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Education Empowered Podcast: Community Colleges, AI and Social Mobility

By Rachel Greenfield June 17, 2019

Ajita Talwaker Menon, Senior Advisor to the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges and former Special Assistant to President Obama for Higher Education Policy, in the Education Empowered Podcast with

We took episode 4 of the Education Empowered Podcast to Higher Ed Summit for our first recording with a live audience. Ajita Talkwaler Menon, Senior Advisor to the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges and former Special Assistant to President Obama for Higher Education Policy, joined hosts Jason Belland and Haley Gould for an in-depth conversation on AI, the role of community colleges in driving social mobility and more.

Ajita shares how her background shaped her passion for higher ed innovation, specifically looking at the role of technology in higher ed and how to create pathways to success for all types of students. Like many, she sees community colleges at the forefront of driving equity and access to education, which led her to her current role with the California Community Colleges system.

In this episode, Ajita talks with Jason and Haley about how to innovate across the student experience, leveraging technology like AI to help ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to achieve their goals. Make sure to listen to the full episode and if you missed our previous episodes, you can find them on SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

Check out the top three takeaways from our conversation with Ajita below:

The Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Higher Ed

There’s no denying that the fourth industrial revolution is sparking a wave of change across higher ed. With new technologies like AI, there’s been a larger discussion taking place around the future of work and what that means for today’s students. Ajita highlights that this wave of change will create “new and dynamic knowledge and skills requirements that will need to meet employer talent needs but will also have to be a necessary part of the transformation of our institutions.” She speaks to public opinion data from the Aspen Institute which highlights that the public is looking not to policy leaders but education and technology as the solution providers for this evolving future. It’s clear that education is going to be a force for change in preparing not just a new workforce, but also a new citizenry for the future.

Changes in higher education

The Evolution of Guided Pathways for California Community Colleges

Haley, Jason and Ajita spent a portion of the podcast talking about the California Community Colleges system. Ajita highlights how the system as a whole went through a period of self-reflection to see whether they were truly meeting the needs of the state. They found that there were gaps in achievement as well as certain disparities that made it difficult for students to complete their degrees. Guided Pathways emerged as a solution and a key framework for the California Community Colleges. Guided Pathways is a student-centric approach to college completion that provides students with clear program maps that include specific course sequences, progress milestones, and program learning outcomes. The goal of the program is to give every student the opportunity to not only understand what’s required of their area of study but also a clear path towards completing a degree. With entire campuses re-organizing to support this initiative, there’s been significant changes to improve the student experience as a whole within the California Community Colleges system.

Measuring outcomes at Community Colleges

Measuring Social Mobility and Outcomes at Community Colleges

Ajita speaks to how the new Online California Community College will be the greatest opportunity to start looking at the connection between education, regional data and social mobility outcomes. The new college will not only be an education provider but also a marketplace provider, looking at labor market trends to best balance the supply and demand side of talent that is needed in the state of California. Along with regional workforce strategies, there will be an opportunity to map program design at the college level to the specific skill sets that are needed to improve social mobility outcomes across the state. With more students balancing a job or childcare responsibilities on top of their coursework, they expect a highly personalized education experience that fits into their daily lives. The new online community college provides that opportunity and specifically ties it back to employer needs within California. It’s truly a testament to the innovation that’s happening on the ground within the California Community College System as a whole.

Learning more

Make sure to listen to the full episode with Ajita today.