July 21, 2014

Building Entrepreneurship in Community Colleges

HP LIFE e-Learning, developed by EDC and HP, is making a difference in community colleges across the United States, thanks to a collaboration with NACCE.

"We need to teach people they can make a difference," says Prof. Otis White (r)

This spring, Professor Otis White’s Introduction to Business class at Rio Salado Community College in Tempe, Arizona, has some new characters. One is Walid, who operates a food truck. Another is Bethari, a young woman with a quickly expanding clothing business. And then there’s Alejandro, a cafe owner who hopes to one day sell his special coffee roast well beyond the walls of his modest storefront.

Walid, Bethari, and Alejandro are all entrepreneurs, following their dreams of building small businesses to support themselves and their families. That they are also fictional, living only in the scenarios of the HP LIFE e-Learning entrepreneurship training does not stop the real students in Professor White’s online class from feeling invested in their success.

“I’ve had a lot of students tell me that they remember the names of the characters,” he says. “They want these fictional folks to do well.”

Part of HP Living Progress, HP LIFE e-Learning is a free online training program that helps participants learn the core competencies of entrepreneurship and business as well as the basic technology skills that reinforce these competencies. White is one of a growing number of community college instructors across the United States using HP LIFE e-Learning, thanks to a collaboration with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NAACE). He says that HP LIFE e-Learning complements instruction because the engaging, skills- and technology-focused modules help his students see real-life applications of the business and technology concepts they cover in class.

“Business education isn’t all about teaching people how to write business plans and talk to bankers. We need to teach people that they can make a difference,” says White, adding that entrepreneurship boosts job creation and reinvests wealth in the local economy.

“That’s what I like about these modules—they show people who are doing just that.”

Opening doors to possibility

More than 250,000 users in over 200 countries and territories have signed up for HP LIFE e-Learning since the first module launched in November 2012. Each of the self-paced modules teaches specific IT and business skills, covering topics from what to look for in hiring staff, to delivering an effective presentation, to using social media tools to reach new clients. Online simulations and rigorous problem-solving tasks ensure that users are learning skills that will be relevant to the small businesses they are looking to start or expand. HP LIFE e-Learning is available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Hindi and Simplified Chinese.

For community college professors, the global nature of the material is part of its appeal.

“Giving people a global view is a key requirement for our curriculum,” says White. “Most of these modules have a global edge to them and connect students to a global group. They show the bigger, global picture of young people and business and entrepreneurship. I think that’s important.”

EDC’s Jim Vetter sees a particular need and appreciation for the modules in community college classrooms across the United States.

“The whole point of the community college movement is to make higher education accessible to people who might not otherwise have access,” he says. “So the alignment between the mission of community colleges and what we are doing in HP LIFE e-Learning is very clear.”

Most of White’s learners are adults who are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, often while raising children. Students who join his class may not have any formal experience in starting a business, but they may be entrepreneurial by nature, and looking for some relevant instruction to get them onto a new career path. He thinks that the modules are interesting and relevant for students because the characters are striving to create modest businesses yet also facing real challenges.

“People often think that entrepreneurship education is all about becoming a high-flying, wealthy businessman,” says White. “But 98 percent of entrepreneurs aren’t going to be like that. They are going to be real people, just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Building a network

In fall 2013, White was one of six U.S. community college instructors who came together at EDC’s Waltham headquarters as part of a program developed in collaboration with NACCE, to learn more about HP LIFE e-Learning. The modules were seen as an effective way to tie theory with practice, in a manageable, authentic way, and the instructors departed EDC ready to implement them in their classes.

Since that meeting, these six NACCE HP LIFE ambassadors have trained many colleagues on their own campuses and throughout the country on how to integrate the HP LIFE e-Learning modules into their coursework, creating a network of 45 instructors who are using the modules to boost entrepreneurship.

James Dottin, from Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, also attended the meeting at EDC. As 1 of 10 professors in the college’s business department who is now using HP LIFE e-Learning, he believes that one of the program’s greatest strengths is that it makes the connection between theory and practice.

“The modules provide students with hands-on, real-life experiences of the topics we are covering,” he says. “They can picture themselves or their existing business in these scenarios.”

Many of Dottin’s students are still trying to determine which career path they want to pursue. He believes that the modules give students a glimpse into a different sort of career pathway—one where they make the decisions and can choose to work for themselves, not for someone else.

“HP LIFE tells community college students that there are other avenues out there, and that you can use these entrepreneurial tools to go in that direction,” Dottin says. “Many students don’t even think of this as a possibility.”