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colleges had used it successfully.
All agree that the snapshots, by their regular appearance,
have drawn the attention of campus presidents and have gotten
the competitive juices flowing. When a snapshot is posted on
the system’s website, the results for each college are all too easy
to see.
One snapshot, for
example, compared
results for “distance
learning” classes
where professors teach
through video screens.
The snapshot showed
that 88 percent of
students at Blue Ridge
Community College
earned a grade of C or
better for classes where
the instructor was
teaching over a live feed, whereas only 49 percent of students at
NewRiver Community College performed as well.
“So college presidents will see numbers in a snapshot
and ask themselves, ‘Does this measurement mean anything
important? And, if it does, how can I change things for the
better?’” said Templin.
At Tidewater College, President DeborahDiCroce has
used another data pool to transform the school’s job training
programs. In the past, she said, colleges set up training
programs for particular skills and expected them to last forever.
But databases on employment in the Norfolk area showed that
demand for jobs like truck driving or nursing waxes and wanes
dramatically over time.
“So we paid goodmoney to purchase these databases, and
nowwe use them to shape our training programs,” DiCroce
said. “If the demand for truck drivers is dropping, we know
about it and slow down the driver training program. And vice
versa, if demand starts to jump up. We now assume that every
programhas a shelf life.”
The number crunching also
allows Tidewater to connect
with individual employers who
are growing and need skilled
employees. In the past year the
college has worked with 1,375
local companies to develop
training programs specific to their
needs, and the college now has
9,000 students enrolled in these
customized programs.
Sitting in a light industrial
park, next to amedical clinic for
children, Tidewater’s automotive
technology center exemplifies this
newwave. Looking nothing like
the dark garages that often house
auto repair programs, the two-year-old technology center
sparkles, its classrooms filled with computers, its repair bays
spotless.
The center works in a partnership with Toyota, Honda and
Chrysler to trainmechanics for dealerships.The manufacturers
determine the curriculums for their particular makes and
supply new cars to be used as repair guinea pigs.The Tidewater
teachers do the rest.
In some cases, said center director Bud Brueggeman,
local dealerships pay tuition for individual students and pretty
much guarantee employment after graduation. “When we
first proposed this facility, some wanted us to put it in a barn at
the edge of town. It was the old grease monkey idea. We said,
‘No, no, no, if you want Toyota as a partner, you need to have a
different kind of place.’”
Rory Lavallee, a 19-year-old trainee fromRichmond, said
the elegance of the center was startling when he first arrived. He
is paying his tuition himself, but the total cost over two years
will come to $8,000, versus $20,000 for a commercial training
program. And pretty soon, he will be a certifiedHonda
mechanic.
“If this place was not here, I couldn’t afford to
become a Hondamechanic,” Lavallee said.
Just as important as quantitative measurements,
Virginia administrators say, will be a nearly obsessive
introduction of technology. DuBois pushes this theme
constantly. “Higher education is one of the last sectors
that sees technology as just another cost, rather than a
way to increase productivity and actually lower costs,” he
told the faculty at NewRiver College near Blacksburg.
“We need to change that.”
Soon, Virginia hopes to lower its costs for processing
financial aid applications—and also increase financial
aid to students—by centralizing, computerizing
and speeding up the application process. Another
technology programwill beamdistance-learning classes
from college to college throughout the state. Existing
programs such as online tutoring and skills teaching will
be greatly expanded.
Usually, whenDuBois mentions technology, he
also uses the word “scaleable,” meaning that a program,
Virginia has focused
its early attention on
the sinkhole of all
community colleges:
the unprepared
student.
David French, a math teacher at Tidewater
Community College, supports the new
“modular” assessment approach. “Why on
earth would a liberal arts student need to know
how to do long division of polynomials?”
“If this place was not here, I couldn’t afford to become a Honda mechanic,”
says, Rory Lavallee, a 19-year-old trainee at Tidewater Community College’s
automotive technology center, which works in a partnership with Toyota,
Honda and Chrysler to train mechanics for dealerships.
Jay Paul, Black Star, for CrossTalk
Jay Paul, Black Star, for CrossTalk