Technology is changing higher education

Published 9:30 am Friday, February 20, 2015

Change, as the old saying goes, is the only constant in today’s world. Many of the day-to-day things we do are different than just a few years ago including how we communicate, rent movies and even access our bank accounts. Technology is driving that and it is changing higher education too, and not just through more online classes. Our operations are evolving to achieve more while costing less.

Better student service is the focus of this work, and it is happening at all of Virginia’s 23 community colleges. Students themselves rarely see these processes. Let me give you a few examples.

• Paul D. Camp Community College (PDCCC) is among nine community colleges sharing in a financial aid processing partnership led by Tidewater Community College that aims to serve more students faster.

• PDCCC is among five community colleges saving money by sharing technology services, including strategic planning, security protocols, and a Chief Information Officer (CIO).

• Several VCCS colleges share various business office functions including purchasing (PDCCC does this with Thomas Nelson Community College), payroll, workforce development operating models and, in a few instances, even positions. We can now combine accounting and business functions across colleges and centralize these functions to be more efficient yielding lower costs.

We will continue to enact strategies like this when they allow us to lower operating costs and better serve students across our existing 23 colleges and 40 campuses. PDCCC is already benefitting from these actions.

We have hired Success Coaches to work with students who are at-risk of dropping out of college, often for personal or financial reasons, not academic performance. These Success Coaches bring community and college resources to the students, helping them to stay in college.

We are adding more full time High School Career Coaches to our ranks. These men and women work in local high schools helping students, and their parents, answer the question, “What’s next after high school?” We have established a Career Development Center with job placement and Adult Career Coaches to help individuals with resume writing, internships, job interviews and other services that position them to advance their careers.

These reforms are allowing us to focus the PDCCC staff on providing a high-level support for students. The technology also allows us to offer new and exciting educational opportunities by the community colleges working together. For example, 20 VCCS colleges share distance learning courses with Northern Virginia Community College. Northern Virginia hires the faculty and teaches the courses online. This allows the colleges to offer classes that they could never afford to offer on their own like Introduction to Chinese, Biomedical Ethics and a whole range of specialty courses.

We are opening the Franklin PDCCC Library seven days a week thanks to the cost savings from combining our libraries and digital resources. Another new exciting development from the 23 colleges working together is coming this fall, a 24/7 call center to answer a student’s questions about their award status regarding federal, state or local financial aid.

Change will continue as we seek ways to improve. Each of the 23 Virginia community colleges operates in a service region defined by the Code of Virginia through the State Board for Community Colleges and each college works to serve its unique community needs. Technology will allow us to do more of that by collaborating on the tasks that don’t require a unique touch — a responsible concession to a changing world.

Thank you for your support of our PDCCC mission: to provide diverse learning opportunities to enhance the quality of life for students and the community. That mission, I am glad to report, has not changed!

Dr. Paul Wm. Conco is president of Paul D. Camp Community College. He can be contacted at either 569-6712 or