8 Community College IT Challenges

Community college IT teams face a number of distinct challenges.

Community colleges across the United States are caught in a bind. On the one hand, by some measures, demand for community college programs is increasing; on the other, increased demand places a heightened burden on community college IT teams, who must simultaneously juggle the demands of daily troubleshooting with their long-term planning efforts and other critical technology-related tasks.

Likewise, to stay competitive with other institutions, community colleges need to stay ahead of emerging technologies and quickly integrate the latest offerings into their daily programming. All the while, these teams must also monitor their critical IT infrastructure to prevent unnecessary outages, forecast potential replacement costs, and ensure students and instructors remain secure online.

Below, we outline these and other unique challenges facing community college IT teams. While these issues may seem daunting, they’re not insurmountable: by partnering with a managed IT firm like CTS, community colleges can tackle their most pressing IT challenges, remain competitive in an increasingly crowded field, and create space for effective long-term planning efforts.

To be competitive, community colleges need to stay ahead of emerging technologies.

As demand for community college programming increases, so does the pressure on school administrators to attract and retain students. Of course, many factors might influence a community college’s competitiveness. Practical concerns like geographic location, cost, and scholarship opportunities may influence students’ choices, but so can other qualities like post-graduation outcomes, student-teacher ratios, program offerings, and the opportunity to attend classes with former high school classmates.

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Here, technology also has a role to play. Community colleges outfitted with the latest and greatest technology products are more likely to make a solid first impression on students who walk through the school’s doors. A student walking into a classroom is more likely to be impressed by a SMARTboard mounted on the classroom’s wall than she is an old-school projector situated on a cart in the middle of the classroom.

In this sense, staying ahead of the curve of emerging educational technology products can help community colleges attract and retain students who may be considering any number of other options. Investing in student-and instructor-facing technology can materially improve the academic experience, increasing the range of teaching tools available to professors while also facilitating collaboration between peer groups. Rather than incidental to instruction, effective use of educational technology can add significant value to students’ learning experience.

At the same time, community college IT teams also need to address existing student and instructor needs.

Sure, all of this sounds great, but if you speak with any community college IT team, you’ll likely learn that they feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of daily troubleshooting requests. Fixing a broken projector, outfitting a new SMARTboard, or addressing an instructor’s issue with his laptop is far more likely to occupy an IT team member’s brain space than the latest trends in educational technology.

Of course, this makes sense: at the end of the day, students and, to a lesser extent, professors are the IT team’s “customers.” The IT team’s job is to ensure that the community college’s IT investments function properly so that students and instructors can regularly use them. The greatest IT team in the world is of little use if it can’t respond to common technology-related issues that inevitably arise.

Creating systems and structures to manage, respond to, and monitor daily troubleshooting issues is one of the most daunting challenges facing community college IT teams. The number of daily tickets, the urgency with which the tickets are submitted, and the need for quick solutions can quickly swamp any other project that demands the team’s attention.

In addition to day-to-day troubleshooting, community college IT teams must also plan for large-scale, school-wide events.

The demands of day-to-day troubleshooting and the inordinate amount of time they can take up have ripple effects on other critical community college IT tasks. This is especially true when it comes to large-scale, school-wide events that demand sustained IT attention both for planning and day-of support.

One paradigmatic example, of course, is community college graduation. While students and their family members often envision rows of students in caps and gowns or a speech by the community college’s president, they might overlook the fact that successfully executing graduation programming depends, in large part, on the community college’s IT team. Microphones need to be working, screens need to display students’ names, videos, and other multimedia content, and videographers need to document the event for students and their families. If any of these things fail, the entire program is undermined and may or may not cause embarrassment for school administrators.

The amount of time and planning these events require from community college IT teams can be in tension with the demands of daily troubleshooting, forcing teams to choose between quickly addressing urgent classroom issues on the one hand and devoting time to planning for school-wide events on the other.

As community colleges expand their operations, supplemental IT support becomes paramount.

Because of the demands of daily troubleshooting and the need to plan and execute high-stakes school-wide events, bringing in supplemental IT staff is often paramount to ensuring a community college IT team’s success. With all of the competing priorities facing community college IT teams, there sometimes simply aren’t enough staff members to address every incoming ticket, manage every complex IT project, or investigate potential technology investments for the next academic year.

Investing in supplemental IT staff on a short- or long-term basis can help relieve some of the stress that comes with juggling so many competing priorities and also ensure the school’s technology-related needs are addressed. Given the pace of change in the educational technology space, in-house team members often lack the technical skills or know-how to tackle particularly complex IT projects. Bringing in a supplemental provider with such knowledge can allow the in-house team members to use their time more efficiently.

Community college IT teams must also ensure their critical IT infrastructure remains secure.

One area that absolutely requires the community college IT team’s attention is its critical IT infrastructure. Although customarily tucked away in a nondescript closet or embedded in the school’s ceiling, the community college’s routers, switches, and wireless access points are, ultimately, what allows the school to use its technology investments effectively.

Suppose a wireless access point goes out or a switch or router fails. In that case, it can wreak havoc on an otherwise routine weekday and undermine an instructor’s ability to use the school’s technology for instruction. This is obviously true, too, in the school-wide event context. If the wireless internet suddenly goes out, it may prevent an administrator from streaming a particular video sequence or accessing a PowerPoint attached to an email. These nightmare scenarios underscore the extent to which community college IT teams must necessarily monitor their critical IT infrastructure in addition to addressing daily troubleshooting concerns.

Scaling remote and distance learning programming will require still more IT resources.

Even as the pandemic appears to recede in the United States, many community college IT teams continue to support remote learning for their instructors and students while adapting to hybrid work models for their team members.

Supporting students’ remote learning efforts will require still more community college IT resources. If a student can’t access a Zoom link, an instructor can’t get his laptop’s microphone to work, or an online instructional platform goes offline, the community college’s IT team must spring into action. Of course, as with other daily troubleshooting tasks, these issues can occur simultaneously with tickets related to in-person learning, further stretching the IT team’s limited resources.

Addressing these issues alongside the in-house team’s shift to a hybrid work model still presents more challenges. If a portion of the team is working remotely one day, that leaves fewer resources on the ground to address in-person technology issues, much less a school-wide internet service outage. Therefore, finding the correct balance between in-person, on-the-ground support and the “new normal” of remote or hybrid work is critical to a community college IT team’s success.

At CTS, we help community colleges and K-12 schools across the country accomplish their unique missions.

Our team has partnered with more than 60 schools across the United States to improve their technology programming. Our process begins by meeting with school leaders to understand their unique instructional vision. From there, we develop a customized service package that meets the school’s short- and long-term needs and ensures that the school’s technology investments add value to academic programming. As a community college, IT teams face increasing demand, limited resources, and a paradigm shift to remote learning. Working with a trusted managed IT partner like CTS can ease the burden on in-house team members and allow them to work more effectively.

Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help your community college accomplish its unique mission.