Meeting students' expectations for a digital campus

Meeting students' expectations for a digital campus

By Mariana Cavalcanti on Thursday, November 16, 2017

At EDUCAUSE 2017, I had the opportunity to present the results from Ellucian’s annual student technology survey and discuss the findings with two students from Mercer County Community College. The students, Alfred Powner II, a second-year cybersecurity and computer systems major, and Brandon Rojas, a first-year finance major, shared some interesting insights into millennial expectations for a digital campus.

The survey, fielded in October 2017 to 1,000 two- and four-year college students, yielded three opportunities:

1.    Aligning under a centralized app

The majority of student respondents (97%) think technology outside the classroom is just as important as technology inside the classroom, and would benefit from a centralized app that helps them navigate their campus. Forty-two percent of students report having to log onto three or four different platforms and 23% log onto five or more platforms to access the programs they need to succeed in school.

“I took summer classes and there were a lot of different places that I had to go to online,” Alfred explained. “Every site had to be logged into and each one had different password requirements. I couldn’t use the same password because some want a character added or capital letter or a punctuation mark. It is hard to keep track of passwords and entering the same information over and over is cumbersome. Information should be shared across systems. Look at Facebook – you can log in to so many apps with Facebook. We should be able to put our information in once and use it to log into everything.”

Brandon agreed, “All the teachers use different apps. I take a computer applications class. I have to go through Blackboard or through Mercer’s site and click on the department, the program, and then another site. It is password after password.”

Finding useful apps in the marketplace is also an issue. “I have to download so many apps to find one that will actually provide the resources or tools that I need,” said Alfred. “I’m taking statistics right now and there are hundreds of various statistics apps. A large number do not provide any real assistance to me as a student—they just throw ads at my phone. I don’t think students should have to spend hour after hour downloading apps to find one that will actually be beneficial.”

To help students, Alfred suggested that a central repository of apps vetted by other students and professors would help eliminate the need for students to spend countless hours downloading apps to find one that will be useful.  

2.    Creating an emotional connection

The second major theme to emerge from the survey is that there is an opportunity for colleges to use technology to create emotional connections for their students. When asked what type of app would help them feel more connected, 56% of students chose an app that would help them make friends, 47% chose an app that made individualized course recommendations, and 45% choose an app that gave customized event recommendations.

Not surprisingly, social media use is prevalent among college students with 33% of students surveyed using Facebook, 19% Instagram, 15% Twitter, and 10% Snapchat. “I manage my life by Snapchat,” Brandon confessed. “If I want to know what’s up on campus, it keeps me updated. I see what everyone is doing. If there’s a party, a club, whatever. For school, I stay updated through the MyMercer Portal. I check it several times a day from my phone to get my grades and assignments.”

Students believe an app would help them connect. Eighty-five percent of students said that a centralized app would have made their transition to college life easier and 73% said it would allow them to be more involved with campus life.

3.    Delivering a personalized experience

The third major finding of the survey is that students expect their institutions to personalize their experiences the same way that online retailers and other businesses do. Fifty-eight percent of students report that their schools lag in creating a personalized experience. And students desire a customized experience in every aspect of their college experience, including career preparation, finances, academics, and student life.

Colleges collect so much data on students, but they don’t use it. “Stop asking me for the same info over and over,” Alfred complained. “They have a lot of things on file. They already know my major. So they should be able to suggest classes and extracurricular activities that I may be interested in based on that information.”

“And if everyone shared data,” he continued, “if there was an open standard for sharing data, it would make the experience easier for me to go from a two-year community college to a four-year university. I shouldn’t have to redo all this when my community college already has it. If my community college knows that I like to bowl and I like music, my four-year university should be able to make suggestions to me for activities based on that information.”  

Why should administrators care?

As schools across the country face declining enrollment, it is more important than ever for administrators to acknowledge and address student expectations, especially around technology. Eighty-seven percent of students said that a school’s technology savviness was an important factor in choosing a school. This figure is even more pronounced for students who work full-time—95% of these students said it was an important factor when choosing to enroll.

“I need to be at a school that stays up to date,” explained Alfred. “I’m taking cybersecurity as one of my majors and a simple software update can mean a big difference between being breached or not. To be able to test, I need the latest software and tools, or I will be behind. And once you are behind, it’s hard to get caught up especially with technology.”

For more information on Ellucian’s 2017 student survey, read Students are looking for personalized digital experiences. Does higher ed deliver?

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About the Author

Mariyana Cavalcanti

Mariana Cavalcanti

Vice President at Ellucian

Mariana Cavalcanti, Vice President, Ellucian, leads the User Experience Design and User Research teams. She and her 30-person-team spearhead user-centric design processes to develop new technologies that improve the higher education student experience.