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Innovation showcase

Cloud strategy key to colleges’ growth (even during the pandemic)

Eastern Gateway Community College has gone all in on Oracle Cloud.


By Margaret Lindquist | June 2021


In 2020, most community colleges across the US suffered from steep drops in enrollment. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, community college enrollment decreased 11.3% nationally and enrollment among underrepresented minorities decreased by nearly 30%. But Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) has seen the opposite happen, with a significant increase in enrollment and more women and minorities completing degree programs than at any other time in its history.

One of the reasons behind its success is that EGCC, based in Steubenville, Ohio, started making significant IT investments in 2019 and was well-prepared for a world where distanced learning is the norm.

Prior to the pandemic, 88% of EGCC’s courses were offered online. At the height of pandemic-related shutdowns, that number grew to 96%, allowing the college to limit in-person experiences to hands-on courses such as nursing and welding.

According to leadership at EGCC, ongoing investments in technology helped the institution increase enrollment while other colleges retracted. “We're doing very well and COVID had very little impact on our day-to-day operations,” says Michael Geoghegan, president and CFO of EGCC. “Our student numbers year-over-year are up 50% for fall and spring.”

Testing the cloud

In 2017, when Geoghegan and Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Robert Roeschenthaler came to EGCC, the school had about 3,600 students and was in the process of setting up a program to offer free college tuition to members of the Fraternal Order of Police, and for members of unions for teachers, correctional workers, and others. “The unions came to us and said, ‘Our employees want to move up, but they're looking for a very affordable program,’” says Geoghegan. That was just the start of an enrollment surge that has resulted in a student population of more than 40,000 people in all 50 states, two US territories, and Canada.

This growth took place over the same period of time that Geoghegan and Roeschenthaler laid out a plan for a complete technology overhaul, moving from paper and spreadsheets to cloud-based systems for ERP, budgeting and planning, and HR.

 

“The ease of using a mobile device with any of these cloud services, it makes it 100% easier. That's what students want.”

Robert Roeschenthaler, Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Eastern Gateway Community College

“We knew that if we were going to scale up and realize these growth plans, we would have to put in more robust systems, preferably in the cloud,” says Geoghegan. The school implemented Oracle Fusion Cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Oracle Fusion Human Capital Management (HCM) at the end of 2019. Right now, the college is implementing Oracle Analytics Cloud, Oracle Digital Assistant, and Oracle Student Financial Planning (the financial aid module of Oracle Student Cloud), and it’s looking at integrating Oracle Advertising and Customer Experience next. “As we move forward, the technology plan is to get us, within five years, to 95% in the cloud,” says Roeschenthaler.

By moving to the cloud, EGCC has been able to improve security, allow staff to work at home with no loss of productivity, and eliminate the information silos that were the status quo with the previous on-premises, disconnected systems. With the introduction of Oracle Student Financial Planning’s AI capabilities, the college will be able to handle rapid growth in the student population and greatly improve the student experience—without increasing financial aid staff.

EGCC classrooms and offices emptied at the beginning of the pandemic, with only a few students still on-site studying hands-on classes like welding and nursing.

EGCC classrooms and offices emptied at the beginning of the pandemic, with only a few students still on-site studying hands-on classes like welding and nursing.

“It's going to allow the AI to take over and do a lot of the back-office functioning and allow us to move a lot of the people in the back-end functions to student support,” says Roeschenthaler. Another benefit—students will be able to complete all their financial aid forms on their mobile devices. “The ease of using a mobile device with any of these cloud services, it makes it 100% easier,” says Roeschenthaler. “That's what students want.”

A new course for community colleges

Going forward, Geoghegan and Roeschenthaler see a hybrid future, as the cloud makes it possible to hire adjunct teachers, administrators, and IT professionals without geographic limitations. For other college leaders, they have two words: cloud and mobile.

“It’s about creating an enterprise system that supports cloud and mobile,” says Roeschenthaler. “One of the key reasons we went with Oracle is to have that enterprise background and support.”

Nicole Engelbert, Oracle’s vice president of higher education development, predicts that as we exit the pandemic, community colleges will place an even higher priority on technology, especially as legacy solutions struggle to manage rapid enrollment growth and innovation in academic programs. “Community colleges are the increasingly not-so-secret-sauce for our country going forward,” says Engelbert. “With a mission of affordability and accessibility and strong links to their communities, they’ll be a lever to address the larger affordability crisis in higher education,” says Engelbert.

Photography: Kali9/Getty Images

Margaret Lindquist

Margaret Lindquist

Margaret Lindquist is a senior director and writer at Oracle.