At Allen University, a small, private four-year historically black university in Columbia, South Carolina, Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Charlene Spearen encourages faculty members to find innovative ways to keep students engaged.
“What I tell faculty is, you went into your discipline because you had a passion for it,” Spearen said. “Now take that passion and let’s see how we can energize course content.”
In choosing a digital education platform for the university’s more than 600 students, diversity of content was a top priority.
Concorde Career Colleges, a for-profit institution with campuses in eight states, offers more than 20 educational- and vocational-training programs in health care. Concorde mainly serves nontraditional students, who often need to download e-books and access digital course materials well beyond the term of their course or program. It was a constant challenge in the past.
“After that access ended, students were kind of on their own,” said Nikki Fox, Concorde’s director of Online and Academic Affairs.
The school needed a digital-learning solution that enabled students to access their course materials at any time during their study programs.
Just as every student has a unique story about their quest for a college education and the goals they hope to fulfill by earning a degree, the institutions serving these students are also diverse. At the same time, all of them try to improve access and affordability, provide their students with the tools to complete their studies successfully, and equip them with the skills required for a successful transition to the workplace. To reach those goals, they need a solution that is comprehensive, easy to implement and flexible enough to fit their institutional culture.
If there is a common denominator in finding the most effective solution, it’s that adopting a holistic approach that addresses every area of students’ needs works best.
Concorde Career Colleges and Allen University found the whole-student focus they were looking for was achieved with Cengage in its offering of a first-of-its-kind digital subscription model, Cengage Unlimited. Cengage Unlimited is in use at over 5,000 institutions nationwide, from major four-year systems with enrollments in the tens of thousands to smaller colleges and universities, community colleges, and for-profit career colleges. Upwards of 80 of these institutions offer the Cengage Unlimited Institutional model providing subscription access for every student, institution-wide.
In light of Allen University’s emphasis on boosting retention through better student engagement, Spearen was especially attracted to the wide variety of course materials, including videos, available through Cengage Unlimited to help instructors infuse course material with a variety of content that captures up-to-date images, situations and subjects to illustrate and pose real-world relevance, thus making classroom instruction even more engaging and comprehensive.
Fox liked that Cengage Unlimited gives Concorde students training for allied health careers continuous access to their course materials.
“That’s been huge for our students because it allows them the ability to keep access to their books for not only the duration of their program but maybe for review right before they go and take their boards,” she said.
At Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, the Cengage Unlimited program has grown from 33 courses to about 70, said Neale Adams, dean of business and industrial technology at the school, which has about 5,400 students. Recently Iowa Central began supplying all students with Wi-Fi enabled tablets for uploading Cengage e-books and other course content.
“Previously they had to get to a computer lab or maybe go to a McDonald’s parking lot to get Wi-Fi access,” Adams said about the students. “We tried to create a level playing field so their socioeconomic background isn’t making the difference between success and nonsuccess.”
Besides seeking easily accessible and engaging content, higher-education institutions also look to technology to help them support their students’ academic success and career preparation, as well as to make college more affordable.
Cengage Unlimited’s College Success Center and Career Center put a long list of content and services at students’ fingertips. Student success tools include 60 hours of online tutoring for each account user, a valuable feature for an institution like Concorde, which offers several online-study programs.
“For our online faculty that don’t always have the ability to face-to-face tutor, they can do what they can from a whiteboard or synchronous session, but they can also provide those resources within Cengage Unlimited to the students,” Fox said.
The College Success Center includes more than 80 activities and quick lessons that combine video and narrative questions to help students improve their critical thinking, time management, study techniques, life management and other skills. Also chock-full of content is the Cengage Unlimited Career Center, which provides each student subscriber with anytime access to online resources for exploring career options and enhancing their employability through career-readiness tutorials.
Cengage Unlimited’s all-access subscription model has produced significant per student savings on the cost of course materials. The earliest adopters of Cengage Unlimited at Iowa Central, the accounting and administrative-specialist programs, cut textbook expenses 50-55%, Adams said. But it’s not necessarily students who most appreciate the savings.
“Students don’t realize that impact, parents do,” Adams said. “It’s a huge selling point for the parents.”
Identifying a digital-education model that addresses your institution’s top goals is important, but it’s the implementation that will determine whether those goals are realized. A dedicated product-support team and strong buy-in from key institutional stakeholders are essential to a smooth implementation.
Before Allen University rolled out its institution-wide subscription model, the school launched a new learning-management system (LMS) at the end of the previous spring semester. The lead-up to the fall implementation of Cengage Unlimited gave faculty and administrators ample time to figure out how to integrate the program with the LMS. Spearen said the Cengage representatives assigned to the university not only worked diligently to facilitate that integration but also collaborated with her in coaching faculty on how to use the product.
When administrators at Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas, were considering a move to Cengage Unlimited campus-wide, they made a point to involve students in the evaluation process.
“We brought on our chairs from the different departments, but we also started having conversations with our student government and our student organizations,” said Garden City President Dr. Ryan Ruda. Students are central to Garden City Community College, and having their feedback from the onset along with continuous avenues for feedback are critical to the implementation of this program with Cengage.
A student-centered approach to choosing education technology makes sense. After all, the ultimate test of how well the solution works will be whether it helps your students’ success as they strive to complete their studies and start their careers.