Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with John Ingram, planning and research associate for the Community College of Allegheny County, located in Pittsburgh. John serves on our Executive Advisory Board, which is central to the user-driven development model that guides the creation and continuous improvement of our products and services, including our new interactive student app, WhichWay.
John has spent more than 25 years in higher ed helping students achieve their goals. In addition to his role with the Community College of Allegheny County, he is an instructor for the Association for Institutional Research, where he trains people to use data to make decisions. He also has his own company, Ingram Market Analytics, which focuses on the strategic use of neglected data. “There is too much dormant data lying around in hard drives that needs to be resurrected and acted on,” John explains.
His appreciation of data and his years of serving students give John a perspective perfectly paired with the core principles of WhichWay. He began his career as a financial aid counselor, where he spoke with students to help them close the cost gap. They often shared not only their financial and academic challenges but their social and personal ones as well. “Now I have a broader perspective of those issues because I’ve worked at several other colleges,” John says. “However, the information I shared as a counselor 25 years ago still holds true today. I’m an advocate for students when they ask, ‘Why does it matter to me?’”
In considering the challenges that students face, John says that students’ issues generally fall into three categories: financial, time commitment and academic preparedness. “Families cannot completely pay for a child’s education, and the cost of tuition is increasing faster than inflation. This is why I think student loan debt is on the rise across the nation,” he explains.
“Students keep borrowing more. When they graduate, they are saddled with a huge debt before they even have a job – let alone a good salary. They naturally stress about how they’re going to pay for college and achieve their goals. It’s a big investment that comes with troubling questions: ‘Will my college years pay off in a job that can support me? How do I handle my finances today so I can have a decent future?’”
When it comes to managing commitments, John says a common problem is the difficulty of balancing the competing demands of employment and academics. He knows that adult students may have returned to college to advance their skills while holding down a job and supporting a family, which, he notes, can be overwhelming.
“Also, not every student is academically or emotionally ready for college,” John says, “so it’s up to colleges to track students and make sure they have the support they need. This could be in areas like money management, goal setting and other practical skills. Students may be away from home for the first time, so the lure of parties and lazy living can sabotage their studies.”
John thinks the institutions that are best positioned to meet these threats are the ones making a real effort to listen to students’ needs. “I have helped colleges improve how they listen so they can respond to challenges their students face,” he says. “But students don’t want to learn about this from a how-to-cope, ‘college 101-type’ program. When it is taught from a textbook it is too much like any other college experience. It doesn’t work to give this type of support.”
Instead, colleges need to be able to respond in real time, John argues. “Videos give us 24-hour access,” he says, but he also points out the difficulty in finding information in a long video. “That’s kind of like trying to binge watch hours of Law and Order to find your favorite courtroom scene. Busy students don’t have time. They need the answer in 15 seconds. For me, it’s clear that WhichWay addresses that need.”
“The challenge is to get information into the hands of students who don’t even know they need it,” he adds. “Plus we need to evaluate how effective we are in communicating. I think WhichWay delivers a just-in-time solution that appeals to students. It’s delivered on their smart phones – which are always at hand – in digestible bites.”
John also likes how WhichWay uses analogies to make its content more relatable to students. “One module compares debt to deep-sea diving. At first it may be exciting, but the deeper you go the stronger the pressure. Debt and interest work the same way. Being safe is all about controlling your debt and avoiding risky behavior. That is easy for students to relate to,” he says.
You can read part two of this blog here.
John Ingram offers consulting services to companies through Action Analytics Audits. He can be contacted at ingrammarketanalytics.com.