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Bridging the experience gap: why a seamless student experience is key to retention

The US higher education sector is in the midst of a dropout crisis. According to Educationdata.org the overall dropout rate for undergraduate college students is 40%, with approximately 30% of college freshman dropping out before their sophomore year.

These are sobering numbers, especially when compared to other prominent higher education providers around the globe, for example the UK, where just 6.3% of students don’t continue their studies beyond first year. A global pandemic is only likely to make things worse.

Why do students drop out?

There are a plethora of theories and reasons why students drop out. Some of the most prominent include:

  • It’s too expensive – the average cost of a four-year degree more than doubled between 1986 and 2017 (from $49,096 to $106,372).
  • Mental health – one study revealed that 27% of college students have been diagnosed with depression and of those that do drop out 64% claim that it was because of mental health reasons.
  • More career-minded students – unemployment rates and stagnating salary growth are forcing students to prioritise career-paths over passion subjects.
  • The perception that it can be ‘done online’ – a recent survey revealed that 76% of students believe online courses offer a greater study/life balance.
  • A disconnect between a student's physical and digital university experiences – universities are often pretty good at meeting student expectations when they’re on campus but usually fall short when it comes to emulating those experiences offline.

Reasons why students drop out

The digital vs. physical university experience

To follow on from that last bullet point, an increasing body of evidence shows that students crave a sense of connection, shared values and community engagement regardless of whether their course is online or a more traditional experience. Research has linked a university’s ability to deliver these to a number of important outcomes. It found that:

  • Students who have discussions and informal contact with faculty outside of class time are less likely to drop out of college.
  • Students who found resources unclear or difficult to access (even if they were technically available), felt unsupported and less likely to succeed.
  • Students who were given access to consistent college coaching resources, for at least two years, were 14% more likely to remain enrolled in college a year after the coaching ended than students in a control group.

It is the job of a university to proactively engage with their customers digitally as well as physically, providing guidance, support and encouragement across all of the touchpoints in the student journey.

Consider a day-in-the life of the modern 17-year old. A smartphone notification tells them it’s due to rain in 30 minutes and so they should take an umbrella with them. Their AI banking assistant reveals they’ve got $40 left in the budget after it geo-locates them at the mall. Their takeout app gives them real time information on the whereabouts of their delivery. Yet most universities are unable to update students about a seminar room change or a lecturer’s absence in real time. And it’s costing millions of dollars in drop outs and lost enrolments.

A day in the life of a modern student

Bridging the gap between the physical and the digital

So where do universities begin?

Firstly a mindset shift is required. Universities must start treating the physical and the digital student experience as one user journey with multiple touchpoints. Students should be able to seamlessly switch between the two without feeling like the quality of the experience is compromised in any way. Unfortunately, there are very few universities that can confidently claim to offer such a student experience. That’s where Squiz’s Edify comes in.

Introducing Squiz Edify – part of the Squiz DXP

Edify is part of the Squiz DXP. It’s a platform designed to help you create powerful student experiences that unify their online and offline experiences.

Edify brings four key benefits:

1. Powerful integrations: Many universities have a complex array of systems that are costly, clunky and don’t talk to each other. Edify integrates with and simplifies those systems into one easy-to-manage platform

2. Built for students: A feature-rich dashboard lets students manage any aspect of their university life from timetables and learning resources, to memberships and assignment reminders.

3. Reimagined portal: The word ‘portal’ conjures up cumbersome technical projects where students were an afterthought. Edify provides an intuitive, easy to use, and modern platform.

4. Reach in real-time: With Edify you can send targeted, personalized notifications to your students that go way beyond blanket emails and treat your students as individuals rather than numbers.

Students can access Edify on any device at any time whether they’re at home, on campus or abroad, putting them at the heart of the university community even if they’re not physically there.

To find out more about how Squiz Edify can help higher education to tackle student retention and engagement, visit squiz.net/get/edify today.

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