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.