Universities and other institutions of higher education are busy turning their attention to social media, online student services, digital learning and mobile applications. These initiatives are making a noticeable contribution to improving student experience, reducing paper work and bridging the gaps in learning and teaching. In other words, universities see a fruitful application of technology to optimize traditional processes.
These institutions can bring considerable heft to their Student Experience strategy through the simple integration of diverse systems that they already have. Integration here has a broader meaning that goes beyond technology. For example, when the CRM shows that a student has a passion for flying, how does the Learning Management system use this information to deliver a better experience? Does it suggest learning materials or articles that explain lesson concepts using flying as an example? Many a times, this type of information about a student just becomes a dormant information in the source system.
Over the last couple of years Student Experience has become the subject of attention. We see that even organizational structures are being changed to support student experience. A recent example is the creation of a new Office of Student Success by George Washington University for enhancing student experienceR1.
This invariably hints at a customer service culture that uses student interactions to build positive and distinctive emotional impact. It ensures that the right emotion, such as happiness, enthusiasm and excitement, is produced in a student by the various interactions the student has with the institute, across learning, teaching and other university activities.
An example is providing an AI-based conversational assistant that can guide a student to complete an activity such as applying for financial aid, even if this means picking up information from multiple university systems. The student does not have to log on to multiple systems, instead completes the transaction during the chat conversation itself, resulting in a positive emotion. Another example can be providing contextualized information to a prospect on immigration and accommodation based on the demographic data and best practices from data on similar profiles. Similarly, the university can also provide personalized triggers such as the next assignment submission due date, current position with respect to credit points and fee payment, and also provide contextual information based on where the student is in the campus.
The new approach is a shift from the traditional model where a student must ‘research’ and then `request’ for the right content (or assistance) to a model where the student is automatically being `served’ the right content (or assistance) based on data.
This approach cannot be piecemeal; it must be implemented across the complete lifecycle of a student. University vendor ecosystems provide technology solutions to universities in all areas. These are spread across marketing, student management, learning management, stakeholder collaboration and core operations. These systems and associated data must be digitally integrated to provide the required student experience. Some universities are creating modern data environments that enable such integrated and personalized experiences.
There are four key stages in a student lifecycle before they become an alumni, and the needs vary across these stages:
Pre-prospect/ Prospect: A sense of excitement should be created in students during this period. As an example, providing inspiring and interesting facts about the university aligned to the prospect data (example: “Did you know that the 30% of our students are from your home country?”)
Applicant: Students must be made comfortable when doing their eligibility checks, understanding the availability of financial aid, credit transfer processes, immigration requirements, assessing campus facilities and staying on top of admission processes. At the applicant stage, students are anxious and can be easily confused by the volume of (often unfamiliar) information they need to process. A persona based applicant journey should be defined to make the processes user friendly.
Freshman: The first year is critical to student retention. This is the period when decisions to leave/ stay are made based on how easy it is to navigate unfamiliar university terrain, the degree to which a student finds academic and social support and feels cared for. Universities should adopt best practices such as providing mobile apps that provide students with personalized and real-time campus information, access to event and course registrations, online access to the library, course material and recommendations based on student profiles and academic progress.
Senior Student: As students move towards graduation, their key concern shifts towards becoming a productive member of society. They want a feeling of being in control over their employability. Career services departments should have collaboration platforms that allow students to interact more with the industry. This, in fact, should be an activity that spans across the stages and not when the students are closer to employment.
Increasingly, technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing, and Analytics are being used to provide these experiences. Achieving this might just need building an experience layer on top of the key systems to enable a single view of the student and provide insight-driven recommendations. The investment in student experience will bring in multiple advantages, including arresting the decline in completion rate, which currently increases the financial burden on the university.
For universities this is good news. Over the last few years, most universities have already invested in the foundational systems and data. The incremental investment required for a truly digital integration is modest—and will guarantee that more-than-planned-ROI can be extracted from existing investments.