For the past five years we’ve witnessed a surge in demand for community colleges across the U.S. The reasons for this demand are varied. There are professionals who have been let go from work, there are adult learners who desire new skills and there are traditional students continuing their education in greater numbers.

Much of the growth in enrollment can be contributed to students going online to get degrees. According to Instructional Technology Council, online enrollment is up by over five percent between 2012 and 2013, , and with that growth come several challenges.

Both traditional and online learners demand that education be cost-effective. These students include digital natives who have learned with technology since their infancy, and they want customized education. Standardized instruction across classes is becoming a framework of the past.

Despite the positive growth outlook, this demand puts pressure on community colleges to meet expectations. To prepare students for the future, faculty must now provide reliable resources online. And to meet this challenge community colleges need a strong technical foundation.

The network has emerged as the single most important technology trend for community colleges because of its ability to foster and enable communication. No matter the need, the network is a way for schools to consolidate management yet expand possibilities, many of which remove the barriers of place and time.

Smart technology also helps faculty customize education, producing the kind of learner-centered experience that’s becoming more widely adopted in K-12 education. Applications that rely on the network can also assess a student’s learning style and help the instructor to design varied course delivery.

Several experiences confirm that active learning facilitated by technology is more effective than passive learning. Community colleges can use technology to present multimedia and materials, create simulated learning environments, enhance class discussion and bring-in lecture guests.

New types of studies that are surging in popularity will also benefit from using technology as a foundation for instruction. In particular, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields offer high employment opportunities for community college students. The Department of Commerce estimates that STEM occupations will grow nearly two times faster than non-STEM occupations from 2008 – 2018.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of the traditional community college within the larger universe of higher education. Where do you see technology impacting community colleges?

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Kim Majerus

Vice President

US Public Sector: State, Local and Education West Area