Post-Secondary Success Is the New Student Success Metric
Student success has been a hot topic in higher education for some time. While its concept is nothing new, how it is defined and measured is continually evolving. Student retention and graduation rates are among the more common and valued metrics used to measure student outcomes, however, these measurements are attracting some company. There are more success factors that schools are beginning to appreciate, but implementing and measuring them can be challenging.
In a recent “To A Degree” podcast from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dan Greenstein, director of Education for Post-Secondary Success at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses some of the issues surrounding student success. He believes the value in postsecondary education is obvious – it is a reliable pathway into the middle class. “We know that some education after high school results in higher salaries, more secure jobs, greater civic engagement and by 2025, we estimate our workforce will need about 11 million more people with postsecondary credentials than our colleges and universities are on track to produce.”
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released numbers suggesting college enrollment rates are decreasing, despite the fact that more students are graduating from high school. The percentage of high-school graduates who immediately enrolled in college fell from 69 percent in 2008 to 66 percent in 2013. One of the biggest issues is cost. Postsecondary education is expensive and many millennials simply don’t believe there is value in it.
Most importantly, Greenstein and the Foundation believe accessibility is a greater issue, particularly since there are so many scholarships and financial aid available to students of all economic demographics. They believe it is critical to making postsecondary opportunities more available to students of all backgrounds, stages of life, and socioeconomic status to achieve equity. How are higher education institutions answering this challenge?
Technology Is Only Half of the Equation
Many higher learning institutions turn to technology in order to achieve equity and excellence, but as Greenstein says, programs are equally as important. “Higher education institutions must redefine how students progress through their educational journey and no single solution is enough to transform the institution to better serve students. Schools need to be redesigned around students and their needs, their pathways. We must get students on a path and keep them there to succeed. How will schools integrate various solutions to make that happen? It will require key capabilities, leadership, data-driven decision-making, and change management, to name a few.”
If these initiatives are intended to boost retention and student success, the next question must be how success will be measured. An institution’s performance is more than just how many students enroll and graduate. In order to deliver the most effective student intervention, all students must be segmented by race, income and other demographics to determine how well higher education is serving all students.
Are all students receiving the resources, the advising, the intervention they need to succeed? We have some data that gives us some insight into how well institutions are doing. Plenty of research has focused on student outcomes. One of the more sobering reports came from the National Center for Education Statistics. They found that up to 40 percent of first-time, full-time students who enrolled in a 4-year postsecondary institution never graduated.
When students feel overwhelmed, even lost, they are more likely to give up. When simple tasks become difficult, either because technology hasn’t caught up with student requirements or the process to complete those tasks are too complicated, students avoid them. They miss deadlines, they register for courses that do not contribute to their degrees, and they run out of money before they’ve graduated. Students who ask for help may receive it, but many students do not ask. They do not schedule appointments with advisors or they wait until little can be done to get them back on the right pathway.
While it is ultimately up to the student to follow their pathway, many schools are not implementing preventative measures until it is too late. This begs the question as to whether these higher education institutions have the technology and programs in place to identify and offer assistance to all at-risk students early in their academic career.
As important as these issues are, increasingly more emphasis is being put on additional factors that contribute to student success, including post-graduation outcomes. This makes sense, of course, considering the fact that students attend colleges and universities in order to improve their career opportunities. If an institution is failing to provide adequate education in order for students to fulfill their career goals, how can it consider itself contributing to student success? And if institutions aren’t measuring student success beyond graduation, how does it know it provided value to students?
What metrics are we to use to gauge post-graduation success? Greenstein mentions employment rates, earnings, and student debt default are components of success that should also be considered, as well as costs to the institution to deliver a quality education. Value is what it comes down to – does the student perceive their experience as valuable and can the institution deliver that value in a cost-effective way?
Institutions must begin to measure student success beyond the four to six years the student is enrolled in the college or university. The value of a student’s postsecondary education can really only be accurately quantified when in context with the student’s overall career success.
Technology and Programs
While some higher education institutions are further down the innovation road, many are still trying to determine how best to deliver value to their students. Greenstein points out that institutions are motivated by doing the right thing and focusing on student outcomes, but money is also always at issue. “When it’s more expensive to lose a student than retain a student, you begin to think systematically about how to do that.”
For schools who place value on student outcomes and continually strive to implement technology and programs to enable them, partnering with experts to help them get there is critical. These innovations aren’t always simple and can require integrating multiple technologies, revamping processes that have been in place for decades or longer, and changing mindsets. Any solution takes time not only to customize and develop but to roll out. It can take years for the students to realize the benefits, making it important for schools to begin sooner than later.
Why the Mobile Experience Matters
The Case for Mobile
Organizations have gotten smart. They realize if they want to reach and engage their customer base, they are going to have to go mobile. Pew Research recently reported that smartphone use among Americans is up to a staggering 77 percent. That may not seem surprising until you realize how much that number has grown since 2011. Six years ago, only 35 percent of Americans owned smartphones.
And which demographic ranks at the top of ownership? Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 years old, 92 percent of them, in fact. If you’re a higher learning institution, that number should perk your ears.
Not only are your students using their smartphones, but more than half of them are using other mobile devices such as tablets. Taking this a bit further, we don’t have to assume what people are doing on their mobile devices. A 2015 report found people are spending 90 percent of their mobile time in apps – and only 10 percent in their browser. This report was released two years ago so it is highly likely the gap between those numbers has widened even further.
Not All Mobile Is Created Equal
Higher learning institutions are rolling out mobile apps in hopes of capturing their student’s attention, giving them greater access and functionality on the go, and responding to the increasing demand for a mobile presence. How many of them are succeeding is unknown. Mobile app success is highly subjective. Many institutions may think simply by having a mobile app, they have succeeded. But if the users were asked about their mobile experience, would they agree?
Nearly a quarter of all mobile apps are abandoned after one use and 62 percent will use an app less than 11 times. Of course, these statistics are for the general public but they highlight the fact that mobile app users are impatient and demanding – in a good way. They are pushing developers to do better, to think differently and to design apps people actually want to use.
Students may not have much of a say in how their school’s design their apps, but they should. Higher learning institutions who want to do more than slap an app onto a mobile device and call it a day are going to be the ones with higher student engagement, greater student outcomes and happier students. Mobile apps may not be the cure-all, but a well-designed, student-focused app will empower students to do more for themselves, take ownership of their educational journey, complete more tasks on time in less time, and reach their goals much easier.
Related: Case Study: How Lone Star College is providing students with the positive mobile experience they demand
Mobile Isn’t Desktop
The first thing schools need to understand is that the mobile device, particularly a smartphone, is vastly different from its desktop counterpart. What works for the desktop often will not work on a smartphone. You may have the best online portal in the country but that portal may not translate into an awesome mobile app unless you are intentional.
A responsive design means modifications must be made across different platforms so there is a seamless user experience. This isn’t always easy and requires an expert hand.
Smaller screens mean less space for the user and the developer. The viewer can see less information at once from their smartphone, impacting images, fonts, scrolling and content. Smartphones are also slower to process information than a desktop processor, taking more time to render images or load content.
How users interact with the app will differ as well. Users will tap on links instead of clicking or hovering and there is much less precision. Keyboard entry can be tricky as letters and fields for input are much smaller. These are just a few design issues developers must consider when designing an app.
Convenience, above All Else
A list of to dos and don’ts are easy to find but user behavior is what should drive the mobile design. What do users universally want? No matter who you ask, speed and ease of use will be the top user desires, plain and simple.
Students are no different and may even be more inclined to demand such features. They were raised on technology and live in an instant gratification world. To boil it down to one word, they expect their mobile experience will be convenient. How does Google define “convenient?” “Fitting in well with a person’s needs, activities and plans. Involving little trouble or effort. Situated so as to allow easy access to. Occurring in a place or at a time that is useful.” Does your app do that?
Convenience means apps are easy to access, easy to use and fast in their response. Students want to find information, complete a task and connect with friends while they’re standing in line at a coffee shop. They may only have seconds to engage with the app and they aren’t going to love an app where they have to wait or come back to when they have more time.
As much as higher learning institutions may consider mobile app design, students don’t want to even think about the design – they just expect the app to work how they want, when they want. They may only think about the design when they recognize the app isn’t meeting their needs.
Mobile Design Takes A Village
Higher learning institutions are not generally experts in designing user-friendly mobile apps. Most prefer to focus on the business of educating and managing the hundreds of other responsibilities required to keep the institution humming. Finding a technology partner can be a critical step towards making mobile a reality and ensuring they can provide users with the best possible mobile experience both now and as technology evolves.
One of the most important things a developer (inside the institution or a third party) can do is to know their audience. Asking basic questions will lay the foundation to design: Who is going to be using the app? How will they be using it? When will they be using it? Where will they be using it? Any developer or software provider should put the user front and center before designing or selling any mobile app. This means actually speaking to the users. Assuming, guessing or throwing darts at what is thought to be a need or requirement is no substitute for real focus groups.
Enlisting the help of the user to inform decisions and guide the design is perhaps the single best tactic in developing a mobile app that will do what it was intended to do. Going mobile is a sizable investment of time and resources. Why go at it half-heartedly? If you’re going to invest in mobile, do it right. Partner with experienced providers who can deliver an app that will not only be used but hailed as a key element for student success.
7 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Change Higher Education
Video Killed the Radio Star
It wasn’t too long ago that we heard this song playing on the radio. It seems hard to imagine a life without television, sitting in front of a radio and listening to our favorite television programs. But the radio star wasn’t the only cultural phenomenon that died with technology. With the launch of MTV, the radio began its downward spiral. People opted to watch their music rather than simply listen to it. Today, fewer people are watching television and MTV is a shadow of its former self. Instead, they are streaming their favorite shows, sans commercials and rigid television schedules.
Higher education isn’t far behind. It’s amazing to watch what’s happening in this industry, but it’s not surprising. For years, we’ve been witnessing the rise of the use of mobile apps, online learning and other new ways of teaching. Learning is accessible to people of all walks of life as barriers to education are being removed. Full-time workers, moms and dads, high school kids, retired, homebound and even those managing illnesses now can take classes and even graduate without ever stepping foot into a classroom.
It’s All about Scale
For higher learning institutions, offering flexible instruction and embracing the technology to make it possible opens up an entirely new frontier. They can reach a limitless number of people through online courses. Many schools are even offering free online classes to anyone who wants to take them. The only fees that are required are if the student desires to test to earn certifications or degrees.
Online courses are just the beginning, however. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making its way into education. These smart chatbots use various technologies such as algorithms and machine learning to not replace educators but to empower them. They can continue to reach more people because they have more time to reach them. Instead of answering mundane and repetitive questions, they can focus on making connections and teaching valuable material.
How is AI changing education? We’ll give you 7 ways, some of which is already happening and others are just on the horizon.
How AI Is Changing Higher Education
1. Access to Higher Ed
Higher education has traditionally been out of reach for many. Either the cost is prohibitive or the lifestyle isn’t conducive. Today’s student isn’t only 18-year olds who just graduated from high school. They are adults of all ages, many of whom have jobs, families and hectic schedules. The more automated their educational journey, the more attractive and conceivable it is to actually give college a shot.
AI introduces automation in tangible ways, saving these nouveau learners precious time and frustration so they can get on the road to success faster and stay there. AI not only makes the enrollment and other processes simpler, it helps keep students on track. By analyzing all of the big data surrounding each student, analytics can predict which students are at risk, develop timely interventions that support them, and encourage students to reach their goals.
AI algorithms also help connect virtual learners, bringing them into a community where questions can be answered, problems solved and learning extended. Their campus is no longer limited to a physical place but an entire globe of possibilities. This flexibility enables students of all demographics to partake in learning wherever they are, whenever they want. Remote or local, wealthy or looking for free classes – all can participate in higher education and learn the skills they need to be productive and successful in the job market.
2. Mentoring and Tutoring
AI is also helping students with virtual mentors as they assist them with self-direction so they can be more self-sufficient, self-assessments where they can monitor their progress, and self-learning where they can get their questions answered quickly or join a crowd-sourced study group. While advisors will still play an important role, chatbots can answer many of the more repetitive and general questions, such as when a test is going to be administered, professor tutoring hours, answer keys, assignments, and more.
These are questions that administrators, professors and teaching assistants can answer but by handing this burden over to a chatbot, they have more time to focus on more important topics – like teaching the actual material. Chatbots are like a virtual assistant, providing real-time, always-available answers to frequently asked questions.
3. Personalized Learning
Look inside any classroom from K-graduate programs and you will find that despite the material being taught to the masses, there is an abundance of students who learn differently. They learn at different speeds, struggle in different areas and simply need different instruction. Unfortunately, the classroom hasn’t traditionally been set up to serve these learners. Until now.
AI is using machine learning to collect patterns of data and provide insights for professors. Using this data, they can find gaps and areas where students aren’t “getting it.” Even textbooks can be customized using this data. Educators can be better at what they do because they are more able to customize the material to fit every type of learner.
Students can learn at their own pace, assisted by AIs that supplement their learning. The curriculum is customized, giving students the best chance for success.
4. Recommendation Engines
Sometimes, the most challenging part of being a student, particularly a young student, is that the higher education journey appears so complicated. Students aren’t sure what classes they need to fulfill their degree requirements, which classes qualify for financial aid, where those classes are located, how to navigate all of the paperwork on time, and so forth. AIs are providing the much-needed guidance these students need and appreciate – in real-time and on demand.
Recommendation engines analyze interaction data for each student, such as individual learning, social and learning contexts, personal interests, degree goals, etc. and then present timely recommendations. AI is there to guide them down the right path, ensuring they take fewer detours to have the best student outcomes. Students can engage with chatbots to determine the best next step, play with “what if” scenarios, and better understand how each decision impacts their goal attainment.
5. Reminders and FAQs
Just as with the recommendations, AI can send students gentle reminders in the form of SMS text messages or push notifications when certain tasks need completing, deadlines are approaching or events are coming up. The beauty of chatbots is that they are two-way, not simply one-way blasts of information. They invite students to engage in conversations. It’s in these conversations that students feel like they are getting personalized attention and messaging. It’s much more effective than paragraphs of generalized information buried in intranet sites and portals.
While mobile apps are great, chatbots allow for conversational interaction in real-time so students can get what they need the instant they need it. No downloads or updates, no waiting for appointments with advisors. As more people become familiar with chatbot technology (booking appointments, shopping assistance, ordering food and car rides), they will anticipate their schools are able to provide the same functionality.
6. Streamlined Processes
Many of the most common tasks and questions do not need human assistance. In cases such as finding out where a class is located, how many hours a student needs to graduate, what prerequisite classes are required, what events are scheduled and when – these are just a few examples of information chatbots can quickly and successfully deliver.
When students can find the information they need quickly, they relieve the burden placed on administrators, teachers and fellow students. Chatbots allow users to complete tasks quickly using common commands and ask questions as if they were speaking directly with support personnel. Students should be able to register for classes, apply and pay for student aid, and do other basic administrative tasks without having to wait for a response from a human. AI gives them this ability.
7. Lifelong Education
With the technological advancements and careers that will arise out of the ashes of others, continual learning will be the norm as people try to keep up and remain competitive. Two- and four-year higher learning institutions are finding ways to engage students post graduation. Students are being considered more as lifelong customers rather than temporary learners. It’s a lifetime of learning opportunities and AI can make learning easier and more accessible.
AI brings people of all ages and stages of life to a global classroom. It is a vehicle higher learning institutions can use to offer lifelong learning that begins in the classroom but then extends into the learner’s life outside of school.
How Do You Define Student Success in 2017?
The Evolution of Student Success
In the past, student success wasn’t really top of mind for most higher education institutions. What mattered most was enrollment numbers, tenured professors, grants and other metrics of success. These were bragging rights, differentiators campuses could use to recruit more students and gain the admiration (and high rankings) of industry experts. Things have changed considerably over time, as these are no longer the benchmarks of success.
The term “student success” came to be as institutions began to focus more of their attention on the students rather than their infrastructure. In order to be considered successful, students would have to succeed as well. How “success” was defined was based on more tangible metrics, such as graduation rates, time-to-graduation, postsecondary degrees and job placement. These are easy to measure and federal and state funding is now predicated on these results.
Where there is money, so will be the focus. As rankings and funding help keep institutions viable and attractive, the student’s success has transitioned merely from graduating to embracing the student’s entire educational journey from application acceptance through graduate and alumni status. It is in the institution’s best interest to put the student’s best interest first and foremost.
The Four-Year Myth
Every student enrolls in school with the dream and belief that they will graduate and go on to do great things. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen for every student. In one study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 60 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in the fall of 2008 completed the degree at that institution by 2014. The 6-year graduation rate was 58 percent at public institutions, 65 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 27 percent at private for-profit institutions.
Complete College America found the same results, with most college students completing their bachelor’s degree in six years, as opposed to four. Their report, “Four-Year Myth,” said, “Students and parents know that time is money. The reality is that our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long and graduates too few.” It also found that at most public universities, only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. “Even at state flagship universities – selective, research-intensive institutions – only 36 percent of full-time students complete their bachelor’s degree on time.”
What are the reasons? The report believes it is due to the “inability to register for required courses, credits lost in transfer and remediation sequences that do not work, and students taking too few credits per semester to finish on time.” These extra two years is expensive. For every extra year of a public four-year college, students or parents can expect to pay an additional $22,836. It’s no wonder why so many students simply give up.
Six years and up to $50,000 more than what was budgeted is simply too much. Students aren’t seeing the value and many are opting to enter the workforce instead of enrolling in college. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center backs this up, finding that despite increasing high school graduation rates (82 percent) and the massive increases in federal aid, the number of students enrolling in colleges and universities continues to decline by one to two percent year over year.
The Student Challenge
The long-term viability of higher education institutions is highly dependent on enrollment of new students. In order to help them along their journey and give them every opportunity to succeed, institutions are implementing many strategies and investing in modern technology.
There appears to be a widening gap between many institutions and the students they seek to serve. Most institutions have stuck to the tried and true methodologies and infrastructures to support students while students have grown up with innovative technologies. They are mobile, tech-savvy and expect on-demand capabilities. Institutions have been slow to respond, continuing to offer online course registration, email and mail correspondence, advisor meetings, and manual paperwork.
Students often enter these institutions with high hopes but no clear pathway towards success. They are without the immediate guidance of parents and are still learning responsibility. Managing coursework along with all of the manual tasks and to-dos can be overwhelming. Students frequently enroll in classes that may not qualify for financial aid or fulfill degree requirements, increasing costs and delaying on-time graduation. They change majors or colleges without understanding the impact on their 4-year plan. They miss critical emails from administrators and advisors, fall behind on tasks and the snowball gets larger.
Helping Students Succeed
Higher learning institutions should recognize the relationship between the challenges of its students and student outcomes. Anything the institution can do to remedy these issues will surely improve student success. It will require investment into modern technology and it most definitely will require institutions to meet students where they are, on the channels and devices they use.
A school’s student information system is the heartbeat of the institution. It houses all of the student data from application through alumni status. Platforms such as Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions is a highly functional database for backend processes. The problem, however, is that this information is often relegated to administrators. Students have been left out and are therefore highly dependent on these administrators for their every move.
For institutions wanting to truly engage and partner with students to maximize student success, there must be a shift from storing this information in the back office to bringing it to the fingertips of students. Enabling students to connect with their information in order to complete tasks and chart their own journeys is perhaps the most significant boon that institutions can offer its students.
Students can be self-sufficient in most areas of their educational journey – mapping out their goals, tracking their progress, completing required tasks and communicating with their schools. The keys are to make the SIS information transparent and accessible via a mobile device. The fewer walls between the student and their information, the more likely the student will engage in their own educational journey and take the steps necessary to reach their personal goals.
The Features Students Want
When institutions recognize the power of data in the hands of students, amazing things can happen. Students can do more than we often give them credit for and increasingly, they are asking for more self-reliance. They are used to finding information, completing tasks and tracking their efforts on mobile apps in real or near-real time. They don’t want to wait, they don’t want unnecessary steps or burdens, and they don’t want to rely on administrators for every step of their journey.
Institutions can offer students incredible tools, such as the ability to chart their degree requirements on an app so they can see exactly what courses they will need to take and when, including prerequisites and core classes. They can play with “what-if” scenarios to see how any changes or modifications to their courses or area of focus will impact their goals. From there, students should be able to customize their schedules to fit their lifestyle, particularly those students who work and/or have families.
Of course, as the student progresses, they should be able to track their progress. When they can see what they have accomplished and the next steps they need to take, they are much more likely to stay on course. For financial aid students, this is particularly important as there are often confusing regulations on which courses qualify for financial aid. When institutions can automate the financial aid eligibility checks, they are able to notify students of any ineligible courses in time for those students to make changes to their schedules. This can have a dramatic impact on costs and time to graduate when students are only taking the courses they need to fulfill their degree requirements.
Communication is another feature institutions often overlook. Most students are using their mobile devices for virtually every activity and to communicate with each other. Institutions must recognize the students’ desire to use that same capability to communicate with their schools.
Email is not something many young students prefer to use and schools know how challenging email can be to communicate sensitive information. Instead, smart institutions are communicating with students in a different way – using a message center similar to banks. These message centers are FERPA-compliant and schools can send push notifications to the students’ mobile devices alerting them of a new message in their Message Center.
These push notifications can serve as friendly reminders, advising students of unfinished tasks or suggesting next steps to help them stay on track. Push notifications are well-received when they are encouraging, make life easier, alert us to what matters, and reminds us to finish tasks. It’s a modern way to guide students along their educational journey, where they remain in control yet have a gentle nudge to support them as they navigate their degrees.
Student Success = Institution Success
It isn’t a complicated formula: when students succeed, the institution succeeds. However you define success, you can be certain your students’ success will play a major role in how well you achieve it. Investment in your students always has high ROI. Take the steps necessary to bring your institution into the modern era. While 2017 is already in full swing, it’s never too late to make the investments necessary to ensure both your institution and your students have the best opportunity to succeed.
By giving students the technology they need to access the data they require, institutions are ensuring the success of both the student and the school. Students want mobility, access and self-sufficiency. They want to perform tasks, stay informed, and take control of their educational journeys from the convenience and ease of their mobile devices. Unlock your SIS and give them the best student experience across all of their devices. Your administration will thank you and your students will be poised to reach their goals.
How Financial Aid Course Audit (FACA) Is Helping Students Get the Most out of Financial Aid
Making Financial Aid Work for Every Student
Financial aid is available to all students, whether they realize it or not. They don’t have to be of low-income status or have stellar test scores; they simply need to apply. On average, about 80 percent of students do apply for some type of financial aid, whether it is federal student aid, scholarships, discounts, fellowships or tuition waivers. This is great news for students but being awarded financial aid is just the beginning for both them and the higher learning institution.
Title IV federal regulations passed down from the Department of Education mandate that students may only receive federal financial aid for courses that apply toward their declared degree. This can make course selection a confusing and sometimes frustrating endeavor. It brings up valid questions about eligibility, the amount of financial aid that can be rewarded for repeat coursework and how changes in a student’s program may impact financial aid.
For many institutions, adhering to the regulations to make class eligibility transparent to students is challenging. There is plenty of risk for audits and penalty fees for the institution, and student engagement can take a hit as well. If there are delays in informing students of their ineligible classes or there is too much red tape, students can easily become discouraged. They simply want to finish their enrollment schedule and set their schedules without having to worry about how, or if, financial aid will be administered.
Fortunately, higher learning institutions have options. With an investment in a Financial Aid Course Audit (FACA) system, colleges and universities can reap several immediate benefits:
A Financial Aid Course Audit helps colleges and universities clarify the courses that are eligible for federal aid. These are the specific regulation topics that an FACA system can make more transparent to help institutions stay compliant:
- Credit Hour – Institutions must award students only the amount of financial aid deserved. An institutions assignment of a credit hour must be acceptable as defined by the Department of Education.
- Retaking Coursework – The regulations expand the definition of a full-time student by allowing repeated coursework to count towards a student’s full-time course load for one repetition.
A FACA system can help institutions better comply with the Department of Education’s regulations on course applicability, remedial coursework and repeat coursework. By identifying situations that fail to meet eligibility requirements early on, non-compliance becomes a non-issue.
Student engagement is a top priority for higher learning institutions hoping to boost or sustain enrollment numbers, reputations and graduation rates. The first step in student engagement is supporting strategies and technologies that make students happier, which leads to student success.
A Financial Aid Course Auditor gives institutions the ability to inform students much more quickly, even within a day of registration in an ineligible course or a course that will only qualify for partial credit. Providing students with this near-immediate notification via their Student Information System (SIS) helps students stick to their academic and degree goals and maximize their opportunity to graduate on time.
When students have the information they need to clarify their program and course selection, both the students and the institution are better able to comply with federal aid guidelines. For the students, in particular, adherence to the sometimes confusing regulations means they can more easily navigate their educational journey in an efficient manner so they can reach their goals. The institution’s SIS system can be integrated with the FACA system to make many tasks easier, such as registering for eligible classes, buying the right books and paying only for the classes that will help them meet their degree requirements.
The many federal regulations can make processing and managing financial aid an administrative nightmare. One missed step can put the institution at risk for noncompliance and derail a student’s educational path. With the implementation of FACA into a college or university’s enrollment and financial aid process, many tasks are automated. These new efficiencies give administrators more time to work on other projects, which helps institutions reduce overhead costs while providing students with better service.
Using the FACA system, institutions can help students become more self-sufficient, enabling them to perform many tasks on their own from their institution’s SIS system or mobile app. By going to their personal profile, they can confirm they are enrolled in the program they identified. They can then register for courses that apply to their program of study so they can maximize their financial aid award and achieve their academic goals sooner.
Every course in which they are interested is marked as either eligible or ineligible for financial aid. Once they register, they will receive a message informing them of any classes that did not apply to their program of study and will not be considered eligible for financial aid. The usual labor-intensive process of finding and registering for eligible classes and then waiting to hear if their selections were eligible for their program of study has now been transformed into a few clicks from their own computer or mobile device using the institution’s app.
These efficiencies can be multiplied per student across the campus, compounding the FACA system’s benefits.
Fewer Student Advisor Visits
Typically, students would discuss their academic and career goals with their course advisor. The advisors help their students choose programs that satisfy their interests and give them viable opportunities for job placement or continuing education. The FACA will not replace this important one-on-one communication but it will help both the student and the advisor going forward.
When students can access their own financial aid data and course catalogs from their computer or mobile app, they can reduce or even eliminate many of the meetings they would need to schedule with an advisor. The FACA process runs in conjunction with the advisement report, ensuring most students can navigate their own journey rather easily without constant advisor intervention.
Financial Aid Course Audit has changed the playing field when it comes to Title IV compliance. Higher learning institutions can be proactive and prepared for changing regulations when they leverage the right technology. Students are demanding a more hands-on approach to their educational journey. Institutions can help prepare these students for their future by equipping them with the student success tools they need to reach their goals.
Behind the Curtain with HighPoint Technology Founder, George Amalor
We had a chance to sit down with George Amalor, founder and CEO of HighPoint Technology, to go in depth about his vision, why he started HighPoint nearly two decades ago, and how the company has been so successful.
What inspired you to start HighPoint?
I was working for years as a consultant, implementing PeopleSoft Campus Solutions. It was rewarding work but I became increasingly disenchanted with aspects of the business: unmet customer expectations, high costs, pressure to bill more hours and long deployments.
This frustration led me to do things my way, first as a consultancy and then eventually pivoting HighPoint as a products company. I grew more interested in bridging the gap between technology and users and at first, this meant students. I knew how hard it was for students to make an enormous financial commitment and then struggle to make thousands of decisions daily to complete their journey successfully.
I knew systems like PeopleSoft Campus Solutions had enormous potential for students but no one was focused on solving real problems through student-centric design. I saw the emergence of Amazon, Kayak, Paypal and I knew I could use their philosophy to tap into institutional data, deliver that to students and make an immediate impact on student success.
When the iPhone was launched, mobile became the new device and I saw a convergence of problems and needs that I could meet. HighPoint Mobile was born in 2009 and our first customer was Azusa Pacific University. Quickly thereafter we were on the cover of Oracle’s magazine with FAMU.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the beginning?
I needed someone to believe in our mission to help more students succeed. It was 2008, long before the venture community saw an opportunity in student success. Our client institutions, however, saw something in us and that was a pivotal moment. They loved our design philosophy, commitment to service and growth mindset. Now, we are the market leaders for PeopleSoft mobile in Higher Ed, and nearly 130 institutions and 3 million students use our mobile tool daily, as well as other products we’ve built.
How did you grow and evolve?
Mobile was our first big product. We had tremendous success deploying mobile across a variety of small to large 2-year and 4-year institutions like Duke, VCCS, UVA, NYU and even international customers. We then discovered there were other areas of inefficiencies we could impact, such as communicating securely between students and advisors. That’s when we built Message Center. It’s very similar to the message center you have with your banking institution but it’s integrated into the SIS functions.
Subsequently, we found other areas where we could move the needle for students and staff impact. For example, ISIR management could be made more efficient through our Financial Aid Automation tool. More recently, one of our most exciting products, Financial Aid Course Audit, enables us to give institutions and student immediate feedback to see if a course is eligible for Financial Aid before they go through the trouble of building a schedule and enrolling in a class. It’s this approach to a student-centric design framework that I think many other vendors fail to do and it’s why we’ve been successful and have grown dramatically year after year.
As for the future, we will continue to enhance our many products and apply design-thinking principles to maximize the incredible engine that is the PeopleSoft Campus Solutions system. Our focus will continue to be laser-focused on better outcomes for students. We’re very fortunate to have some of the largest PeopleSoft institutions in our family like VCCS, SBCTC, UVA and Lone Star College, to name a few.
How do you approach solving problems that may be different from others?
It’s this student completion mindset that drives our product decision-making and our customers love it. They consider our tools a best practice now. For us, having the deep PeopleSoft Campus Solution skill set on our team allows us to access and leverage all kinds institutional data and apply the latest research like mobile nudging and integrated planning and advising that is being promoted lately through the Gates Foundation and entities like Tyton Partners.
I will share with you one of our design principles that we strive for in our mobile device. It’s the 3-tap rule. Using any of our features in mobile, we try hard to keep the taps a student makes on their mobile device to three or less to complete a function. Any more than that and we’re reducing efficacy in outcomes.
In today’s world, we too often see Frankenstein solutions where the technology department leads the software evaluation and is attempting to check a box. Have an SIS? Check. Have an LMS? Check. Have a CRM? Check. Have a mobile product? Check. Unfortunately, they don’t always appreciate the student user experience and achieving real outcomes. That’s our focus and approach to solving real problems.
What does the future hold for HighPoint?
It’s definitely more of the same – same mission to help students and institutions and same design philosophy. We will provide the same level of service to our customers. If anything, we want to make a larger impact for students, particularly low-income, at-risk populations. Over 70 percent of our student users are from 2-year institutions and we want to demystify and simplify the postsecondary process for them, in particular. We admire the work that organizations like Achieving the Dream are doing and we want to do our part as well. Using mobile is the best way to meet traditional and nontraditional students where they are and give them a tool that is at parity with the features and functions you would see in everyday consumer apps like Amazon, Kayak and Paypal. This gives them the confidence they need to be successful.
It’s an exciting time in edtech. Lots of new investment, startups and research-based approaches that could contribute to improved outcomes. We are exploring these opportunities with many companies to accelerate their work through our mobile platform. Stay tuned for new innovation to come!
Why Having a Mobile App for College Students Isn’t Enough
The development and use of mobile apps have skyrocketed in the past few years. Back in 2014, Nielsen found that people were spending 89 percent of their media time on mobile apps and only 11 percent of their time was being spent on mobile web. This trend has continued, as 98 percent of millennials now own smartphones and use apps to do virtually everything.
For millennials, their smartphones are their best friends, quite literally. A recent study found 39 percent of millennials say they interact more with their smartphones than they do with their friends, parents or co-workers. Surprisingly, the same number of them say they feel anxious when they don’t have access to their smartphone. What are they doing on these smartphones? An easier question to answer might be, “What are they NOT doing on their smartphones?”
These statistics illustrate the importance millennials have placed on their digital devices. While Gen Xers and baby boomers aren’t far behind, millennials are leading the charge. With so much available at their fingertips, there’s no indication this cultural phenomenon will slow down anytime soon. Smartphones and digital apps are here to stay. Organizations from every industry and sector will need to jump onto the bandwagon to develop apps that keep them competitive but not just any app will do.
Go Where the Student Go
If a higher learning institution wants to connect and engage with students, they’re not going to do it from behind a desk or via a desktop application. It’s going to mean campuses must go where students are spending the bulk of their time, and that’s their smartphones. Many of today’s students don’t even own a desktop computer but come to school “prepared” with a smartphone and a tablet. They are expecting, based on what they’ve come to learn from their personal lives, that everything they need will be accessible via the Internet and even more so, mobile apps.
In fact, students are increasingly choosing colleges and universities that offer a wide range of mobile apps for them to do everything from finding and enrolling in classes to connecting with friends, making financial aid payments and finding their way around campus. They aren’t wanting to navigate through multiple clicks on the Internet. They want this information and the ability to perform certain tasks in a more user-friendly app they can access anywhere, anytime.
Websites, even when they are well-built, don’t offer the kind of instantaneous, on-the-go capabilities as mobile apps. They can be slow to load, have too many pages, and often have glitches that require students to re-input information. They are quickly becoming archaic to students who have grown up using apps. Websites, in this sense, may soon be compared to the Dewey Decimal System we Gen Xers and baby boomers were once required to use.
Appearance Is Everything
Developing mobile apps for college students isn’t always easy or inexpensive, but there are companies who are making it much simpler. They offer turnkey solutions for institutions to revamp how they interact with students. By replacing their outdated systems with one that can present mobile capabilities, these institutions and their students are able to do more and have greater outcomes. But having a mobile app isn’t the end of the story.
We have to remember that the students who attend higher learning institutions are most likely included in the majority who use apps for many of their daily tasks in their personal lives. The most popular apps, the ones that people use most often, are the ones that do more than just enable them to perform a task or find information. They offer an experience.
Students want an app that is easy to download and use, sure. But if you want the app to become part of their everyday routine, it’s going to have to be built around appearances and user experience. Students will quickly abandon an app that isn’t visually pleasing, engaging and useful. In fact, 23 percent of mobile app users abandon an app after one use and 62 percent will us an app less than 11 times.
For institutions who invest in mobile app technology, these numbers should make you sit up and take notice. These are serious investments that require a complete overhaul of processes. If you want the transition and the investment to be worth every penny, it’s imperative the mobile app(s) will be readily adopted and become a valued tool for every student.
While many institutions have already recognized the need for mobile apps, others are slower to engage. Some believe they have functioned without them for X number of years just fine. But with colleges and universities receiving funding now based on outcomes, i.e. graduation rates, every student who doesn’t succeed hits the bottom line and rankings. These are two fundamental elements critical in recruiting new students.
Just over half of all college students ever graduate. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says, “An emerging theme in the literature is the need to diversify support services in order to meet the needs of higher education’s growing and diverse student population. Findings show that the major factors leading to institutional departure include lack of social integration, confusion about academic major, and academic/employment balance. This reaffirms the importance of creating diverse opportunities for student engagement at higher education institutions to complement completion efforts.”
When students have all of the information they need at their fingertips and can perform many, if not most, of their tasks from a mobile app, they are much more likely to register for the right classes, pay their financial aid on time, and navigate their educational journey more efficiently. They can more easily connect with teachers, staff, administrators and fellow students when they have a single app with centralized information and functionality. In essence, they are more engaged.
Going to the Next Level
Given this information, where is the problem? According to one mobile expert who worked with Steve Jobs to develop the framework for the first iPhone, organizations are “not re-imagining their mobile experience fast enough. The vast majority have failed to innovate anywhere near the same pace as consumers’ demands and expectations for mobile. Multitudes will fail if they don’t drastically change their approach to meet and exceed consumers’ mobile expectations.”
Who are the higher learning institutions’ customers? Their students. If these institutions want to compete, if they want their funding, if they want to recruit and retain the best students, they are going to have to rethink the customer experience. They must move from product-thinking to design-thinking. Sure, you can roll out an app, but if it isn’t designed with today’s student in mind, you’re wasting your resources because they won’t use it.
The students who are enrolling in colleges and universities don’t care as much about email as they do push notifications. They want to understand, as an incoming freshman, exactly what courses to take and when in order to meet their goals. They may want financial aid, but they don’t want to wait in lines to make payments or to talk to a counselor about whether or not a class is eligible. In one word, they want convenience.
Make it easy and enjoyable for your students to engage with their school and you will likely see better outcomes, higher student success, and happier students. It’s an investment not only in their future but the future of your institution.