August 26, 2015 by Gwen Burrow
Emsi Case Study (See Full Archive)
In a time of nationwide budget cuts and declining enrollment, no community college can afford to offer programs that don’t benefit its students and local economy. But how can colleges ensure that their programs are what students and the regional workforce actually need? How can they determine whether to build new programs or downsize old ones? How can they do all of this with limited time and resources?
These were the questions faced by Pitt Community College. And in the summer of 2014, the college turned to Emsi’s Gap Analysis Report to help answer them.
Outlining the economy of PCC’s service region in Greenville, North Carolina, the Gap Analysis Report determined how well the school’s program offerings were satisfying workforce demand. What the analysis revealed: A number of PCC’s programs were producing surplus graduates (not necessarily a bad thing), while others weren’t producing enough.
“It has helped lift a horizon line for strategic and program planning.” — Brian Miller on Emsi’s Gap Analysis Report
“This was one of the major purposes behind the Gap Analysis Report—to see where we have gaps, where we have strengths,” said Brian Miller, director of planning and analysis at PCC, noting that the report is being used to boost PCC’s strategic planning and development. “We are reviewing the report at the executive and dean level to examine what programs could be used, what programs could be developed, and what we need to plan for. It has helped lift a horizon line for strategic and program planning.”
The report gave PCC the pinpoint guidance that comes only from solid, objective data at a time when the college especially needed it. With a new vice president of academic affairs and three new deans over the past two years, PCC used the data to help everyone on the same page.
“It’s always good to have reliable, third-party information for a new person to confirm or assist in decisions on the directions they’d like to see their programs take,” Miller said. “If one argument says X but another argument says Y, and Y is backed up with some gap analysis data, the tipping point is argument Y because it has a better evidence base.”
PCC’s strategic planning and development branch faces big-picture questions such as, What is student success? What is program success? Where are the job opportunities? The Gap Analysis Report has helped PCC get answers on the macro level as well as down in the trenches with tough decisions about which new programs (if any) to create and which programs (if any) to contract.
With PCC’s leveling enrollment trends and scant resources, Miller noted that getting new programs off the ground is especially tricky—making reliable data a cardinal need. “In this environment, it’s critical for department chairs to have a sound argument that’s backed up by data. The gap analysis provides that data.” So far, PCC has determined not to build any new programs, instead focusing its efforts on making sure its existing programs are in good shape.
“It’s an analysis of what you have and what you might have too much of.”
The report’s principles have helped the deans and faculty as they determine which programs need more (or less) emphasis. The report’s analysis showed four programs in particular that weren’t producing as many graduates as the workforce needed at both the certificate and the associate-degree levels: business administration & management (gap of 121 completers), operations management & supervision (gap of 90), industrial mechanics & maintenance technology (gap of 65), and machine shop technology/assistant (gap of 20). Early childhood education & teaching, on the other hand, was producing a surplus.
As a result of this discovery, PCC is directing resources toward business and construction/industrial technology programs. “This was helpful for our president to make an argument that the gap analysis goes both ways,” Miller said. “It’s an analysis of what you have and what you might have too much of.”
The Gap Analysis Report also supports Completion by Design, a national initiative implemented by a cohort of North Carolina colleges that strives to increase completion rates. “The Completion by Design emphasis is to make sure students have clear pathways from connecting with the college, to entering the college, to completing courses, to finishing,” Miller said. “The Gap Analysis Report supports Completion by Design by showing that our programs are backed up and supported by data. The report lends itself to our program enhancement so that students can get the very best experience out of the programs.”
“It’s supportive. It’s objective. It’s the best we can find.”
Downsizing programs, enlarging programs, ensuring career pathways—these are tough decisions for any college to make, but the data supplied in the Gap Analysis Report has made them much easier for Pitt Community College. “You pulled all these wonderful resources together and gave us one meta report,” Miller said. “It’s supportive. It’s objective. It’s the best we can find.”
About Pitt Community College
Through the first five decades of Pitt Community College’s history, the college’s enrollment and facilities have continued to grow to meet the needs of local workforce development. The main campus, located in Winterville, North Carolina, now consists of 294 acres and 18 buildings with a total of 537,257 square feet for instruction. PCC served approximately 12,300 credit and over 12,000 noncredit students during 2013-2014. The college has over 60 associate degree programs and 15 noncredit programs. PCC educates one in every six adults in Pitt County.
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