(Editor’s note: On the eleventh day of the 12 Days of Broadband, MCNC looks at how the North Carolina Community College System is pushing the boundaries of bandwidth with leading-edge video technologies.)

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – In 2010, the North Carolina Community College System through the N.C. Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) selected the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) as the high-speed broadband network for all 58 North Carolina Community Colleges; connecting each to all other public education institutions in the state, to the Internet, and to advanced research networks such as Internet2 and National LambdaRail.

Since this time, NCCCS, ITS and MCNC (the non-profit operator of NCREN) have worked together to integrate a full range of IP-based technologies into individual teaching and learning environments that are now benefiting every community college campus in the state.

Streaming video and related services continue to undergo a radical transformation pushing the boundaries of bandwidth and connectivity all over the world. NCREN has been substantially upgraded over the last three years as part of the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative, a $144 million public and private investment in broadband infrastructure overseen by MCNC.

Among many benefits, this historic upgrade to NCREN is paving the way for community colleges in North Carolina to better leverage leading-edge video technologies like high-definition Movi-Jabber video conferencing, telepresence, and other managed/shared services. These technologies will help the state’s community colleges achieve the aggressive vision of SuccessNC – the North Carolina Community College System’s strategic planning initiative, which hopes to double the number of students who graduate with career credentials by 2020.

“Nearly half the job openings of the future will go to students with an associate degree or a post-secondary credential,” commented North Carolina Community College System President Scott Ralls. “ITS and MCNC have helped our colleges access and integrate synchronous video, streaming of archived classes, and video conferencing technologies at unprecedented levels. These technologies help our students obtain degrees and career credentials in a timely manner with equitable access to community college resources no matter where they are located.”

A connection to NCREN provides community college students across the state with mission-critical and redundant infrastructure that can grow to meet their virtual education needs at stable costs for the coming generations of students. MCNC now provides community colleges with Internet service ranging from 100 Mbps to 1 Gig in addition to other managed video services such as Movi-Jabber, video point-to-point and multi-points, ad-hoc point-to-point sessions, live streaming, and recorded archived sessions.

The North Carolina Community College System estimates it saves nearly $1.5 million annually by leveraging the capabilities of NCREN. Every institution has at least 100 Mbps connectivity serving about 840,000 students, making it the third largest community college system in the nation. As a whole, community colleges in North Carolina have seen 34 percent actual bandwidth growth over the last year, and seven campus locations in particular have doubled their Internet speeds in the same time period.

Jonathan Vester, Chief Information Officer at Nash Community College, has led the school’s recent conversion of underutilized and costly video endpoints into interactive two-way instructional portals. Vester also helped develop a pilot effort at Nash to utilize Movi as a less-expensive solution to deliver two-way video instruction from Nash classrooms into the homes and offices of its students. Nash Community College’s use of Movi technology led 15 other community colleges to adopt and begin using it to deliver real-time video on their own campuses. Now, more than 450 Movi licenses are in use among these 15 campuses.

“We’re driven today by partnering with economic development leaders like MCNC to provide real-time education capabilities and job training to build and create jobs in North Carolina,” said Vester. “New technology helps these students experience synchronous and asynchronous learning using leading-edge video tools and self-driven/user-driven applications such as Movi at a much lower cost.”

In the spring, Nash opened the doors to what they call a “classroomless class.” This innovative learning approach enabled by new video technologies and Movi gives a class of 25 students dispersed in homes and/or workplaces the opportunity to log in and attend classes in real time with the professors.

NCCCS experienced a 25 percent increase in enrollment during the 2008-11 academic years. According to current enrollment, 1 out of 8 North Carolina citizens aged 18 or above accesses the resources of the North Carolina Community College System in some manner. With the increased enrollment, the need for broadband connectivity grows significantly every year (between 20 and 40 percent). In addition, the applications these institutions operate require a level and type of network connectivity that is often not commercially available.

The expansion of NCREN through the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative now provides scalability of the network to meet the research and education needs of public education through at least 2025. And, the new implementation of IP-based video technologies will make individual community college resources even more accessible for North Carolina’s citizens wherever they live.