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Improving the Student Experience Is Essential, and IT Plays a Critical Role

Man in blue shirt uses laptop computer to diagnose server issue
(Image credit: iStock/boggy22)

Research suggests the quality of the campus experience has a profound effect on student recruitment and retention. Providing a high-quality experience helps colleges and universities get students in the door and see them through to completion. What’s more, how students interact with technology on campus — including how fast colleges and universities are able to resolve students’ IT problems — plays a critical role in shaping their experience.

How the Student Experience Affects Recruitment

The higher-education landscape is extremely competitive, and it’s expected to become more so in the coming years. Colleges and universities are vying with each other to recruit top students and faculty. How these stakeholders perceive their campus experience affects the reputation of an institution — and whether they have reliable technology services and timely IT support helps define their experience.

Being known as an IT leader can help colleges and universities distinguish themselves from the competition. On the other hand, if students struggle to get a WiFi signal or have to wait for days to have an IT problem resolved, they’re likely to share their negative experience through social media — and reputation is one of seven critical factors that students consider when choosing a college.

The ability to recruit students will take on more importance as enrollment falls over the next few years. U.S. college enrollment is expected to drop by nearly 300,000 students over a four-year period at the end of the next decade as the college-age population declines. This will make the student experience even more valuable to recruitment.

How Retention Is Linked to Student Satisfaction

If students are happy with their campus experience, they’re also more likely to persist in their studies, which affects college retention and completion. Not surprisingly, a study across 65 institutions found that student satisfaction “is indeed connected to student persistence, as well as to the word-of-mouth reputation of an institution.”

If students have a good college experience, the researchers say, they’re more apt to feel connected with their institution. This means they’re more likely to be fully engaged in their education and to complete their degree. Again, the quality of students’ IT experience is a key factor in defining the quality of their experience overall.

What This Means for IT Leaders

The emergence of online services from Amazon and other companies has set a high bar for colleges and universities. Students and faculty want the same convenience and immediacy they experience as consumers when they interact with campus services. They’re judging your institution by how well it stacks up against other organizations and services in their lives.

IT leaders need a clear vision for using technology to enhance the campus experience — and they need the right infrastructure and processes to make this vision a reality. This includes an efficient way to manage IT projects and deliver exceptional IT service and support.

At Palm Beach State College, for instance, CIO Kenneth Libutti and his team built a self-service platform in which students and faculty can quickly find their own answers to common IT problems. At Tallahassee Community College, Vice President of IT Bret Ingerman and his staff have created a system that generates automated email and text-message reminders to students, based on certain triggers set up within the college’s student information system. The reminders are helping students remain on track with their studies.

And at Bridgewater State University, CIO Ray Lefebvre and his organization have developed a number of IT innovations designed to enhance the student experience — including a “One Button Studio,” where students and faculty can record a presentation without knowing anything about technology, and a mobile app with a unique “Smart Parking” feature in which students can see in real time where parking spaces are available on campus.

Improving the delivery of IT services and completing innovative IT projects that enrich the quality of the student experience can help colleges and universities attract and retain more students and enhance their reputation — allowing them to thrive among increasing competition.

Andrew Graf is the Chief Product Strategist for TeamDynamix, a provider of IT service management and project portfolio management software for education enterprises.