Democratizing Student Success and Future-Proofing Your Institution

Democratizing Student Success and Future Proofing Your Institution

Higher education students need equitable, universal access to their institutions' services in order to maximize student success. Higher education institutions need to offer that in a visible way, and they need to adapt to rapidly evolving technology while remaining agile and ready for what's coming next. Higher education leaders need actionable solutions for both without being given a laundry list of expensive and time- and labor-consuming tasks by uncooperative vendors in order to get there. How can you and your institution meet students where they are and bring them—and your school—into the future without having to deliver the Moon as well?

Meeting Students Where They Are

Multimodal Learning
Let's start with accommodating students' learning behaviors and providing universal access to your school's resources. Multimodal learning is nothing new, but its benefits can't be overstated. While acronyms and lists may differ, they often break down roughly into the Vark Modalities: Visual, Aural, Read-Write, and Kinesthetic. Why bother offering multimodal teaching? Last year, Inside Higher Ed's first Student Voice survey of 2023 asked college students what the biggest barriers were to their academic success. The top answer, shared by 55% of respondents, was a teaching style that did not work for them. It also asked what faculty actions would benefit students the most. "Being open to experimenting with different teaching styles" ranked number two with 51% of respondents answering.

The good news is, in the digital age, it's easier than ever to utilize VARK, even with remote and distance learning being as prevalent as they are. Even if access to one mode is suddenly cut off—for example, hands-on kinesthetic learning during the early lockdown days of the pandemic—the others can accommodate. Educators can shape and adapt their teaching methods to meet student needs and learning behaviors at a minimal cash investment to your institution, so long as they have basic modern technology available to them. Video conferencing, online courses, real-time communications, clickable links to online and downloadable reading materials—no matter how students VARK, your institution will be recognized for its inclusive and expansive educational model. 

Universal Access
Providing students universal access to your institution's services should also be top of mind. One hindrance to universal access is on-premise technology. Cloud- and SaaS-based solutions have not only arrived, but Microsoft and Google have already celebrated 15 years of cloud services. Despite this, many postsecondary institutions still expect students to physically hoof it back to campus to make use of many of the school's services, which simply won't cut it anymore.

For example, what if they can't? The 2021 Dixie Fire in California nearly devastated the campus of Feather River College. Natalie Presta, Director of Information Services at Feather River College, said the event was the tipping point that made them move to a SaaS-based system. "Part of the conversation was […] 'How are we going to process some critical campus operations if we don't have a campus anymore?’” Presta said. Feather River College went live with their SaaS system in seven months, which Presta called "a cultural change on campus when it comes to technology."

Moving tech to the cloud and SaaS while offering remote access to students at no additional charge literally meets students where they are. In addition to moving to SaaS, this can mean developing mobile apps or mobile-functioning websites that help students register, pay fees, sign up for housing, or configure their meal plans. It can mean building a fully-customized web portal with AI-powered chat advising and links to pay for parking passes. It can even mean using financial aid solutions that let students scan in paperwork on their smartphones to submit electronically and securely.

Meeting students halfway with communications—whether text-based notifications or providing fuller and clearer financial aid expectations on your school's website—makes it easier for them to do their share of the lifting and to better their academic journey. According to the same Inside Higher Ed Student Voices survey mentioned earlier, more than half of students say they prefer a mix of digital and physical course materials. Why not give them what they want and let them engage from the comfort of their own home to do it while you’re at it?

Finding the Right Student Success Partner

Facilitating all those options means finding the right partner—not just a vendor, but a partner—to help bring your institution into the future and keep it there. Too often, tech solutions companies in the higher ed sector give institutional leaders a list of things that the institution needs to sort out by itself before the company will enter into a contract with them, and it comes with a list of things that the company won't do to help along the way. Your institution has enough on its plate without adding a chore list from uncooperative and unhelpful tech providers. Just as you should put a concerted effort into meeting your students where they are, a tech company should make that same effort to meet your school where it is and offer enough solutions to painlessly carry you to where you need to be every step of the way.

That’s what separates the partners from the vendors.

The first step is to get brought up to speed. According to a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), modernization remained a top concern for higher ed in 2023. In order to keep up with current tech trends and get ahead of the curve, your institution needs to find a partner with a comprehensive ERP/SIS solution that can optimize the facilitation of key processes like student and attendance management. That partner needs to offer you a platform to modernize your school's web dashboard so students can get their day-to-day tasks done quickly and easily, from reserving library space to checking their meal plan balance. This partner has to have the tools to help you move from on-premise software to its SaaS-based equivalent to free up your IT team's time and budget.

Your institution's tech partner should have solutions for a broad range of university needs, from an in-depth data analysis tool that helps you identify trends and cost-saving opportunities to a streamlined financial aid process that boosts enrollment and retention while eliminating confusion and summer melt. 'Finally, they should already have ready-to-go systems integration tools to make any of your disparate software programs communicate, if not eliminate the need for those programs entirely—we all know the headaches that come with siloed data and legacy systems that don't play nice.

Once a partner can offer to bring you from wherever you are in this process into a fully modernized institution while minimizing the lift on your part, the second step is to keep you agile and ready to adapt to future trends. In a word, this means future-proofing.The effort you spend finding a partner whose solutions can adapt to trends further down the road will be more than worth the money you’ll save by not needing another major overhaul in five or 10 years.

You should choose a partner in tech solutions who can help you adapt to changing expectations and shifting learning pathways to meet your school's and your students' needs. For example, the aforementioned systems integration tools a partner may have are crucial to ensuring that your software can remain flexible by connecting and scaling with new technologies.

On that subject, you can and should ask your institution's tech partner about how they keep you safe from cybersecurity risks. Unfortunately, bad actors are always building new malware to compromise secure data and wreak havoc on systems. In 2023, the average data breach in the higher ed sector cost $3.7 million. With SaaS platforms, you get automatic updates and patches that have been tested and prepared by your tech solutions partner—no more wasted hours on coding, testing, and deploying upgrades by your IT department—that are scalable and burstable. When choosing a tech solutions company to work with your college or university, be wary of one who isn't SaaS-ready. At the end of the day, those who focus primarily on on-premise or cloud-based services are, intentionally or not, leaving you exposed to cybersecurity risks.

This level of service by your tech solutions partner goes double for keeping up with federal and state regulations, including but not limited to your financial aid office maintaining students' and their families' personal information in a private and secure manner. Does your current vendor or partner have the technical capability to keep up with ever-changing refinements to state and federal regulations? Or are they leaving the door open to an audit where your school may accrue fines ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars?


As different as these vital issues may seem, meeting students where they are and finding a long-term tech solutions provider to secure your future go hand-in-hand. Your institution can and should prioritize catering to your students' different learning methods and accessibility to your services to optimize student success. In the same manner, your solutions partner should meet your school wherever it is and accommodate its facilities in order to modernize your systems and prepare you for future trends and risks.

Neither your students nor your institution should be subjected to a "One-Size-Fits-All" answer to their problems; neither they nor you are just a number. Find a company that can solve your needs just as your students found your school in hopes of it doing the same. Only then can your students and your institution not just survive, but truly thrive. These issues were raised in the 2024 EDUCAUSE Top 10 list of IT issues, trends and technologies, and as a mission partner with EDUCAUSE, Ellucian is proud to offer actionable solutions.

Ellucian keeps students at the heart of your institution's modernization journey. Our customers have experienced this first-hand; click here to see how we do so.

Meet the authors
Jonny Lupsha, Marketing Writer, Ellucian
Jonny Lupsha
Marketing Writer, Ellucian

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