The first interaction many California community college students have with the colleges is online. Yet historically, many of the systemwide student-facing technology platforms have unintentionally prioritized institutional data needs over the student experience. By not instilling a sense of connection and competency within prospective students in an often unfamiliar environment, their initial online experiences with the California Community Colleges can contribute to feelings of confusion and isolation at a time when self-efficacy is essential to moving forward.

In response to this challenge, and to a core commitment in the Vision for Success to “Always design and decide with the student in mind,” the Student Journey to Success Project was launched in 2018. The project was a joint effort by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (Chancellor’s Office) and the Foundation for California Community Colleges (FoundationCCC), with funding generously provided by College Futures Foundation and the Stupski Foundation.

Five steps to overcome technology barriers to student success

Philanthropic support also allowed for the project team’s partnership with behavioral science consultancy ideas42 to identify five steps to overcome technology barriers to student success rooted in behavioral science:

  1. Reduce hassles:
    a) Seemingly small impediments to completing the application can have outsized consequences for students’ abilities to finish the process fully, quickly, and accurately.
  2. Eliminate ambiguity:
    a) Students are often unsure of why a question is being asked, how the information is being used and whether there is a correct answer, and because of that, they delay application submission or fail to submit entirely.
  3. Affirm identity:
    a) Students bring many identities with them when they apply to college, some of which are sensitive, and the application asks about them in ways that can appear invasive or evaluative.
  4. Build scaffolding:
    a) Students are expected to make important decisions about their college and future plans without full guidance around how to best make those choices.
  5. Open channels:
    a) Campus outreach staff and first-year programs are strong channels to completion throughout the application and matriculation processes, but not all students have access to these channels.

Gathering feedback from users to improve the student experience

To better understand students’ pain points with CCCApply, the systemwide application  platform, the project team conducted interviews with 37 students (including current and prospective, traditional and non-traditional, certificate seekers and degree seekers) and 21 staff members (including outreach, student success, admissions, counseling, and technology staff) across five California community colleges:

  • Cosumnes River College
  • Fresno City College
  • Los Angeles Mission College
  • Pasadena City College
  • Sierra College

Through the on-campus student interviews, the project team learned about ways that seemingly small hassles can be barriers to students. One student shared that “my address wasn’t listed, so it ended up stalling my application process. It took time to get ahold of someone; the application didn’t verify my address.”

The Chancellor’s Office is working to transform this actionable student feedback into a more streamlined application process for prospective students. The CCC Technology Center released mobile-friendly versions of the CCCApply Standard, Noncredit, International and California College Promise Grant applications in the fall of 2019. The Chancellor’s Office, Immigrants Rising, the CCC Tech Center, and FoundationCCC are also collaborating to improve the CCCApply user experience for immigrants and others.

Additional philanthropic funding from College Futures Foundation is supporting the system’s development and launch of a Student Centered Design Lab. The California Community Colleges now has a centralized location for: gathering authentic and diverse student feedback; incorporating it into the (re)design processes of student-facing technology platforms; and providing colleges with enhanced student centered design and user experience best practices.

Apply behavioral science insights in your work

To learn more about recommended steps to overcome technology barriers to student success, read the full report or download The Student Journey to Success Project rack card now from the Foundation’s website