The Push for Guided Pathways
Guided Pathways Gaining Traction
Guided Pathways is not a particularly new idea, but it is rapidly becoming the buzzword for universities and colleges attempting to improve student outcomes. With graduation rates remaining stagnant and funding dollars directly tied to this key metric, institutions are doing everything they can to move the needle.
One of the biggest challenges higher education students face is financial limitations. They rightly save and budget for what they believe their education will cost. If they didn’t consider all of the extraneous costs and/or enroll in courses that aren’t necessary or do not qualify for financial aid, they can quickly find themselves in over their heads. Some students often traverse through a portion of their educational journey before realizing their savings are depleted. In order to complete their degree requirements, they will have to pay for an entire extra year they didn’t bargain for, thus leading to dropouts.
Guided Pathways is an initiative to solve some of the biggest pain points students (and therefore, institutions) have – those roadblocks that contribute to students giving up and leaving school before they’ve reached graduation. By laying out the most efficient path towards graduation, step by step, and providing the needed support along the way, institutions hope to boost student success by improving outcomes.
A National Crisis?
California is an example of one state that is taking Guided Pathways seriously. According to an article from EdSource, California had 2 million students in the state’s community college system in 2016 and just 48 percent of them left with a degree or certificate, or transferred after six years. California’s community college board plans to leverage the Guided Pathway concept to help its 114 community colleges in 72 districts reach several lofty goals:
- Increase the number of community college students who acquire associate’s degrees, specific skillsets, credentials or certificates “that prepare them for an in-demand job” by 20 percent in five years.
- Increase the number of community college students transferring annually to a University of California or California State University campus by 35 percent in five years.
- Increase from 60 percent to 69 percent the number of students completing career and technical education programs who get jobs in their fields of study.
- Reduce the number of course units students accumulate before earning associate’s degrees from 87 to 79.
Why the urgency? By 2030, California reports it will need 1.1 million additional workers with bachelor’s degrees to remain economically competitive – just the motivation the board needs to jump on the Guided Pathways bandwagon.
California isn’t alone in recognizing the future needs of its state. A CareerBuilder study discovered that 61 percent of hiring managers across the country are requiring higher-level education to fill their skilled positions. Similarly, new research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently found 55 percent of well-paying jobs in today’s economy are going to workers who have four-year or associate degrees.
“Americans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far behind college graduates in their economic lives that the earnings gap between college grads and everyone else has reached its highest point on record.” – CBS News
Higher learning institutions are the breeding ground for our economy. Without these higher education degrees and skills, the nation will become less competitive, less innovative and less able to fill the positions of tomorrow.
3 Things to Know about Guided Pathways
A Guided Pathway program may not solve every challenge of improving student outcomes, but it is giving higher education institutions a reason to be optimistic. By providing students with clear roadmaps, creating on and off ramps for their success, and establishing a support system at every level of their journey, students and institutions are experiencing much greater success rates.
Related: Shifting Perspectives: Guided Pathways and On-Time Graduation
There is plenty to understand about Guided Pathways, but here are three critical elements to help shape your perspective:
1. The pathway is individualized per each student’s needs.
Every student comes to school with different needs, life situations and goals. Their Guided Pathway should be just as unique. It should not be a one-size-fits-all solution, while at the same time, institutions don’t need to recreate the wheel for each student. Implement a set of standardized processes and technologies that provide the foundation for which customized paths can be designed. For instance, full-time students will have a different roadmap than part-time students holding down a job or caring for a family.
2. The pathway is not set in stone.
Just as in life, circumstances frequently change. Things don’t always follow a plan. Guided Pathways are flexible, meant to enable students to visualize and conceptualize a multitude of possible routes to their end goal of graduation. The best pathways offer students the ability to play “what if” scenarios so they can see how taking a course (or not) will impact their goals, budgets and timelines. They can play around with their schedules and sequencing of courses. The key is that the pathway is intentional, focused and informative – giving the student everything they need to make the best decisions for themselves.
3. The pathway is not remote.
A student’s educational journey is complex. They need support, resources and services to help them through each step. From admissions to financial aid, from course enrollment to degree planning, students need advisors, technology and access to information. The more they are connected to their institutions and the easier those connections can be had, the greater the chances students will flourish. Students should never get lost or feel alone during their journey. Schools must partner with students to get them from point A to point B, even if it’s vis a vis point C.
Start with Students in Mind
Whichever way you approach guiding your students through their pathway of education, be sure to keep them first. Design programs and support services around their needs and what specifically they require in order to be successful.
Is it streamlining and easing the financial aid process? Will providing them real-time access to their financial aid and course eligibility information be a benefit? Would equipping students with mobile access to perform most of the many required administrative tasks save them time? How would sending students push notifications to remind them of upcoming due dates impact follow-through? Would identifying at-risk students early on and then providing the necessary support to get them back on track improve outcomes?
These are but a few of the advantages a solid Guided Pathway program can bring students while enabling institutions to be more responsive to student needs. Take a look at available and emerging technologies to discover how your institution can deliver more than just lip service but a truly guided pathway towards graduation.
Shifting Perspectives: Higher Ed Access to Student Outcomes
College Access Is No Longer The Primary Focus
Decades ago, higher learning institutions were out of reach for many. Access and affordability were the top concerns. Either the admission policies were too stringent, there were limited ways to pay for an education, or the costs simply out of reach. Many opted to immediately enter the workforce upon graduation and/or begin families.
So much has changed since then. Major shifts in enrollment, student demographics, and funding now require higher learning institutions to change course or be left behind. Much of the driving force behind this evolution is the fact that graduates are now competing for jobs with candidates from around the globe. A post-secondary education is no longer bragging rights but a requirement for the more desirable, higher paying jobs.
Clearly, accessibility is no longer a barrier to entry. Higher learning institutions are shifting their focus from providing access to student outcomes and success.
One of the most proactive and self-sustaining actions an institution can take is to bridge the gap between academics and IT. These typically siloed departments must work together to build the internal structures required to deliver the modern education students demand. These students have been raised on technology. They expect the institutions to whom they pay will prepare them for these jobs using the technology they are accustomed to in order to quickly perform tasks and monitor their progress throughout their educational journey. This is how students succeed. This is how institutions improve student outcomes.
Student Success Is The Driving Force
Today, it’s no longer a goal to boost enrollment numbers. With performance-based funding front and center, success rates have taken precedence. It’s pretty simple math: higher performing institutions get more funding than lower performing schools. How do we now measure performance? At the most basic level, it comes down to graduation rates.
Despite all of the efforts to improve student outcomes, it doesn’t appear they are having much effect. For students entering college in 2008, about 60 percent of them earned a bachelor’s degree within six years. For those entering college in 1996, graduation rates were just over 55 percent.
A five percent increase in graduation rates in more than a decade isn’t very impressive. Accessibility was a much simpler beast to tackle. What does it take to ensure more college students graduate and achieve the outcomes higher learning institutions so desperately need to push?
Many college systems put all of their eggs into the technology bucket, investing in giant ERP systems to digitize business processes and crunch numbers. While the data is being tracked and stored databases, little has been done with the information to move the needle.
That’s why increasingly more institutions are beginning to move beyond ERPs to focus on software to solve specific problems in order to maintain performance-based funding to simply survive. Most of the challenges they are trying to address are centered around student success – helping students graduate on time and within budget.
Balancing Admissions with Student Outcomes
There is a sweet spot for higher learning institutions. It lies somewhere between admissions and on-time graduation, and it involves both a change in perspective and an investment in modern technology.
The student population has changed nearly as drastically as the technology required to support them. Today’s college student is just as likely to be a mother, father, or full-time worker as they are a recent high school graduate. Students of all demographics are asking for flexibility, not simply accessibility. They want college on their own terms, on their own schedules.
Just as important is their desire to use the technology they are using in their everyday lives to navigate the post-secondary journey. For these tech-savvy students, standing in line to make a financial aid payment or to visit an advisor to drop a class is akin to referencing an encyclopedia for current information. It’s archaic, inefficient, and frustrating. They can do virtually everything on their mobile device…except perform the very tasks they need to succeed in college.
Students want to take control of their own journey and they expect to be able to do it from the mobile devices they carry with them everywhere they go. Yet, it’s more than just giving students a mobile app. It’s about giving them access to their student information so they have real-time insight to make decisions in their own interest and in their own time.
Higher learning institutions must put today’s student first, understanding where they are coming from, what they want and need to succeed. Most importantly, it’s realizing today’s student is vastly different from students even a decade ago. Institutions must meet students where they are if they truly want them to succeed.
4 Areas of Focus for Today’s Institutions and Students
When institutions combine the philosophy of “students first” with the technology to enable them, they position themselves and the student to maximize outcomes. Where should higher learning institutions concentrate their focus? When they commit to these four areas, everyone wins.
- Student engagement and communications
- Student experience
- Guided pathways and on-time graduation
- Financial aid efficiency and compliance
What does it take for an institution to be student-ready? The academic side of the institution must come together with the technology side. Both must recognize their dependence on each other to bring the institution into modernity – to give students everything they now require, not simply want, to achieve the best outcomes. Student success, necessary funding, and long-term institutional viability are riding on it. In a nutshell, the investment is worth it.
Technology and academics can be (must be) combined in a smart way to give students the ability to make their own decisions. Students want to have a voice. They are spending tens of thousands of dollars for an education they believe will prepare them for today’s workforce. If the institution isn’t providing the latest technology, how can they possibly graduate workforce-ready students?
In a series of upcoming blogs, we will discuss in detail each of these four areas institutions must master if care at all about student success. Each area is critical to providing the best user experience so we plan to guide you through it without bias.
This is where education is heading. This is where we will finally see graduation rates improve beyond 60 percent. It’s time to modernize college campuses to give students the tools they need to succeed in today’s competitive market. When students succeed, institutions succeed. It’s a win-win, but it requires buy-in from both academics and IT. We’ll show you how to build the synergy you’ll need to make it a reality.
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.
Related: How Do You Define Student Success in 2017?
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?
Related: Why Having a Mobile App for College Students Isn’t Enough
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.
Related: Why Having A Mobile App for College Students Isn’t Enough
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.