What three college presidents achieved through digital transformation
By partnering with Ellucian, institutional leaders improved student success, enhanced efficiencies, and created more sustainable business models
- Students see technology as a utility that is foundational to their success
- Access to greater resources increases capabilities and improves student outcomes
- Smaller institutions are especially reliant on efficiency to thrive
For small to mid-size institutions, technology improvement often gets lost amid a sea of priorities. But in these times of decreasing enrollments, increasing competition, and public skepticism around the value of a college degree, many colleges and universities are now elevating digital transformation to the top of the list.
More and more, institutions are recognizing that modernization is essential to the new efficiencies and enhanced experiences they want to deliver—and I recently had the opportunity to hear from three college presidents who acted on that conclusion. They are leveraging digital transformation to improve student success, maximize resources, and create more sustainable business models.
Here’s an inside look at what they’ve achieved.
At Rivier University, technology is foundational to student success
Students see technology as a utility (like electricity and running water) that is foundational to their success. Students at Rivier University were frustrated by network outages and classroom technology that was outdated. The institution knew it could do better.
So, Rivier sought a comprehensive solution that was a fit for its educational philosophy. The institution sought a partner who could focus on planning, had the scale to attract and retain IT staff, and could create and support a campus perception of growth and excellence. President Sister Paula Marie Buley turned to Ellucian to help lighten the load and focus on both short-term wins and longer-term initiatives.
Through the partnership, Rivier has made great strides. It has achieved data-driven decision making and an outstanding IT team who have established a path forward that will improve the experience for students, faculty, staff, and administrators alike. In the fall, Rivier will be opening a new science and innovation center that will include a strong technology infrastructure.
Investing in IT at Aquinas College enhances the mobile experience and boosts retention
Aquinas College sits on a 120-acre, thickly wooded campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Students walk through the woods to get to class, often trying to access their mobile devices. But all those trees create a unique technological challenge for the institution. They impede the wireless connections.
When Kevin Quinn joined the institution as president, the wireless connections were spotty at best in the offices and classrooms and not functional in the dorms. But the mobile experience was just a symptom of a bigger problem—an underinvestment in IT.
Aquinas needed a deeper IT bench and greater access to experts with the capabilities to move the mobile experience forward. To improve user interfaces, and ensure mobile platforms were stable, the institution partnered with Ellucian.
“It gave us access to their expert staff with the software,” says President Quinn. “If we have a problem with a patch, they have people that can fix that. That was a big deal for us.”
And the benefits don’t stop there. Through the partnership, Aquinas has also created a needed culture change. There’s more collaboration across departments and better communication, with IT serving as the connector. The result? Staff can work faster and prioritize efforts across campus.
Now, the institution is more data driven, its software is better integrated, and it is getting better information as a result, which is improving performance on another important priority—student retention.
“We are now able to more quickly get information that we think might be relevant about students,” says President Quinn. “We're not all the way there yet, but it's a cross-functional team that has access to data that used to be kept tightly down. Our folks can actually begin to recognize who is at risk, and then begin to talk about what the appropriate interventions are on a one-on-one basis.”
Improving operational efficiencies helps St. Thomas University increase enrollment
In 2016, St. Thomas University was facing closure. They were going to merge with another institution, but the merger didn’t go through. Instead, the institution brought in a new president, David A. Armstrong, J.D., in 2018 to be a change agent.
President Armstrong was determined to be more effective and efficient with St. Thomas’ resources. There were many manual, paper-based processes in place, faculty were using four different systems to record attendance, and students were limited by an online tuition payment system that only accepted one type of credit card.
“We were doing everything by hand. Inputting, copying, printing out a piece of paper, taking it to the next person, and then they're inputting it somewhere,” says President Armstrong. “We weren't being effective; we weren't being efficient; and we weren't even collecting money.”
To improve operational efficiencies, St. Thomas partnered with Ellucian to employ a new CIO who works as a St. Thomas University employee, helping IT to identify problems and find solutions. Now they are moving forward, reducing manual processes, being more efficient, and empowering staff through training and access to IT experts.
In the fall of 2019, St. Thomas brought in a record class. Through their partnership with Ellucian, they are on track to increase those enrollment numbers in 2020.
Strategic partnerships help institutions strategize for the future
When institutions need digital transformation to drive business model transformation, the answer is often found in strategic partnerships. By supporting institutions in such ways, they can focus on serving students and improving their outcomes, rather than worrying about software patches, upgrades, and outages.
A good partner will roll up its sleeves to identify areas of improvement, increase efficiencies, and, ultimately, enhance the experience for every campus constituent. Most important, it empowers institutions to make their technology vision a reality and ensure future success.