RITA Grant Director Update

 

The impact of the Rural Information Technology Alliance (RITA) is becoming very apparent as we begin the last full year of program development and implementation.  Enrollments in RITA programs are showing significant increases. While the growth in numbers of participants is very encouraging, with over 1,100 participants as of March 2016, it is the individual student successes making up those totals that stands out.  Some of these student successes are highlighted in this issue’s articles.  Throughout the consortium RITA coaches and advisors connected with students, addressed roadblocks, encouraged students to register, helped obtain tutoring and support, connected them with faculty, helped register them for the upcoming semester, supported them as the prepared for their certification tests, and assisted with their job searches.  

As Director, I am naturally proud of the accomplishments of each of the four colleges over the past two years.  However, for the consortium to be successful and well managed, we shouldn’t rely just on my opinion and those of the grant leadership.  The U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program requires those receiving a grant retain a third-party evaluator to design and execute a rigorous evaluation of the project.  This is because a successful project can develop evidence on effective workforce education and training strategies that can be broadly replicated.  The third-party evaluator must prepare and receive approval from the Department of Labor for the evaluation plan; implement the evaluation plan, and prepare both an interim report and a final evaluation report.

The Rural Information Technology Alliance (RITA) consortium’s third-party evaluator is the St. Paul, MN, based The Improve Group. The Improve Group completed the mid-term evaluation of the RITA consortium using a mixed method evaluation, drawing from qualitative and quantitative methods, to assess RITA’s outcomes and implementation processes. Over the course of the evaluation, The Improve Group gathered feedback and insights from RITA stakeholders through interviews and surveys. In addition to gathering qualitative data, The Improve Group analyzed quantitative data for the students who had been entered into RITA’s participant tracking system as of August 3, 2015. 

The mid-term evaluation presents RITA as a strong consortium that is on track to meet its deliverables and participant goals.  The report identifies numerous successes as well as the challenges we have faced, and will face as we move forward to completion. 

The mid-term evaluation is not the only program review required of TAACCCT grants.  A key RITA deliverable is to develop and implement new IT programs in mobile applications development, cybersecurity, networking, and databases.  Each new non-proprietary course is required to be reviewed by a Subject Matter Expert (SME).  TAACCCT supported consortiums have some latitude in structuring their SME review.  Because a number of the courses are in emerging technology areas (e.g., cybersecurity and mobile application development), we have chosen to be very rigorous in the review of the courses developed by RITA at each of the four colleges.  For online courses, we have chosen Quality Matters (QM).  QM is a faculty-centered, peer review process that is designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses. For face-to-face courses, RITA has contracted with an educational consultant who has over twenty-five years of experience developing teaching and learning resources, most recently coordinating the SME process for the National Information, Security and Geospatial Technology Consortium (NISGTC).  

If you have questions or comments about the mid-term evaluation or the SME review process, please contact me at olesenm@pine.edu.