As seen on eCampus News

4 ways to match tech tools with student success goals

Modernizing the student experience and promoting student success are institution-wide projects of continuous evolution and improvement
By Rebekah Russell, Research Director, CRM and Student Solutions, Tambellini Group
October 13th, 2021

Modernizing the student experience and promoting student success are institution-wide projects of continuous evolution and improvement

As campuses begin to welcome students back for the fall 2021 term, they are hyper-focused on continuously expanding their capacity to efficiently serve their students. More than ever before, they are exploring and implementing new approaches and technology tools to boost student success through improving the student experience.

It’s widely accepted that there won’t be a universal definition of student success–or even what the student experience encompasses–across all institutions. However, at every campus, no matter the mission and goals, CIOs and their teams should be vital players in shaping the technology strategy and evaluating the right-fit systems and applications.

Though it’s challenging to figure out where to begin the process of vetting and selecting student systems and platforms, the good news is that no matter how unique each institution may be, CIOs can steer their journey on the right path by taking the following four steps.

Start with accessibility

Student systems should be selected and implemented with accessibility features front and center. In today’s mobile environment, students expect to access core functionality from any device, from any location, at any time. As your campus evaluates solutions to meet your student success goals, mobile-ready is essential.

Students also expect to access multiple functions in one place, so having a one-stop-shop is table stakes in creating a seamless student experience. Institutions should not require students to download numerous apps, visit several web pages, or log into additional portals to meet their needs.

Furthermore, prioritize platforms that are committed to achieving Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (CAG 2.0) and consider students who may not bring their technology devices to campus. Student systems should be accessible whether your student is on campus, off campus, sitting in an institution computer lab, or on their laptop.

Ensure a path to integrated core services

To ensure a top-tier, seamless student experience, CIOs need to integrate several essential student services through a core portal or application where students can access support from several functional areas in one place. At the very least, this portal should include admissions and financial aid, advising and course planning, health and wellness, technical support, campus engagement, and career preparation.

Of course, this is easier said than done: CIOs will need every tool in their toolbox to break down entrenched functional silos. But students and their families increasingly demand seamless services. If they speak to financial aid, they assume admissions knows about it. The portal that allows them to make changes to their dining allotment should also include access to their course schedule. 

Build a solid foundation

As the adage goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and your portfolio of student success solutions won’t be either. It will take time to align resources, platforms, strategies, and people to achieve your institution’s goals. In the initial phases of this journey, CIOs should prioritize implementing these three functions:

Unified calendaring: Allowing students to make all necessary appointments in one place is a great first project. Unified calendaring creates a seamless way for students to engage with faculty and administrative staff, regardless of their needs. Consider bringing together advisor scheduling, faculty office hours, functional business appointments (such as financial aid counseling), and even health services appointments using a single solution.

Chatbots: AI-driven chatbots create capacity to support students 24/7. At many institutions, individual departments, such as admissions, have started using chatbots. However, covering more functional areas in chat increases the information available to your students around the clock and can decrease the number of first-level calls your campus receives. Consider adding financial aid, technical support, student activities, or common registration questions to your chatbot knowledge base to maximize the impact of this tool.

Parent portal: For many families, parent involvement is inextricably linked to the student experience. The ideal parent portal provides access to appropriate data while respecting students’ privacy through compliance with FERPA regulations. 

Take it to the next level

Once your institution has covered the fundamental bases, it’s time to deliver on the promise of continuous improvement by regularly adding more mature functionality to support increasingly ambitious initiatives. Here are two crucial ones:

Career preparation: Student success not only encompasses timely degree completion and campus engagement; it also includes life after graduation. Providing a pathway to internships, study abroad experiences, and career counseling is necessary to help students achieve post-graduation goals. Consider integrations or platforms that allow students to search for growth opportunities outside the classroom. Ideally, these should include functionality to schedule career counseling sessions in your unified calendaring solution.

Advanced reporting and analytics: When evaluating analytics platforms, ensure that they collect data aligned with your institution’s goals. The demand for robust data analytics will only grow, so institutions should consider solutions that offer early alerts and provide faculty, support staff, advisors, and counselors access to a holistic view of student records.

Modernizing the student experience and promoting student success are institution-wide projects of continuous evolution and improvement. They require broad collaboration at every juncture and have many blurred responsibilities in implementation and decision making across technology and administrative functions. Despite the challenges this ambiguity may bring, these projects have created a meaningful opportunity for CIOs to leverage their unique expertise and lead their institutions forward.

About the Author:

Rebekah Russell is the Research Director, CRM and Student Solutions with the Tambellini Group. She researches and publishes in the student and CRM technology space, including platforms that focus on recruitment and admissions, student retention and engagement, advising, financial aid, and student management.

Rebekah brings over 11 years of experience working in higher education. Prior to joining the Tambellini Group she held various roles at Western Kentucky University, including work in student engagement and retention, parent and alumni programming, information technology administration, and most recently, as Assistant Vice President for Budget, Financial Planning & Analytics.