Skip to Content

3 Ways Community Colleges Are Using Technology for Student Success

By Scott Gutowski April 20, 2021

As we celebrate National Community College Month, we wanted to share highlights from a conversation with Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana’s statewide system, and Dallas College

Like many community and technical colleges, they are using technology to create a connected learner experience across individual campuses and system-wide. Here are three takeaways from our conversation.

Student learning virtually

Many community colleges are looking to adopt tools and techniques to help students succeed.

Commit to Technology That Supports Your Institution’s Mission

Ivy Tech serves over 150,000 learners, including dual credit students in high school and working adults who are looking for a better job. More than 40% of all students are people of color. “We have a really big role to make sure we provide equitable opportunities for all Hoosiers,” says Dr. Sue Ellspermann, president of Ivy Tech.

Two years ago, when Ivy Tech hired its current CIO to lead its technology initiatives, the first thing the team did was discuss the college’s mission, the learners’ needs, and a better way to understand and engage alumni and donors. It was clear that they needed to establish efficiencies in their technology to eliminate data silos. 

“We’re lucky to have a CIO who understands the power of that end-to-end experience,” says Dr. Ellspermann. “Our CIO and I decided a CRM platform needed to be one of our top priorities, enabling us to better serve our students, employers and communities. Every day, it’s reaffirmed that we needed this platform to push our mission forward.”

“The pandemic has shown how much we need [a platform] and exposed other areas of opportunity. As a leader, you need to be a cheerleader, an early adopter, and someone who moves barriers out of the way for others.”
– Dr. Sue Ellspermann, President, Ivy Tech Community College

While Ivy Tech continues on its CRM journey, Dr. Ellspermann offers advice to community college leaders. “To all of you leaders, presidents, chancellors, CIOs out there, you have to remain committed. It would have been very easy to say, ‘Let’s put it on hold during a pandemic, we are too busy.’ But we need it more than ever. As a leader, you need to be a cheerleader, an early adopter, and someone who moves barriers out of the way for others,” says Dr. Ellspermann.

Dr. Joe May, chancellor of Dallas College, says the college relies on the Salesforce platform to engage students and inform them about what their future could look like with a college education. The team at Dallas saw a crucial need to break down data silos and ensure the institution’s various campuses are unified.  

“The ability to admit, enroll, and support students has to be a collaborative effort,” says Dr. May. “We need to partner with K-12 schools and our staff to make this a reality. This is where the Salesforce platform has helped with that process. This alignment ultimately leads our students to jobs within our community.”

Use Technology to Unlock Operational Efficiency & Collaboration 

Dr. May says that Salesforce helped Dallas College gain operational efficiency, including saving staff crucial time with manual tasks. The ability to efficiently use and collaborate on learner data has been a big win. 

“Data is important but it isn’t much use if it isn’t actionable and doesn’t lead to us making opportunities available for students, to solving their problems, and to helping them be successful,” says Dr. May. “The Salesforce platform helps us be efficient with our data. We can create custom dashboards that show the 360-degree view of students, both incoming and enrolled. We make these dashboards available to our campus presidents, and high school principals so they can see what’s happening with their students. As a chancellor, these dashboards are vital for decision making.”

“Data is important but it isn’t much use if it isn’t actionable. The Salesforce platform helps us be efficient with our data, in helping our students be successful.” –Dr. Joe May, Chancellor, Dallas College


Use Cutting-Edge Technology to Develop Tangible Skills

Dr. Ellspermann says equipping Ivy Tech students with the tools needed to succeed in jobs is a top priority. “Our students have many challenges, and it’s not just about academic support, they need wraparound support, they need career support. We couldn’t do it with our old system. We knew we needed a more unified view of our students across all processes and the learner experience,” adds Dr. Ellspermann.

Ivy Tech Community College built a skills-centric ecosystem by aligning programming with key economic sectors in Indiana, including employer needs and new career opportunities across the state. The college also employs consultants who help local companies train existing employees and build their talent pipeline with highly qualified candidates.

But reskilling goes beyond learning the latest technology. It’s about building both the skills and agility to find a new job, and to continue evolving skills development alongside changes in the job market. At Ivy Tech and Dallas College, course content is being supplemented with Trailhead, a free digital learning experience platform from Salesforce, where students can build relevant skills like data analysis and visualization. After students graduate, they can continue to use the platform to up level their skills, or learn new ones as needed.

Dallas College initiated an effort called Certificate First, where they look for certificates that they can embed into an associate degree and provide students the skills for industry-based certification early on. “Partnering with Trailhead is all about embedding it into our curricula so that students have the knowledge, skills, and ability even before they graduate,” says Dr. May.

To hear the full conversation with President Ellspermann and Chancellor May, watch the on-demand webinar

About the Author

Scott Gutowski, Industry Solutions Director, Community Colleges at
Scott Gutowski is an industry solutions director for community colleges on the Education Cloud team at Obsessed with efficiency, if there is a better way to do something, Scott is focused on figuring it out and helping schools get more out of their investments, technology, and time so they can focus on what matters — students, teachers, parents, and employees. Scott worked in both private and public education as a technical leader for the past 15+ years where he learned to listen in order to improve.