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A Hillsborough Community College student shares his perspective of academic planning before and after EduNav SmartPlan

Juan Sebastian Penagos, now in his second year at Hillsborough Community College, didn’t originally plan to study at a community college. “When I graduated high school, I got a full scholarship to study at one of the best universities in Colombia, so I wanted to follow that same path when I arrived in the US,” he shared with the EduNav team, Zooming in from a classroom on HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus.

Juan’s challenge: He didn’t speak English when he arrived in America. Not one to be stopped by seemingly insurmountable challenges, he heeded his parents’ advice, recognizing that he needed to get his start somewhere. Fortunately, that somewhere ended up being HCC. “There’s a big stigma with community college, one that I myself believed!” reflected Juan. “Now, based on what I’ve experienced at HCC, I know the many benefits of starting at a community college, from having access to scholarships and cultural organizations like the Hispanic Advisory Council to the opportunity to participate in mentorship and Honors programs.”

Another opportunity that Juan has relished: the chance to expand his own professional network while advocating for community college students as HCC’s Student Trustee. HCC considered 40 candidates for this position, ultimately choosing Juan since he’s proven his leadership skills on campus, exceling in the Honors Program and serving as the vice president of a student organization. In the Student Trustee role, Juan is the “student face” for the college, which includes attending galas and advocacy events where students are not normally on the guest list — in fact, the EduNav team met him in person at the ACCT Leadership Congress during a session with Dr. Ken Ray, HCC’s Vice President of Student Services and Enrollment Management. “President Atwater, Dr. Ray, and their fellow college leaders are great at seeing the big picture,” said Juan, “but they can’t see the day-to-day perspective of what it’s like to be an HCC student. That’s what I’m here for.”

Optimizing Academic Planning at HCC

One area where Juan’s perspective has been especially valuable is in optimizing the academic planning process: “We have EduNav SmartPlan [branded HawkGPS for HCC students] now, but I was here before we rolled it out to all students so I know firsthand the pain points that it addresses!”

One of those pain points that Juan remembers especially well was exacerbated by the pandemic: “Pre-COVID, we didn’t have many class options — there was basically just an in-person, morning option and an in-person, afternoon option. Even with those limited options, it was challenging to register. You’d be presented with a long list of course numbers, with the last number being the only one that changed to represent different campus locations and times. If we were still using this process after COVID, that list of potential courses would be even longer. It’s good to have more options when it comes to online, hybrid, or in-person courses, but without SmartPlan it would have been difficult to figure out which was the best one.”

The Power of Centralization

The ability to filter course options in SmartPlan is not only helpful, but “expected” by his generation, Juan said as he shared his screen and clicked through his in-process registration for the next semester. “We live online, and we expect the platforms we use to be intuitive. SmartPlan is! It’s not only easy to set my unique preferences for class times and days, but SmartPlan centralizes information that I would otherwise have to search for in multiple places. Professor name, professor email address, even the room number where class will meet is all right here. I’m embarrassed to admit it — I have actually missed classes in the past because I didn’t note the room and then couldn’t find it in time on the first day!”

Juan continued: “Even the fact that you can PDF your current and historical plans is something that’s so easy now when it would have required going to multiple systems before,” he said as he scanned through a PDF created with one click. The document captured his academic history — which is dominated by As, as you might expect — as well as upcoming semester plans at HCC.

Transparency into Cost as Key

Part of the reason why there are so many As on that PDF: Juan has leveraged SmartPlan to avoid toxic course combinations. “I have friends studying medicine. Before EduNav, they accidentally scheduled multiple science classes and labs in one semester because they didn’t have such a clear view of this semester and next semester. The workload is impossible, and unnecessarily so! With EduNav, students have a better view of what their full plan will look like so they can avoid making it harder than it needs to be.”

While Juan has known he wanted to be a business major since he was eight years old, that’s not the case for all his classmates: “My girlfriend has changed her major quite a few times — I’m actually not sure what she’s studying now,” laughed Juan. “I joke about her changing her major so many times, but honestly that’s common for students. Before SmartPlan, the main difference was that it was more tempting to stick with a path even when you figure out it’s not for you. My business courses call it the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ — you don’t want to waste all of the work that you’ve put in so you keep putting more work in, despite the fact that you know you won’t find a fulfilling job with your degree. With SmartPlan, it’s easier to see just how much more work and how much more money changing plans will cost you so you can make the best decision for you.”

Speaking of the cost of education, for many HCC students, this level of transparency can mean the difference between pursuing higher education — and, most importantly realizing the social and economic benefits associated with it — or not: “A lot of HCC students pay out of pocket. For instance, we have a large population of Hispanic students who are not American residents or citizens. They don’t have the FAFSA to cover their tuition, so they need to know how much each semester, down to each course, will cost or they can’t stay enrolled. SmartPlan breaks it down for you, going beyond just the cost per credit to estimate books, transportation, everything these students need to plan for.”

Change Students’ Lives with Your Academic Planning Strategy

What are Juan’s long-term plans, beyond helping HCC better serve its over 45,000 students as its Student Trustee? “I want to have a social impact in the business world. I’m looking at global studies because I’ve seen that those leading the Inter-American Development Bank have that background. They’re empowered to finance projects that change lives — while they themselves make a living wage, too!” he shared. “I’m confident I can accomplish this, and part of that confidence comes from knowing exactly what my academic plan looks like from here to graduation.”

Hear more from Juan as he and one of his classmates join the EduNav team on Wednesday, January 11th at 2:00 PM ET to share more of the student perspective, and they’ll answer questions about what students want and need from the course scheduling and registering process as well. Save your seat – and submit your questions — for this webinar now!