Higher learning institutions are intimately familiar with the “student experience.” They live and breathe it every day, understanding how their very existence is based on how successful their students are while in their schools. Thanks to the Department of Education’s Title IV mandates, schools with better student outcomes receive more federal dollars. While enrollment is still a concern, what happens to those students who are enrolled has taken center stage.
The student experience begins with the application and continues when the student graduates and becomes an alumna. Many of the school’s departments touch the student along the way – admissions, administration, financial aid, and advisor offices are among the most expected. Yet in order to provide the experience students of today now want and require, IT must get involved as well.
Technology can no longer be allocated only for back office processes, relegated to ERP and SIS applications, for instance. Students need their own accessibility and applications designed specifically for their unique requirements. An online student portal is just the beginning.
Many of today’s students have been raised on the kind of technology we have all become so accustomed to in our daily lives. TechCrunch recently reported smartphone users are using nine apps per day, 30 per month. Even older students may hardly remember a time without mobile phones, downloadable apps from the App Store, GPS, and social media. These technologies have given us the ability to do more from anywhere in the world.
Some higher learning institutions are still offering limited functionality from the campus technologies. They may have a fantastic online portal where students can check classes, grades, and hours of office operations, but no real way to engage with the school or become more self-sufficient. Students are still required to make appointments with administrators and advisors, stand in line to discuss financial aid issues, and wait for school staff to get them the information they need.
These efforts are counterintuitive to everything the students experience in their outside-of-school lives. They engage with friends and businesses via social media, messaging apps, and secure message centers. They complete tasks, such as paying bills, purchasing items to be delivered in two hours, and signing documents on mobile apps. They can reference a map on their mobile phones to find any location in relation to any other location, including their own. They can look up any question and within seconds, find answers.
Why shouldn’t their schools, the institutions in which they invest perhaps the largest amount of dollars in their lifetime, provide a similar experience? Why shouldn’t students have access to their information so they can design their schedules, choose and enroll in courses, add and drop courses, and check grades? Why can’t schools offer a better way to communicate with advisors, check their progress in reaching their goals, and manage their financial aid? And why shouldn’t an institution provide guided pathways to help students achieve the best outcomes?
Institutions can. But it’s going to require IT and student academics to come together to bridge the gap.
It isn’t uncommon for an institution to believe they are offering all of the technology a student needs to succeed. The problem is, many times, this technology has hardly evolved over the past several decades. The schools may offer online portals and email, but they aren’t embracing the kinds of technologies students are increasingly using and expecting. To them, the student experience is more about offering a variety of course options and student-life activities, but it’s not focused on helping them be better students.
By giving students more access to their own information and providing them with the tools to do more on their own from the convenience of their mobile devices, schools stand to benefit as well. With fewer student appointments, advisors and administrators have time to develop programs to help students reach their goals.
Financial aid offices significantly reduce paperwork and risk when students receive automated alerts when they try to enroll in an ineligible course. Schools reduce costs and potential fines for non-compliance. Students stay on track towards graduation goals and end up spending less money to graduate on time. That is student success.
Giving students the technology they demand isn’t just about the student. It’s about efficiencies both student and institution can experience. Modernizing the institution to meet the needs of students as their demands evolve is smart. When students succeed, institutions succeed. This is no more apparent than with the current federal funding process which puts such a premium on student success.
What is it going to take to modernize the student experience? It requires IT and academics to work side by side. Student affairs understands students and what they need to succeed. IT understands how to digitize the solutions required to meet those needs.
To optimize the student experience, students need options. An online portal is convenient for those students who use a computer. Email is ideal for those who check their messages. But not all students engage the same way. A mobile presence shouldn’t be an afterthought but a well-planned and designed solution that delivers a similar, if not better, experience than the online portal. It should be responsive, easy to navigate and use, simple to view, and fast. It should provide access to information, offer the ability to complete most tasks, and provide multiple communication channels.
Communication is a key element to any student success initiative. Many institutions are following the lead of banks who had similar issues with security via email. They now place sensitive customer messages and/or documents in a secure message center. The customer (or student, in this case) is notified via email and/or a push notification when there is a message in their personal message center.
Schools who use a message center can do something they struggle to do with email – track open rates. They can see exactly who has opened their messages and who has ignored them. They can then send follow-up reminders or attempt to reach students via other channels to ensure the message is read and acted upon.
Technology like this is what helps keep students on track to reach their goals. When students can receive push notifications reminding them of upcoming deadlines, they are more apt to complete the required task. When students can monitor their progress along an educational roadmap, they can see how course selection will impact their graduation timeline. When students can track financial aid payments and course eligibility, they can ensure they stay within their requirements and spend less money.
The student experience is twofold: academics and the technology required to manage their journey in a modern world. The institutions who deliver on both will be the ones who succeed with their students.