Community colleges have an extremely difficult job trying to connect with students, given that so many drive to campus only to attend class and then return home or to work after the class concludes. In these cases, the only time a student interfaces with the college is during the 50 minutes in class. This leaves a very small window of time to "connect." How can colleges use technology to reach out to this increasingly demanding and diverse population?
Students who do not live on campus, work full time, are single parents with young children at home and have numerous responsibilities vying for their time--which describes many community college students--are less likely to become immersed in campus life. Students with these responsibilities are less likely to utilize professors' office hours, engage in campus activities and drive to campus to complete homework assignments in computer labs. In addition, students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are less likely to have a computer at home.
Only 35 percent of community college students own a computer, compared to 81 percent of students at private four-year institutions and 59 percent of students at public four-year institutions, according to a 2006 article in the EDUCAUSE Review. The percentage of Black and Hispanic students who have home Internet access is also reason for concern; only 37 percent of Black households and 40 percent of Hispanic households have Internet access, considerably lower than 61 percent of Whites, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's "A Nation Online: How Americans are Expanding Their Use of the Internet." While the gap remains, many colleges have developed strategies for using technology to help students become more effectively engaged with their institutions.
Fixing the Link: Strategies That Work
In order for students to feel more connected to the college campus and become more technology adept--not only required for the classroom, but also in the workplace--community colleges can integrate information technology strategically into students' college experiences. Assessing what contributes to this goal is an important component.
Here are two examples of how community colleges can fix the weak technological connectivity links that may impede student success.
Each year, South Texas College, in McAllen, with over 75 percent first-generation and 95 percent Hispanic students, reaches out to its community by hosting "Operation College Bound." The first such event, at Mission Consolidated Independent School District, encouraged all high school seniors in the district to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form and applications to attend South Texas College and The University of Texas, Pan-American. …