The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) recently hosted a special webinar featuring presentations from six partner colleges – Collin College, Georgia Southern University, Lansing Community College, Lone Star College, Sinclair Community College, and the University of North Texas – on recruiting, retaining, and completing students, especially underserved populations. This webinar was originally presented to the Convergence College Network (CCN), a collection of faculty and administrators from IT programs across 79 colleges in 30 states. You can view the recording here. Below are highlights of those presentations.
- Engage with local tech associations. Sinclair Community College has developed a relationship with the non-profit organization Technology First, helping sponsor events and host Technology First events on campus. This includes “Women 4 Technology” panels featuring local women IT executives and entrepreneurs, many of whom help place Sinclair students at internships. Many cities have similar technology outreach associations that may be interested in similarly partnering with local community colleges.
- Expand the potential pool of student prospects. Sinclair Community College uses shorter, stackable certificates to market both to degree-holders in the workforce looking to “retool” and to high school students who aren’t sure yet of their interest in IT and computer science. Sinclair’s also using these “stackables” to appeal to students across other college departments who understand the growing importance of IT and CS skills. An extra bonus is that many of those other departments have a higher proportion of female students. Similarly, the University of North Texas designs its degrees and certificates with an eye towards appealing to “fellow travelers” – people (either in school or in the workforce) who may be interested in IT and CS classes and skills, but don’t necessarily want to major in those disciplines.
- Foster campus community. Georgia Southern University hosts a meeting for female students every Friday morning in a computer lab. Free donuts and coffee are made available. While this forum can serve as a tutoring session, the students – many of whom are the only female in their STEM classes – also use the time to discuss interpersonal challenges. Those Friday meetings are considered a “safe space” to talk.
- Use your alumni. Georgia Southern University regularly invites female graduates working in the industry to come back to campus for panels and special events. Those alumni also help with mentoring. Obviously, this can greatly help inspire and motivate the current female students – especially those who were classmates and peers of the returning graduates.
- Consider where students might encounter barriers. Collin College considers ways to support the student through the eight-step “student life cycle” (engagement, recruitment, application and admission, orientation and enrollment, studentship, graduation, and alumni). For example, many students “get stuck” between admission and then enrolling and attending class. This means also considering who the students are. Are they first-generation college students, veterans, LGBTQ, working parents? “Imposter syndrome” can also be a big problem as students worry they don’t belong or can’t do the work. Think of students as icebergs – there’s more going on than you can see.
- Implement “early warning” systems. Lansing Community College employs a system for faculty to communicate directly with the academic success coaches if a student needs help. Those coaches can deliver persistent, proactive, and individualized mentoring and coaching. In the fall term, 2147 faculty alerts were sent for 1457 students. The majority of the concerns involved missing assignments, which likely led to time management and tutoring interventions, or low attendance, which often involves students not fully understanding the academic calendar or how to access online classes. This system has improved retention rates considerably. Learn more about Lansing’s coaches here.
- Get creative with recruiting efforts. Lone Star College has a trailer outfitted with 12 computer workstations that travels to special events. Advisors and faculty go with the trailer to answer questions and, if possible, enroll students on the spot. Lone Star has had particular success taking the trailer to high school football games, where staff and faculty can interact with prospective students and their parents. The college also hands out “rally towels” in the high school colors, but branded with the Lone Star logo. At the games, Lone Star often schedules session times – i.e. come back at 6:30pm to learn more about financial aid – for those who don’t want to watch the entire football game.