Powering the Global Education Conversation: About edCircuit

Meeting the Need for Personalized Learning in Higher Ed

An interview with Matt Coombs, COO of eLumen

Matt Coombs, Chief Operating Officer of eLumen, sat down to share his insights on the changing realities in higher ed and the processes involved in systematically improving learning environments. By integrating curriculum and assessment processes and providing all stakeholders with a comprehensive view of academic progress, eLumen helps colleges enhance outcomes for all students and student groups. By making real-time data visible and actionable, eLumen empowers administrators, faculty members, and individual students with the tools to navigate a meaningful academic pathway.

To understand education in 2020, it helps to compare it to earlier educational experiences of the past. When Coombs attended university years ago, it was an environment that asked the student to figure things out themselves. Universities said, “If you got here, we figure you know what you’re doing, and you’ll find a way out,” explains Coombs. “There definitely weren’t rubrics or the level of outcomes assessment in the K-12 space. Nowadays, students are coming up having had that experience, and they expect to see the data because they’re used to getting a report in the mail that says, ‘I scored in the following percentile. Here’s how I compare with my peers.'” 

While many factors are at play in shaping higher education’s evolution in recent years, according to Coombs, economic pressure takes the lead. “The primary change that’s happening in higher education is that over the last twenty years or even the last fifteen years, tuition has risen 1500%. Think of any other market segment [that has] increased their prices by 1500%. Maybe California’s real estate would be the only one that would even come close,” he shares with a laugh. 

The higher costs have created higher demand from an incoming student body that wants to see a clear return on investment. As Coombs adds, “People started putting their foot down saying, ‘I need to know before I come here. Show me your graduation rate. Show me your placements into jobs.’ The onus has been placed upon the institutions now to prove their worth because they’re so expensive that they need to justify the prices they’re charging.”

Data is more prevalent because graduating students face a more competitive job market, which, in turn, creates an expectation of outcome. The institution needs to spell out exactly how they will help students succeed. As Coombs says, students ask, “How are you going to, as an institution, help me succeed? If I’m going to give you this money, help me understand how you’re going to help me.” It’s a pressure of personalized learning that has never existed before.

Many of eLumen’s customers are sizable urban community colleges and two-year institutions because interestingly, they care more about the personalized learning aspect as part of their livelihood. There is a demand for an immediate outcome that permeates the campus atmosphere. Community colleges are “much more interested in making sure they understand who they have in front of them ─ meaning, the instructors. They ask, ‘How do I help them to be successful because if I don’t do that, more than 75% of the students will fail? To have students fail is not why you went into teaching,” explains Coombs.

Community colleges face a plethora of challenges that many four-year universities often avoid. From homelessness to the threat of campus shootings and faculty contracting to the procurement of resources for new infrastructure, the problems are plenty and immediate. There is little time for a multi-year or even multi-semester approach to project development. “I just want to get into this procurement, grab my software, and start using it because it solves a problem,” stated a chancellor from the California Community College system. Coombs adds, “The challenge is, you have six, seven or eight different pieces of software that [a limited personnel] IT department has to cobble together.”

Universities become overburdened when there are too many systems to stick together. “Software is [often] procured in pieces because the RFP or the interest in an initiative is typically siloed,” says Coombs. With not enough IT support to handle the workload, the situation can become unachievable. As Joel Hernandez, CEO of eLumen, often says, “If it’s difficult, it’s impossible.” It takes the effort of a company like eLumen to integrate all the pieces correctly. “Without eLumen pulling all of [it] together, an institution will soon find they’re being beaten by their peers. They’re starting to figure out that this needs to be a platform, not different pieces of software,” says Coombs. “Tools like eLumen exist where they didn’t before. [It’s] a mechanism for which to bring all of this together into a single platform.”

About Matt Coombs

Matt Coombs is COO of eLumen, overseeing all strategic partnerships and customer success activities. He has been involved with a personalized learning environment initiative, a high school to college bridge project using adaptive virtual desktops, and a statewide Educational Planning Initiative representing the California Community College Chief Information and Security Officers. He continues his clear passion for student success and achievement with eLumen and its next-generation, integrated eLumen institutional performance management platform.

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