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How COVID-19 Became the Catalyst for Overdue Transformation in Higher Education

When the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the US and restrictions forced colleges to close their doors, an estimated 14 million students across the country were left unable to physically attend classes (Source: CNBC). Overnight, institutions were faced with two options – cancel classes completely, or provide online solutions, fast.

On March 10th, Harvard became the first university to announce that it was moving all classes online – news that had a mixed reception from both domestic and international students alike (Source: CNBC). While many were concerned around the immediate logistics of moving out of college accommodation, there was wider uncertainty around how Zoom meetings could possibly live up to face-to-face lectures and tutorials, with one Harvard student labelling the approach a “last minute fix”.


Why the Online Student Experience Fails

The fears that many students have voiced, around online learning during lockdown, aren’t completely unfounded. In many ways, it could be argued that COVID-19 has simply highlighted the issues already faced by colleges in the US – including inadequate communication channels to reach students, as well as the increasing struggle to engage students and create a sense of connection and community on campus.

Lack of support and communication aren’t minor issues – in the increasingly competitive world of higher education, the ability to offer students adequate, easily accessible online resources and services can directly impact pass rates, fail rates and student retention:

  • 37% of US students found sharing and collaborating on student data ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ (Source: Salesforce).
  • A mere 19% of online students felt that faculty members were responsive to their needs – and only 22% felt that feedback from tutors was ‘timely’ (Source: RNL).
  • 64% of students listed ‘personalized attention pre-enrolment’ as a key influencing factor, when selecting a university (Source: RNL).

Acknowledging the fundamental difference between the in-person, on-campus experience and the online, remote learning experience is an important step towards tackling student concerns. Whether through convenience or necessity, students who choose to study online still want to feel valued, supported and part of a community.

Creating a Connected Campus

The reality is that student expectations are increasing – and universities need to step up, or face dwindling enrolments. Well before the pandemic, more and more students were choosing to study online (Source: US Department of Education), so investing in a better online student experience now will future-proof higher education in the long-term. It’s also important to note that on-campus doesn’t automatically make for a more inclusive experience than online; In fact, only 50% of on-campus students feel a ‘sense of belonging’ and satisfaction with their student experience, while only 57% feel that staff ‘care about students as individuals’ (Source: RNL).

For universities looking to transform their online offerings and excel in student engagement, the  new objective should be to create personalized, accessible online experiences – well beyond Zoom meetings and instant messaging groups. University can be a stressful and emotional experience, especially for first-time students. Simplifying key tasks such as keeping up to date with campus and social announcements, course information and managing financial aid, can help students to feel in control and supported – and have a huge impact on their overall experience.

As Peter Decherney, Professor of Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, puts it: “Rather than trying to recreate our in-person experiences online, we should be thinking about what we can do online that expand the limits of what we can do on campus” (Source: Inside Higher ED).


Introducing Squiz Edify

Edify is a modern platform that enables higher education institutions to create a seamless student experience on campus, at home or abroad. Designed specifically for colleges and universities, Edify simplifies and connects information, resources and existing systems to provide a single, centralized, personalized platform for your student body. Edify can help your institution to tackle the major challenges of student retention and engagement, enabling you to:

  • Create personalized and engaging student experiences.
  • Connect everything students and admins need on one, intuitive, user-friendly platform.
  • Offer students a single dashboard they can customize and access on an anytime-anywhere basis, for all their college related requirements.
  • Reach students in real-time, with personalized and instant notifications.
  • Offer students their own, fully customizable pages on a platform that feels modern and intuitive to digital natives.

To find out more about Squiz Edify, visit squiz.net/get/edify today.


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