As part of the student-success agenda, community colleges are rethinking how they support their students. Many colleges are using new technologies — sometimes referred to as integrated planning and advising services (IPAS) — to improve advising and counseling.
In our latest publication, Using Technology to Reform Advising: Insights from Colleges, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, examines the ways colleges adopt, implement and use IPAS in order to improve advising and student support.
We have learned from colleges that the value of IPAS extends well beyond the straightforward functionality it provides. Ideally, it motivates a college to rethink its advising system altogether, including the way advisers do their jobs, and it encourages and enables large-scale and fundamental reform.
Most colleges are in the early stages of their reform processes. Nonetheless, we have learned a lot about the complex process required to fully leverage IPAS technologies in order to create deep and meaningful changes in students’ experiences and outcomes. Here are three of our key findings:
1. Implementation is about more than technology.
While IPAS is based on a technology platform, adoption is not simply a matter of training staff members to use the software application or checking for compatibility with other programs. Rather, colleges in our study found that they spent more time addressing underlying processes and procedures. For example, confusing degree requirements made it difficult to use a program-planning tool. Moreover, new technologies must be used by actual people — and colleges in our study found that, often, college personnel were unpleasantly surprised by the changes in functionality stemming from new IPAS tools. Colleges that took the time to understand end-user processes and needs from the outset were more successful in ensuring end-user buy-in later on.
2. Strong leadership and good project management make the difference.
Our study found that the way project teams were constructed and how the project was led had substantial impact on the success of the reform. We identified three critical roles on project teams; importantly, these roles were not necessarily based on formal job title or department. Successful teams included the following:
- Content masters (such as IT personnel and end users), who helped shape the project for successful implementation
- Influencers, who were trusted sources of information who could help others gain confidence in the project
- Decision-makers, who had the power to move the work forward
Successful colleges also had multiple project leaders — an institutional leader, such as a president, who could lend gravitas to the project; and a strong project leader, who could move the day-to-day work.
3. IPAS-ready culture supports success.
End users need to understand how reforms will support student success. We found that when colleges were clear about why they were engaging in a reform and communicated about it openly and frequently with members of the college community, there was greater buy-in and openness to change. Colleges that approached IPAS as a process, for example by “backwards designing” the reform in order to envision what the reform would look like when complete, were able to build support for their efforts and help end users change their behaviors in ways that were likely to improve student outcomes.
IPAS is a tool that community colleges can leverage for a much larger cultural transformation. The conversations and care that are required for successful adoption lead to bigger questions about process, roles and student outcomes. When approached with forethought and attention to the end user, institutions are more likely to find success.