If You Build It, They Will Come…and STAY

May 26, 2016  |  by: Delphina Saragosa
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There’s a line many say, which goes something like this: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” There may be some truth to this statement in the right context, but with respect to academic / college institutions, staying the same – albeit not changing – is not a recipe for success.

Colleges used to dictate the student experience, but this assumption is proving to be less and less true. Colleges and industry experts have been researching recent relationships between students’ success and the retention of undergraduates – alluding to students completing their respective programs and graduating. The findings suggest the old way is backwards. In other words, the student experience should come first – assuming colleges want to retain their students.

Follow the Data Trail

U.S. News & World Report is the only organization ranking schools for over thirty years according to their chief data strategist, Robert Morse.  Each year, U.S. News & World Report releases a comprehensive report of the nation’s top schools in various categories. For the first time, in 2016, the report had a category dedicated to the Most Innovative Schools, which focuses on several dynamics integral to the student experience. The Most Innovative Schools list is comprised of institutions that enhance curriculum, campus life, faculty, etc. However, the driving factor is arguably improvements to technology.

According to Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer at U.S. News, “Taking into account how well a school supports its students from freshman year through graduation is important[.]” The key words in the above quote are “supports its students” because it’s the difference between an institution that’s going up vs. going down.

The Millennial Generation Research Review by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation stated the following about its general findings: “Most consistent is that [the millennial generation] is technically savvy, almost as if it has a digital sixth sense. A wired, connected world is all that Millennials have ever known.” Naturally, the above alludes to the inevitability that students of the current day expect a college experience that’s developed digitally as much as the campus has been developed physically. The students want a digital experience, and it has to be modern – not to mention intuitive – aka: fast.

Attention Toward Retention

Another section of the report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation states “[m]illennials have and will continue to influence education. First, as students, these digital natives have forced learning institutions to communicate and educate in new ways.” This statement infers institutions industry-wide need to adjust to the desires of the digital generation, which requires changes to existing systems.

For far too long, colleges have “satisfied” their need to improve the digital experience by building on top of old, cumbersome, and unforgiving systems. The extent to which colleges are still clinging to these old systems is surprising given the advancements that have been happening around them, but many have been somewhat complacent with their results…until now.

Institutions live and die by student retention. Student retention is a buzz phrase because institutions – by federal and state laws and/or regulations – send data to regional, state, and federal agencies tying student success to funding. Students’ lack of success and/or disengagement results in negative retention, and this obviously doesn’t bode well for funding.

In a published piece by Frank Shushok and Eileen Hulme via Campus Life, they reveal that “much of the theory in student retention today has evolved from psychological models developed in the 1970s that addressed life/work coping problems.” These theories likely need some updating, and they shouldn’t be theoretical updates, but actionable changes in the form of enhancing the student’s digital experience.

Further alluding to the need of schools to improve their connection to the students’ experience, Vincent Tinto and Brian Pusser – from their published work via Moving From Theory to Action: Building a Model of Institutional Action for Student Success – stated “this failure [to achieve adequate retention rates] indicates that we must rethink our focus on student attributes and examine how the whole organization can better engage in promoting student success.”

Rosemary Hayes, director of External Relations for Starfish Retention Solutions, in her article titled Digital Engagement: Driving Student Success, stated the following: “The key is to use technology in ways that make information accessible; decision making and communication about students more comprehensive; and interactions among the faculty, staff, and administration easier.”

If You Build It, They Will Stay

There are many reasons to establish a new digital experience at our campuses, schools, and institutions. Aside from the primary motivator, which should be the students – how about critical and limited resources via the human resources?
In Proceedings of the 7th National Symposium on Student Retention, Virginia McAleese and Loralyn Taylor wrote Successful Implementation of a Campus-wide Comprehensive Student Support System. In their report they state “[a] fragmented approach to student success initiatives results in duplicated effort, more levels of complexity, and more time spent on information management.”

What if these wasted funds were dedicated instead to the start of a new system, one that was fast, and one that felt up-to-date with our mobile high school graduates and up-coming freshman? What if this system didn’t have to supplant an existing system, but could be built on-top of it? Would there be a reason to not start?

OneCampus by rSmart

IT management nightmares as the result of outdated portals, ineffective searches, and buried content don’t have to continue. There is a way to improve the digital experience with a portal that can give a digital make-over to an institution’s zeroes and ones without reinventing the wheel.

Additionally, aside from removing problems bogging down essential personnel, the engagement of the staff itself improves, and does so in-harmony with the student experience. So, the tangible benefits compound the intangible benefits internally and externally, thus providing a cohesive digital experience.

The time to begin such changes was yesterday, and the extent to which technology is changing makes the metaphor of one being caught on their heels a giant understatement. A more accurate metaphor would be one caught on their heels wearing concrete pants.

It’s quite possible the quagmire of IT congestion via old legacy portals removed through a mobile, cloud-based solution like OneCampus pays for itself. The real question is how much is it costing institutions each day they don’t enhance their students’ digital experience?

Anxious to see a preview about OneCampus? Schedule a demo today!

Guest Blogger James Davis is COO and Co-founder of GoEdison, with experience as a Financial Analyst with S&P Global. James has 15 years experience analyzing public companies via domestic and international stock exchanges (ADRs), specializing in the Banking sector for almost 10 years.

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Campus Services: Moving Campus Portals to the Cloud
September 12, 2016 by Delphina Saragosa