g i r f t y

College Course Exchange Aims to Help Students Finish Faster

CA Community Colleges, CSU
REGIONS: California


Tackling the challenge of how to set up secure and accurate data sharing among all 114 California Community Colleges is no easy feat. “It’s the largest system of higher education in North America in terms of student population,” said Jane Linder, product manager at the CCC Technology Center. “That’s huge data.”

Expanded data management across campuses statewide is necessary to facilitate the Online Education Initiative’s Course Exchange, which enables students at one campus to take classes online at another if those courses aren’t available on their home turf. Course Exchange gives the state’s 2.5 million students who attend CCCs each year access to more than 10,000 online, transfer-level courses at any California State University (CSU) or any of the CCC campuses. The CCC system operates on CENIC’s California Research and Education Network (CalREN).


Increasing Access to Classes

Course Exchange will help address California Community Colleges’ capacity problems and improve graduation rates by increasing access to and success in high-quality online courses. Students — no matter where they live — can apply, enroll, and take classes online at any campus in system. Online counseling services provide students with a clear roadmap to graduation.

Just a few years ago, budget cuts to the CCC system meant fewer students could enroll and roughly 600,000 prospective students were turned away. And thousands of enrolled students were shut out of required classes because of high demand and so students had to wait another semester to register.

Students also have few resources to direct them to the classes they need to graduate — the average student-to-counselor ratio is 611 to 1. Discouraged by a lack of progress, students simply leave. About half of CCC students finish in six years, according to recent data from the Student Success Scorecard, because many students juggling work, childcare, and other responsibilities, attend part-time and gradually accumulate credits. Making courses available online will remove a main obstacle for course completion.

Data management innovations are part of the CCC Board of Governor’s 2017 Vision for Success. The document lays out goals ranging from degree completion to the ease with which students can access the courses they need. Many of the goals are shaped around the $150 million Guided Pathways initiative, which helps colleges use data systems and software to design a course taking roadmap for students.

Conducting Pilot Release

As the nation’s largest formal course exchange to date, the CCC project is a massive technical undertaking. The Online Education Initiative includes common systems for student identification and sign-on, applications, learning management, and student information systems for sharing. CCC Tech Center engineers teamed up with engineers from Unite, a technology pioneer with patents in master data management (MDM), to build an integrated framework for Course Exchange.

The Tech Center is conducting a limited pilot release of MDM with MyPath. Aligned with the Guided Pathways online counseling initiative, MyPath provides personalized guidance and reminders to help students make an education plan and register for classes. Students will notice no change in the way MyPath works during the pilot. “Initially, this is all happening in the background,” Linder said.

MDM will keep all data across campuses in sync and current. For example, if a student updates their email address or phone number in one screen, MDM ensures all other programs have accurate, real-time information.

“We had been doing manual work to bring in student profile data, from CCCApply, from OpenCCC, to build that picture of the student, so that colleges could do onboarding with them,” said Mike Caruso, CCC MyPath product manager. “MDM will replace some of that infrastructure and handle some of the movement of that data automatically.” Eventually, all CCC programs will be integrated with MDM, including micro-services for students such as career and program exploration; data models for courses, terms, sections, and enrollments; and administrative tools such as the ability to monitor what classes students are taking and where. Mobile platforms will also be integrated to optimize the user experience for phone, tablet, or computer.

MDM uses a federated database system, rather than a centralized database system, which enables individual campus databases to function as a single entity but maintains campus’s autonomy and ownership over their own systems. “Master data management tracks what is the system of record, and then it can tell the sources interested in that data where they go to get the latest piece of that data,” Linder said. Data governance tools have been developed to enable colleges to manage and restrict their own data, and those tools will be deployed once a successful integration has been established.

Focusing on Success

The pilot test of MDM with MyPath is scheduled to be completed this winter, and Tech Center officials will continue to enable other systems and programs with MDM. The Tech Center is taking a “crawl, walk, run approach” to the integration, and is now in the “crawl” stage. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re working in data management best practices and to ensure data fidelity, accuracy, timeliness, privacy, and security,” Linder said.

This path-breaking work will support California’s economic future with workforce training and will be a model for others to emulate. “All of this is about student success,” Linder said. “We want to make a holistic, 360-degree view available so the student knows everything that’s going on at their various colleges and systems, and also so faculty and staff are empowered to keep the student on a successful path.”