Shifting Perspectives: Student Engagement and Communications
The Importance of Student Engagement and Why It’s So Hard
You don’t have to look for long to find research on the importance of student engagement. Boiling it down, student engagement is often the difference between student success and student failure. Students who are more engaged simply do better. They are more likely to reach their goals and enjoy themselves along the way. Communication is a critical link to helping students become more engaged, as is the technology to empower them.
The Journal of College Student Development published an insightful study entitled “What Student Affairs Professionals Need to Know about Student Engagement.” In it, it cites another study that found “the amount of time and energy students put forth – student engagement – is positively linked with the desired outcomes of undergraduate education.”
The problem is many students are required to put in too much effort to do menial, administrative tasks. They are expected to schedule appointments with administrators, advisors, and financial aid offices and then wait in lines for their turn – that is, if they ever receive or read the communications intended to remind them. Many schools still depend on email and have no way of tracking whether or not the messages were sent, received, or opened.
For today’s student who is used to completing so many tasks instantly from their mobile phone, this process seems archaic and painful. For students who have families and/or jobs, this process is nearly impossible. For many, their educational journey becomes too labor-intensive to be worth it. For others, they stumble along constantly behind, missing deadlines, and incurring unnecessary costs.
Student affairs take student engagement seriously, yet are often handicapped if they don’t involve IT into their strategy. Two connections must happen. As good as their intentions, modern technology is the only way they can connect with students. Student affairs cannot work in a vacuum. Neither can IT. The two must connect and work together to solve the challenges of both the institution and the student. Student success is inextricably connected to institutional success.
Technological maturity is highly subjective. Implementing an ERP system may be a huge step forward to an institution who is trying to digitize business processes, but is all of that number crunching solving real problems? Is it helping the institution maintain performance-based funding? If graduation rates aren’t improving, capturing and processing data may not be enough.
The Technology-Student Engagement Connection
Decades ago, it may not have made sense to connect technology with student engagement. IT did their thing and students did theirs. Beyond setting up basic email, online portals and registration, and back office ERP and other systems, it was up to student affairs to engage students through activities. Today, however, is radically different.
These students cannot imagine life without technology. They carry mobile phones with them everywhere they go. In only seconds and from the palm of their hands, they can execute tasks, discover information, and find what they need. They don’t wait in line to pay their electric bills. They don’t go to a bank to deposit a check. And many of them do not regularly open emails. Perhaps this is why only 64 percent of first-year students indicate they frequently get prompt verbal or written feedback from faculty members.
If institutions want to truly engage and communicate with students, they will have to meet students where they are…and it shouldn’t be in a waiting room in an administrator’s office. It needs to be on the devices and through the channels students are using in every other part of their lives.
Institutions may not be able to remove all of the tasks and responsibilities students must complete throughout their educational journey, but they can – through technology – make them much easier and faster to check off their lists. By doing so, students are more apt to complete those requirements and stay connected with their school both during their years of study and beyond.
What Matters Most to Higher Learning Institutions?
Gallup asked 663 college and university presidents across the country “how important are each of the following factors in evaluating the success of a college president during his or her tenure at an institution?” Here’s what they rated as “extremely important” or “very important”:
- 96% – student retention rates
- 95% – ensuring graduates have the skills needed to find jobs in their chosen field
- 94% – student enrollment
- 93% – student graduation rates
- 92% – student engagement
Here are the recommendations Gallup offers, based on the findings:
“Presidents should focus on helping students learn and practice what they do best, so they can build their engagement with school today and can land a great job and lead a purposeful, thriving life in the future. Doing some strategic asking and listening to students and graduates is a good place to start.”
How can a school help students learn and practice what they do best? How can they ensure student retention, graduation, and engagement? How can they boost enrollment and confirm students have required skills?
They can ask and listen to what students are demanding. They can provide them with the latest technology that students actually want to use to succeed – and the very technology they will be required to master in this modern world. From application submission through graduation and alumnae status, they should be able to complete tasks, monitor progress, pay fees, check statuses, communicate with staff, and find what they need from a mobile device. Why? Because this is how their world operates.
What Institutions Have to Gain
Traditionally, student affairs and academics have been focused on student success. IT typically doesn’t have much to do with students. This must change. In order for students to succeed and thus, institutions succeed, IT must have a seat at the table. They will be the ones to enable and empower students beyond what student affairs can do alone.
As campuses implement modern technology, more than just the student stand to benefit. Much of the technology required today is centered around automation. It’s through this automation of manually-intensive processes where institutions can gain significant, if not remarkable, efficiencies. Much of these processes are a series of repetitive, tedious administrative tasks that require massive amounts of time, effort, and manpower. Automation eliminates most, if not all, of it – all while improving accuracy and speed, and reducing errors, risks for non-compliance, and costs.
Modern technology also unlocks the data within ERPs and SISs, connecting the data so institutions have a more comprehensive, integrated profile of each student. This data is easier to access and helps advisors identify at-risk students faster. It gives administrators the ability to help students become more self-sufficient. It assists financial aid offices and students with paperwork and reminders. It helps students and staff communicate more effectively across the channels students are more likely to check – and gives staff a “paper trail” to track message open rates.
What technology is your institution using? Is it solving real problems your institution and students are facing? Is it giving students everything they need to succeed in today’s world? If not, the solution will be found in the balance of technology and academics.
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.
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.
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.