawn, a retail company that operates over 850 pawn shops in the U.S.—Raghu is helping Tarrant County College develop new CRM software.
“A lot of times people might refer to community college as the last line of defense, but from our perspective, it is the smart choice for education, career training and retraining.”
“People assume that CRM is just a tool, but it’s really a methodology for engaging students or constituents at different stages of the game,” Raghu says.
Before the IT department can begin writing the software or choosing an out-of-the-box solution, he explains, his department must assess the different phases of student life.
After months of analysis, Raghu and his team saw that Tarrant County College needed programs for four “stages.”
The first is the onboarding process, for which the college determined more reconnaissance and guidance was needed. The second stage was when students were enrolled and also needed a guiding hand; CRM methodologies can help them stay on track academically and finish on time.
Raghu has found that students often need as much assistance leaving the institution as they do upon entering. So the third stage is all about completion tracking, ensuring students have completed all their courses and determining what is needed for a four-year college transfer or for them to enter the workforce successfully.
The last stage is when students are graduated. For this, the IT department must find ways to stay connected with Tarrant County College alumni.
The more the IT department dives into the student experience, the more complicated and vast the community college’s needs seem, Raghu says. So even though the new CRM software is still in the early stages of analysis and development, he says Tarrant County College appreciates that his team is taking the time to find a solution that is guaranteed to last.
For his part, Raghu feels that his work improving the community college’s student information systems is helping to solve one of the biggest threats facing the economy.
“The more I deploy and the more I improve [at Tarrant], the more I feel that I am actually making a difference by addressing the growing lack of skilled labor in this country while positively impacting lives,” he says. “I can think of no better way to find fulfillment in my work than that.”
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