Community Colleges Delve Into Data Mining To Shape Offerings

Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 8, 2016 at 8:05 am
Community Colleges Delve Into Data Mining To Shape Offerings

Two-year schools are known for being nimble. They can change paths quickly to target specific community needs far more effectively than large universities. But how do schools know which specialties should be their focus? In Kentucky, data—lots and lots of data—keeps them responsive.

The state’s colleges have partnered with data mining firm Burning Glass Technologies to analyze job postings on sites such as Monster, Indeed and many others. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on this trend, not just for Kentucky, as a way for colleges to know what is happening in employment. Waiting for state or national labor statistics means looking at what has happened, not what will.

Burning Glass works with educational ventures to provide students more information so they make better career choices. Its partnership with Graduation Alliance, for example, focuses on secondary students. Through its data mining, Burning Glass provides jobs information with traditional interest and skills tests designed to show what careers might be a good choice. Real time salary and hiring data, as well as forecasting, can go a long way to better prepare students for the job market.

One community college using Burning Glass is Lone Star College in Texas. Associate Vice Chancellor Linda L. Head, in a case study, explains the value of using an outside resource to understand market data. “Our primary goal in workforce education is to train the community for great jobs in Houston, Texas. With real-time, labor-time market data, we can conduct a scan of any occupation. We know who is hiring and what competencies and technical skills they need. We are making sure our program choices and curriculum remain current so that our students are trained and ready for jobs employers need to fill.”

A common complaint from industries as varied as banking and teaching is that new college graduates don’t have the skills needed to jump into jobs immediately. In addition to guiding program choices, using data mining about skills can help community colleges emphasize the specifics students need to be employable. That might mean increased focus on written communication or basic computer coding skills. Without conversations with employers—or their data—higher education can veer off track from real world needs.

Students are becoming more discerning about the dollars they spend education, wanting to be sure they’ll get a return on their investment. Though community college prices are lower than other options, there’s still pressure to make sure programs lead to employment. Using up-to-date data to guide programming decisions is a smart way to keep schools relevant and in high demand.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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