Utilizing Career Pathways, Digital Tools and Social Technologies for Transforming Student Advising, Enrollment, Retention and Job Placement

Mercedes Fisher and Derek E. Baird

Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) was tasked with the development of career path information for our students. The IT faculty team, under the direction and leadership of the Associate Dean, created the Information Technology Pathways model. The Associate Dean invested significantly in infrastructure and planning to ensure cross-team knowledge exchange. We also wanted to enhance awareness and increase student engagement via social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and MeetUp. This study was designed to create pathways and curriculum that other programs could replicate; other departments can now benefit from the template and design strategies developed to enhance the IT curriculum and pathways. These pathways and the dialogues have led to increased training requests and pooled training. Our MATC case study is a good example that identifies and shares pathways, curriculum development, and partnering with advisory committees to gain input for incorporating instructional technology in the classroom based on student needs.

Purpose: This article describes a dynamic and innovative pathway model for instructors to service student, parents, counselor, and employer needs around digital and social technologies that support student enrollment, retention and provide collaborative learning opportunities for improved job placement. The goal is to produce graduates that bring relevant and reliable skill sets that match current business and industry needs. The two primary reasons for enrolling are preparing for a job and career change. In addition, it provides training for a career ladder for training employees who need to advance, many employers are moving incumbent workers along this career path as well.

Methodology/Approach: A case study

Findings: The integration of pathways including certificates, embedded technical diplomas, associate degrees, online community through digital, mobile and social technologies, MeetUp, LinkedIn, Google Apps, groups, Netlab, Blackboard Learn & Internships.com, have a positive influence on student advising, enrollment, retention and job placement. Many of the social media tools are free so they did not involve increased funding but mostly involved legwork, making them effective tools for reaching new students.

Research Limitations: The research was limited to the IT faculty population at MATC, and did not include data collected from students outside the USA to find out what role cultural mores, attitudes and gender play in the learning process.

Practical Implications: Workplace employers are increasingly experiencing a skills mismatch and the growing retirement gap. Thus, institutions of higher education are under increased scrutiny regarding the preparedness of their graduates for the workforce. This study provides curriculum design strategies that foster community, utilize mobile, social media and support student learning and retention through effective course design. The sharing of best practices will help the next generation of students with pathways that are connective and progressive and empower them with marketable, stackable credentials. The study provides an entry point for all learners and a bridge to further opportunities on a pathway at any point to gain support and structure for job entry, advancement and higher wages. This is important since there is an increased demand for a credentialed workforce. The end result will be a larger pool of qualified workers and a better pipeline to fill skilled jobs, which subsequently will result in higher employee retention and loyalty. Pathways enable students, faculty and leadership a familiar path of program offerings and job prospects. In addition, this model can be used to inform policy and practice related to performance funding, college affordability, and alignment of higher education and workforce needs, as well as for new research on topics including: state-level labor market outcomes for certificates and degrees; returns to for-profit college credentials; the impact of the federal grants and loans on earnings and employment; challenges in using labor market outcomes data in performance funding systems; and how post-college earnings data can be used to help students make better program and career choices. It is necessary to rethink the academic work environments based on social media tools and applications like Google Groups, MeetUp, Blackboard Building Blocks or LinkedIn, in accordance with the learning needs, skills, and competencies of students.