Slaying the Status Quo

Driving engagement and success for a new generation of students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Frances Cairns

CREDIT CampusQuadBuilding a campus environment where everyone has access to important university services, programs and events is a critical part of driving student engagement and success. In working with campuses throughout North America over the past several months, I have observed a few common themes that weigh heavy on Student Affairs: How do I get students more involved? How do I know the services my team is providing hits the mark? Are we providing a supportive campus environment that helps students move toward gaining the experience they need beyond the classroom to land a good job and kick off a great career?

That powerful hand-held, always-on computer is the way students explore, navigate, learn and, above all, connect to each other and what’s happening around them.

Currently, there’s no single solution that solves what has taken several decades of habit to build in terms of the student services approach from matriculation to graduation. Further, universities are spending more than a third or better of their budget supporting activities and facilities that are beyond the classroom yet they don’t have an accurate success benchmark. While tools exist for the academic side of the house, there’s very little in the realm of co-curricular assessment that can truly inspire a Student Affairs leader to take the risk of changing up the way they deliver student services programs.

The simple truth is that the student engagement lifecycle is broken and the gap will continue to widen as the next wave of students – Gen Z – lands. These students come to campus in a world where the real and the virtual collide on their phone. That powerful hand-held, always-on computer is the way students explore, navigate, learn and, above all, connect to each other and what’s happening around them.

The startling reality is that most universities have yet to meet their students on the mobile phone. They remain entrenched in legacy web systems that don’t translate well to delivering the right information to the right student at the right time.

So how do administrators get the know-how and the courage to change the status quo and move their staff from outdated habits and empower them to become experts in delivering student services to a new generation of students? The good news is you don’t have to be a hero, take major risks or hire a new staff. Substantive change in student services practice starts with learning on a very practical level what will help students have a transformative learning experience.

To get you started thinking about how to improve your student satisfaction and success, here are some strategic steps that we have identified along with the help of Student Affairs practitioners:

  1. Personalize the student mobile experience. The mobile phone is a very powerful PERSONAL computer that enables students to navigate their world as it unfolds – in real-time. Begin your university’s student experience where they spend 8 hours and 115+ taps a day. Students want access to information beyond bus schedules and directory services. They want to know about campus services, upcoming events, clubs or groups to join, and what’s trending on campus. Beyond that, they want to explore and connect to their interests. That requires technology that centralizes campus content and offers sophisticated search capabilities so students can see what’s happening anywhere, anytime campus-wide. Delivering this as a mobile-first solution empowers students to create a personalized stream of information that keeps them connected to each other and their surroundings 24/7
  1. Unify information access. Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have made it easy for students to find unified streams of information regarding friends, answers to questions, navigation, and news. Campuses, on the other hand, are still deep valleys of misinformation due to fragmented sources scattered across disparate parts of the campus with critical information that never makes it to the student. Start by creating a single source of information flow where a student discovers, consumes and engages with university information and services in REAL-time via their phone.
  1. Provide always-accessible self-service. Students are used to accessing information 24/7 from chat support to Google search to get the answers they need to engage. Search is the No. 1 way students find campus information but this method can only provide information that is easily gathered from web crawlers. Universities need state-of-the art search tools to enable students to access content like directories, class info and event data that is not available via external sources. It’s important to create and cull data from across desperate campus sources and serve up critical information to students that ONLY a campus can provide. A student in need of career services, health care, or an RA won’t find what they need on Google, or a poster on the quad, or even an email. They will only find meaningful ways to connect to services if you make it easy to search for information that is exclusive to your campus.
  1. Support here and now learning. Students don’t plan ahead more than a day – or maybe a week if you’re lucky. Universities, however, still deliver centralized calendars with month-long views. Students simply don’t find this useful. A mobile solution enables you to offer students the opportunity to engage in your campus in real-time with access to fresh content by time, interest, and location. Make it easy for students to see into the depths of your campus events, programs and services by surfacing them in context. This offers students the opportunity to engage beyond their traditional spheres of influence and expand their access to the campus.
  1. Automate engagement. Time management for co-curricular activities is critical to not only engage students once, but keeping them engaged on an ongoing basis. Use technology to enable students to see who is attending an event, then build momentum. Make it simple for them to publish print-free directly from their phone to the entire campus community. Leverage the power of mobile to measure student participation, interest and ratings of campus services.

Be the agent of mobile transformation and behavioral change on your campus and create the supportive campus environment that fuels exploration, discovery and engagement for today’s and tomorrow’s students. Slay the status quo.

Frances has extensive education and technology background from leading higher education divisions at Macromedia, Dell and Apple, where she helped launch iTunesU. Prior to her high tech career, Frances held administrator posts at four universities, including: University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Western Michigan and University of Findlay. During her academic tenure, Frances was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and principal investigator for $10 million in federal and private grants. Frances serves on the Board of Directors of Querium and the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education. She has a B.A. in History from the University of Findlay and M.A. in Education from Bowling Green State University.

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