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How COVID-19 has accelerated the need for digital transformation within Higher Education– Webinar Highlights

The spread of COVID-19 and subsequent campus lockdowns have forced universities across the US to assess their digital offerings to students. This has highlighted the need to accelerate needed digital transformation and added to existing challenges of reduced student retention within higher education.

With only 50% of on-campus students feeling a ‘sense of belonging’ and satisfaction with their student experience, universities more than ever are searching for ways to improve this and in turn boost graduation rates (Source: RNL).

In the recent webinar How COVID-19 has accelerated the need for digital transformation within Higher Education moderated by Steve Morgan (Managing Director, Squiz US) with Jeff Edwards (CIO, Xavier University) we explored how Xavier University tackled these challenges during COVID-19 and highlighted the importance of creating a connected campus.  Watch the full on-demand webinar here, or continue reading for the highlights.

COVID-19 and the economic impacts within HE

Steve Morgan opened the session with a recap of trends he’s witnessed among clients within higher education, highlighting:

  • Universities rush to push years of needed digital transformation within a matter of months to adapt to their students' needs.
  • College and Universities threatened with decreasing budgets of up to 9 billion dollars a year. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2017)
  • 76% of students believe online courses offer a greater study/life balance. (EY Sweeney Market Research, 2017), but for universities to take advantage of these systems, timely communication and widespread digital resources are hugely important.

He then asked our viewers:

On a scale of 1 to 5, how impactful has COVID-19 been in accelerating your universities digital transformation strategy?

Not surprisingly, 83% confirmed that COVID-19 had played a major role in accelerating digital efforts on campus.

Steve went onto to propose a solution that could enable teams to:

  • Connect your campus with a modern platform for a seamless student experience whether on campus, at home, or abroad.
  • More effectively reach students with critical information through targeted notifications and real-time comms.
  • Empower students to easily find the course and campus resources they need to succeed with a single modern platform.

Creating connection among remote students

Jeff started his session by recounting how Xavier personally reached out to 4500 students within a matter of 14 days. There were six elements he touched on as part of the campus’ swift response:

  • Going remote with Zoom
  • Virtual Labs
  • STEM Document Cameras
  • Expanded VPNs
  • Test Monitoring
  • Staff Training

Jeff reminded us that for most students, the digital experience isn’t new. They grew up in the age of Amazon, they expect flexibility, and want personalization. Why? The greater goal is to foster a sense of belonging. Students report that belonging is what contributes to retention and student success.

Students grew up with Amazon, expect flexibility, and want personal touch

The role of technology to support belonging on campus isn’t a particularly obvious one, but Jeff underlined the importance of communication, calendaring, convenience, and customization for this objective. He draws from familiar consumer tech examples, such as checking out wait times from the campus coffee shop. He asks, “That’s been happening at Starbucks for a very long time, is it happening on your campus?”

Personalized communication and its role in student engagement

Steve asked another question of the audience:

What are your university's greatest existing challenges?

The top 3 answers: 43% Ineffective student communication, 57% slow student engagement or retention, and 64% decreased revenue channels.

From years of focus groups, Jeff has learned that students yearn for a sense of belonging from their institutions. They care about lasting human connections: a sense of acceptance, value, encouragement from peers and faculty.  They expect technology to help them foster this, especially when they’re not on campus.

Diagram showing student expectations in Communication, Calendaring, Convenience, and Customization.

How? Clear and effective messages about the things that matter to them.

For student-friendly communications, it’s clear higher ed needs an effective channel to reach students that goes beyond an email blast with low open rates. And if an app isn’t particularly helpful, students will just delete it.

However, Jeff calls out “If you get the right app, and everybody’s downloading it on their phone, guess what? Now you have a way to communicate with every student on campus.”

The rising role of the CIO

First, Steve wanted to gauge the current sentiment toward existing student portals. He polled the audience:

How would you rank your existing student portal or platform in effectively engaging students on a scale of 1 - 5?

73% of respondents indicated average to ineffective student portals. This isn’t for a lack of trying. Steve notes, “We’ve seen the role of the CIO become more and more prominent across higher education,” citing McKinsey’s findings that “70% of successful transformation project teams cited “leaders familiar with digital technologies” as a key factor to project success.

Thinking to the future, Jeff shared “I believe we have opened up a whole new world for faculty and students... As we all learn the same application, the same platform, we begin to communicate in ways we’ve never done before.”

He shared specific examples of how communication plays out in campus technology:

  • Move to one app for students
  • Collect student experiences
  • Implement a CRM
  • Leverage data
  • Personalize communication
  • Enable focused student apps
  • Help students engage with peers

A final piece of wisdom Jeff leaves us with: “Pay attention to what students do and use every day. They expect us to adapt to them - not for them to adapt to our systems.”

As many institutions are discovering, one of the most challenging tasks is executing years of digital transformation in a matter of weeks. Squiz Edify offers a connected single platform, enabling universities to create engaging and personalized experiences on campus, at home, or abroad. As COVID-19 continues to impact campus life, Edify makes reaching students in real-time possible with targeted notifications and filters for relevant communication.

To learn more about Squiz Edify, click here, or for strategies on creating a seamless student experience between on-campus and remote learning, check out 'Creating a connected campus: How to tackle student retention and bridge the experience gap.'

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