Pennsylvania Highlands Community College
How This Top Pennsylvania Community College Continued Serving Students During the Lockdowns without Missing a Step
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Pennsylvania Highlands Community College is a two-year educational institution that provides access to affordable, high-quality education in dozens of fields. The college offers a wide range of academic degrees and career certificate programs across its six campus locations throughout western Pennsylvania and its thriving online education environment.
The lockdowns dealt yet another economic blow to an already-struggling western Pennsylvania. Thousands found themselves in need of new career skills. Thankfully, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College was there to help students prepare to thrive in a post-pandemic world.
Since its founding more than a quarter-century ago, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College has filled an important void in academia. The college provides quality, affordable two-year degrees and work-ready career certificates for in-demand professional fields such as healthcare, IT, cybersecurity, business and entrepreneurship, child development, and sustainable agriculture.
Penn Highlands’ mission is to offer high-quality education and career preparation for anyone who needs it—regardless of their financial situation. This is why a large part of the college’s operations are focused on fundraising to provide scholarships and grants for students in underserved areas of western Pennsylvania. Over the years, in fact, Penn Highlands has awarded more than $3 million in grant aid to its students.
When the COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect, forcing the closure of thousands of businesses across the state, Penn Highlands’ degrees, certificates, and diplomas became more important than ever for area residents who suddenly found themselves in uncertain situations and in need of new skill sets.
The phone system that didn’t make the grade
Penn Highlands’ legacy phone infrastructure consisted of on-prem hardware, landlines, and desk phones—all administered through an expensive software package. As Chief Information Officer Matt Hoffman recalls, managing the phone system had already entered nightmare territory before the pandemic hit.
Additionally, because the phone lines were all tied to employees’ desks, and the system’s remote service was unreliable, Matt’s IT team did not have a viable solution to transition Penn Highlands’ faculty and administrative staff to working from home.
Our former phone system’s remote capabilities and administration was limited to remote staff and faculty. The end user experience wasn’t optimal with the antiquated system. It would be difficult to rely on that system during the COVID lockdown.
Chief Information Officer
A cloud solution the school could try firsthand in minutes
With the COVID lockdowns forcing an immediate shutdown of the college’s six campus locations, Penn Highlands had to quickly find an alternative solution for its home-based faculty to communicate with students and to allow staff to remain accessible to colleagues, the press, donors, and other members of the public.
We were already planning to upgrade our phone system before the shutdown, but COVID definitely accelerated our search.
Raymond Weible, Jr.
Director of Marketing and Communications
When he learned about RingCentral’s work-from-anywhere cloud phone solution, Matt was able to easily conduct his own trial run. “The speed and ease of the trial made a real difference, because we were obviously eager to find a solution that worked,” he says. “It took me less than 10 minutes to set up my trial with RingCentral. Just like that, I was making calls from the app and forwarding my old number to the RingCentral system.”
Staying accessible to students… without sharing their personal numbers
The most immediate benefit Penn Highlands’ faculty found when Matt’s team set them up with RingCentral apps for their laptops and mobile phones was that they could communicate with students from anywhere, using their office numbers. “That was so valuable for our teachers,” says Matt. “They could take and make phone calls with students, and even text with them, from their own smartphones but without ever giving out their private numbers.”
Kathy Morrell, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement & PR, explains that this ability to maintain a business identity while away from the office was also hugely beneficial for the college’s non-faculty staff. “I’m on calls throughout the day, for our fundraising efforts and speaking with members of the media,” she explains. “I can’t tell you how great it is to have those calls at home, or in my car, and never have to give out my private number.”
Penn Highlands’ main goal has always been to provide affordable education to people who need it. I’m proud that when the lockdowns went into effect, we were able to continue delivering on that promise. And it was in no small part because we had the right phone solution.
Executive Director of Institutional Advancement & PR