How Calbright College is Withstanding a Pandemic Without Compromise

Colleges on Salesforce

Hitting the Ground Running

Calbright College proudly declares themselves a new kind of college built to serve the California working class.  The establishment of the college was incredibly recent, with their very first round of student enrollment taking place in October of 2019.  Designed with the underemployed and under-supported in mind, Calbright is in the business of readying people for fulfilling, long-lasting careers: a mutually-beneficial relationship between working adults and their potential future employers.  Calbright College qualifies its students for work within growing state industries, whether they be entry-level, mid-level, IT, or new economy.  This mission allows the college to work closely with employers, unions, and industry experts, ensuring investment in the preparation and hiring of the talent being vetted, recruited, and prepared to fill workforce needs.

There are 115 colleges within the California community college system and more than 2 million total students across The Land of Milk and Honey.  Calbright College’s intent is not to compete with the abundance of collegiate opportunities inherent to the Californian experience, but rather to create a different kind of opportunity for a different kind of student.  More than 90% of Calbright College’s students are older than 25; 45% are over the age of 40.  Self-paced online learning provides working adults the ability to configure their curriculum around their work schedules, while a competency-based education approach prioritizes a mastery of skills and understanding over time spent sitting in a classroom.  Utilizing this model of distributive education has allowed Calbright College to better serve and cater to learners across the state.  Despite the turmoil created by COVID-19, the foundation on which Calbright College was built makes them uniquely situated to offer their students a guiding light during this time of darkness.

The Golden State

California set a precedent for the rest of the nation when they became the first state to issue stay-at-home orders for its roughly 40 million citizens.  At the time of this writing, California ranks 30th within the country in COVID-19 deaths per capita, an astounding fact when you consider the size and well-traveled nature of the state’s population.  Unfortunately, the progressive action taken to ensure California’s public health has had a catastrophic effect on its job market.  2.2 million Californians, more than 11 percent of the state’s total labor force, have filed for unemployment since March 14.

It’s times like these where the scalable nature of Calbright College’s platform powered by Salesforce can greatly benefit those affected by the virus.  Calbright College Chief Technology Officer Ari Bader-Natal hopped on a video call with Cloud for Good to expound, “Calbright College is in the unique position of starting an institution from the ground up.  This allows us to innovate and provide best-in-class support to students and the future workforce.  COVID-19 is affecting the lives of people across the state, and we’re here to serve the needs of those affected through open availability of both technology and information.”

Building a Better Tomorrow

Calbright College’s current Salesforce instance provides a cohesive, technologically integrated ecosystem unifying recruiting, admissions, and partnerships built within the Education Cloud.  This one system of truth is the foundation for the Education Data Architecture, a community-driven solution crafted with educators in mind.  Now, learners and potential learners are provided a seamless, engaging ecosystem in which to communicate and network with their teachers, advisors, and fellow students.

On a broader scale, Calbright College can now better reach immigrant groups and community-based organizations in order to reach target populations of working learners.  And they’re just getting started.  Bader-Natal concludes, “Ultimately, this connected and malleable experience provided through Cloud for Good’s Salesforce implementation has allowed us to build around our mission and utilize tech to follow through.  Much will evolve in the coming days, but that mission remains the same: if we invest in the learners of California, people who have been underemployed and under-supported, to do their best work, everybody benefits.”

Online Learning Best Practices

When asked how online learning had shifted the student and teacher experience, Bader-Natal humbly replied, “What online learning is, and what it can be, is so much broader than simply moving classes onto Zoom.  You need more than just the technology in order to succeed virtually.” He then went on to provide key suggestions for those colleges and universities moving to a digital learning experience:

Tip 1: Make Technology Readily Available

For students to succeed in an online learning environment, they need access to reliable technology.  Calbright College has followed up on its proclamation of open access to technology, establishing an extensive library of loaner devices for both their institution and other community colleges within the state, allowing them to provide over 500 Google Chromebooks and MiFi hotspots to students in need.  “Our goal is to serve students who feel constrained or stuck within their situation.  Many people simply don’t have economic stability or mobility right now and we’re doing all we can to better their circumstances.  If you’re offering an online-only program and not making technologies openly available to students, it’s not a truly open access system,” continued Bader-Natal.

With no limitations incurred by physical classrooms or processes, Calbright College’s virtual, self-paced learning experience is granting both students and teachers alike much-needed flexibility when most else feels rigid and unalterable.  It is also making the technology more readily available to teachers and staff.  For Calbright College, this means the Education Cloud serves as a single source of truth, providing teachers, guidance officers, and other staff a complete picture of the student’s history with the institution.

Tip 2: But It Isn’t JUST About Technology

Virtual learning is similar to organizations moving their business virtually.  Tools like Zoom can help, it’s a vehicle to help encourage collaboration.  However, these tools aren’t the only thing you need to run a successful classroom virtually.  Bader-Natal goes on to explain, “Think about when movies first hit the big screen.  People thought they could take in-person theatre experiences and that it would translate seamlessly into cinema. This wasn’t the case, but as time went on, the strategy and mentality behind how we presented movies changed.  It took thoughtfulness and innovation to create a seamless experience between the script, actors, and technology.”

Tip 3: Iterate, Iterate, Iterate!

Being successful in an unfamiliar environment is all about trial and error.  “We’re taking the time to be deliberate in how we are delivering an online learning experience and learning through action,” Bader-Natal said.  “It’s about finding the right mix of technology tools, learning rubrics, and teaching strategies to provide our students with a best-in-class learning experience that ultimately helps them find meaningful, successful careers.  Beyond that, though,” Bader-Natal goes on, “you shouldn’t let the emergency response to a virus leave a bad taste in your mouth for online learning…”

If the novel coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the fragility of our established systems shouldn’t be taken for granted.  And neither should the power of human ingenuity.  COVID-19 has struck the world without discrimination.  The rich and the poor, the young and the old; everyone from students and teachers to world leaders and their populace has grappled with the far-reaching spread of the outbreak.  At this moment, however, lies the chance for the progressive and the forward-thinking to combat the unrelenting and double down on their mission of service.  No one saw this pandemic coming, but those like California’s Calbright College are built to withstand moments like this.  Thanks to a flexible online learning program supported by the Salesforce platform, Calbright College is doing just that by offering invaluable education to the underserved and underemployed in their time of need.


Written by Blake Becker and Eric McCune, based on an interview with Ari Bader-Natal