How MiraCosta College Shifted to a ‘Student-First’ Engagement Model in a Crisis

The economic fallout of COVID-19 lifted the veil on one of higher education’s biggest blemishes: An inability and/or unwillingness to adapt to modern learners’ needs. Many schools had to shoehorn remote delivery models into inflexible infrastructures and paid a heavy price with historic enrollment loss, student drop-off, and outright calls for refunds.

Conversely, institutions that had administrative processes and websites designed to support the transition to remote learning fared better than the rest when the doors closed and the laptops opened.

At MiraCosta College, the Community Education and Workforce Development (CEWD) division turned to Modern Campus Lifelong Learning—a next-generation SIS designed specifically for continuing education and workforce development divisions—to support long-term flexibility and growth.

Higher Education was Inflexible Before the Pandemic

John Makevich, Dean of Continuing and Community Education at MiraCosta College, said the first wave of the pandemic hit hard, with troubling numbers of students dropping off.

“There was a reduction of the total number of students,” Makevich said. “Continuing education programs lost a lot of students that didn't want to continue because of the pandemic.”

Makevich said limited access to educational resources was a major culprit, but that the unwieldy experience of navigating many student information systems presented current and prospective learners with a sizable barrier as well. When many institutions’ existing tech infrastructure was developed, times were different and there was more of an assumption that learners would do the legwork—an assumption he said seems harmful in the long run.

Student Experiences Were Complex 

Outdated technology haunted many institutions when the pandemic hit, but Makevich said it had been functionally complex for a long time.

“A lot of the technology and systems we use were built a long time ago, at a time when it seemed less urgent to make the process streamlined to get into classes and when technology innovations were fewer,” Makevich said.

He added that community education programs need their digital experience to be more in line with the online shopping experiences that modern learners enjoy everywhere else.

Registration Processes Can Benefit from Streamlining 

Makevich commented that some colleges’ registration processes can be challenging to navigate for many learners—a trend he said is not unusual.

“Roughly 50 percent of applicants to California Community Colleges never register for a single class. That’s harrowing,” Makevich said, attributing much of this to cumbersome registration experiences that make the learner work to find important program information.

Reporting on Student Data Was Complicated

Strong data analytics in higher education are crucial to many make-or-break decisions, but outdated systems and software can leave institutions less capable of reporting on important student metrics.

“We need to collect a lot of data on students. We're a public institution,” Makevich said. “We have an obligation to be able to report on who we're serving and how we're serving them.”

The Back End Was the Problem… and the Solution 

With the enrollment cliff approaching and revenue losses on the horizon, MiraCosta College’s Community Education and Workforce Development (CEWD) program began exploring a next-generation SIS to smooth over the cracks left by their rigid infrastructure. The thinking was that by making the student experience a top priority, the program would position itself to grow and scale through difficult times and into the future.

Put the Student Experience First 

To start, the college partnered with Modern Campus to use Lifelong Learning, a next-generation SIS built for the unique needs of continuing education, to  automate what would normally be tedious and manual processes. If the system sees, for example, that a learner has been showing great interest in certain areas of study—placing items in the SIS’ shopping cart, or using the “save” function—the system will automatically reach out to the student to remind them of their purchase, which significantly reduces shopping cart abandonment.

Makevich said the checkout functionalities in Lifelong Learning are a far cry from business as usual.

“We spent countless hours trying to develop manual strategies to reach out to student populations, to figure out what we wanted to communicate to them,” Makevich said. “The fact that Lifelong Learning has smart shopping cart communications that can be automated is game-changing.”

On top of this, implementing Lifelong Learning will transform CEWD’s web experience for a consolidated and professional aesthetic that ensures learners can feel comfortable navigating the site.

“That first impression is critical,” said Makevich. “If it’s not right, then people could go somewhere else or give up on pursuing their education.”

Make Registration Seamless 

The process of onboarding a student should be as streamlined as any sophisticated online shopping opportunity. This is what Makevich said he wanted for MiraCosta College’s CEWD program, and is precisely what implementing a robust SIS will deliver.

“When I go to a really good online merchant's website, I have many ways to investigate what I want to buy. Perhaps many photos, sometimes a 3D view of whatever you're looking at—just a ton of additional information that I can extract,” he said.

He pointed to Lifelong Learning's ability to replicate “the Amazon experience” as core to its value for non-traditional units, offering eCommerce mainstays like a visual shopping cart and simplified interfaces that put the learner in the driver’s seat without making them “work for it.”

“It’s really easy to add something to my cart and buy it. Students need to be able to explore and then very quickly make the decision to register,” Makevich said.

Automate Data Collection, Use it Wisely 

MiraCosta’s CEWD staff will enjoy the benefits of automated data collection with their SIS. Lifelong Learning supports the college’s decision-making by aggregating clean, usable data and compiling it into easilyunderstood reports that any leader can understand and use.

Not only that, but Makevich noted how the system acts as an arm of marketing by using a learner’s history to identify opportunities to showcase new offerings to interested students.

“Lifelong Learning is able to recognize that a student visited a particular class three times and suggest that we should contact them to give them more information. Or maybe somebody should call them,” Makevich told The EvoLLLution. “Being able to pull those kinds of data and automate some of those processes really drew us in.”

Put Students First, the Rest Will Follow 

Continuing Education units offer many opportunities for students across the spectrum of professional experience. Makevich said it’s imperative to an institution’s health to increase the spectrum of access as well.

“If a student is on the fence, we need to make sure they fall on the side of education,” he said. 

Learn how Modern Campus Lifelong Learning can transform your learner experience to grow enrollments and keep students for life.


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