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Rethinking the University in a Student-Centric World (Part 2 of a Two-Part Series)


As today’s tech-savvy students push universities to embrace student-centric learning models, higher-educational institutions face numerous challenges. Here are seven disciplines that they must master to ensure that they are meeting, if not exceeding, students’ learning expectations and needs.

Part one of this two-part report explored the potential forms of a student-centric university. In part two, we examine seven lessons for success that universities must follow. Let’s begin.

Charting a Lifetime Relationship

True student centricity cannot be achieved by even the strongest standalone customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Many institutions are using advanced CRM systems to deliver high levels of engagement and personalized attention to prospective students. Once enrolled, however, these students often report feeling neglected or out of place, as the level of interaction and personalization disappear. The school of the future must deliver a high level of personalized interaction across the entire student lifecycle.

Thus, forward-thinking institutions will ultimately move to a comprehensive system of engagement that thinks beyond the CRM to include key applications like the student information system (SIS) and learning management system (LMS) to fully manage all relationships and data necessary to provide total student support and enable student success. As a result, cross-campus, integrated solutions that share data and insights are critical to achieving that ever-elusive, 360-degree view of the student to best enable success.

Digital Channels Enhance Interactions

Services that make the most of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies incubated in the consumer world — such as intelligent agents, augmented reality and video — have the potential to dramatically improve institutional services. As a result, they can increase constituent satisfaction and student success. According to Ovum’s ICTEI Higher Education survey, 67% of education institutions intend to apply AI to CRM in the next 18 months.

Many vendors are embedding automated capabilities into their solutions to provide the kind of timely interventions and alerts that can improve the constituent experience. For example, sending timely automated alerts about approaching registration deadlines or reminders for submitting financial aid forms will improve constituents’ experience and avoid later problems that might result in a student withdrawing from the institution. 

Aligning Learning with Student Needs

Next generation student information systems (SIS) and learning management systems (LMS) platforms are enabling teaching and learning — the cornerstone of the student’s educational experience — to shift from the traditional instructor-centric model to something that offers greater opportunity for student engagement and interaction. The U.S. has seen an explosion of competency-based education during the past decade. In this learning model, students' progress towards a degree or certificate is determined by their demonstrated mastery of a skill, rather than by time in seat. This can be a much faster, efficient process, particularly for those adult learners who have already mastered some of these skills in the workplace.

Such a flexible approach will demand that the LMS and other mission-critical systems become more flexible and configurable to support shorter or non-credit hour-based learning models. For example, an LMS supporting competency-based learning (CBE) will need to release new "modules" of the course after the completion of the previous module; as a result, the institution’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system must then support non-credit hour-based financial aid. Other tools like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can allow distance learning to be made immediate and enable students to engage with learning materials in a new, and even hands-on, way.

“Badging” Students to Own Their Education Experience

As students are increasingly drawn to having their entire journey across a campus being conveyed in a visual way that's easily and universally understandable, “badging” becomes an increasing topic of conversation. Digital badges — which can be stored and displayed via online portfolios, networking sites and resumes — are embedded with metadata that provides in-depth explanations about the accomplishment, the issuer and other evidence that verify the achievement. These digital markers can drill down much more specifically into specific academic or extracurricular skills than a resume could.

For example, instead of a degree in computer science, a badge indicates the user's mastery of Java or C++, which is a much more useful data point for a prospective employer. Badging is one way in which a skills portfolio, which might not be entirely university-gained, can be assembled and presented as evidence of employment readiness.

Better Data Enables Student Centricity

Most institutions have access to far more relevant and timely data than they are currently leveraging. Using analytics effectively across the campus can provide insight into all facets of an institution’s performance, from how its budgets are spent and allocated to what courses are in greatest demand.

Access to broad streams of granular data is a key enabler of student centricity. Starting from all available data related to a particular student, questions can be asked about how he or she is performing compared with peers, and whether interventions are needed. Data can also help trace the impact of past actions, by both the student and staff, on progress toward the agreed goals. This kind of evidence-based, rather than opinion-based, decision-making can transform the individual student’s journey, and also reveal to the institution where policies and traditional practices are hindering, rather than promoting, student success.

Small, Smart Steps Deliver Big Changes

Vision plus strategic incrementalism is often a more effective approach than waiting for agreement on a strategic plan, particularly in a rapidly changing environment. Where a compelling narrative about the direction and value of change exists, substantial change can be delivered organically. To get there, we suggest that universities focus on increasingly student- and employer-driven external agendas to adjust their educational offerings and pedagogy, particularly as they pertain to professional outcomes post-graduation.

To do that, universities much ensure that the right data is in the right hands at the right time by breaking down traditional data silos that impede efficient thinking and action. Given that the future is anything but crystal clear, this is appropriate behavior, as long as the overall direction is understood and a broad path forward has been identified. The important thing is to get moving and stay moving, headed toward the goal.

Partnerships Are Critical for Success

There will be expertise beyond the boundaries of the institution that can complement internal competencies. Where the object of change does not have significant competitive impact, universities can share risk and reward by learning from others’ innovations.

Commercial partners can also assist, particularly in implementing new processes or technologies, or leveraging experience gained from previous engagements and offer external support to enhance internal capability. In seeking partners, whether commercial or institutional, higher-educational institutions need allies that are complementary as well as collaborative.

Moving to a student-centric focus, which requires a reconfiguration of both the culture and the technology of a university, can be a challenge. But with the right vision and the right partner, the journey from conceptualization, implementation and transformation can be more readily achieved.

Figure 1

For a more information on the future of higher education, please read “Reimagining the University in a Student-Centric World,” visit our Education Practice, or contact us.

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Rethinking the University in a Student-Centric World (Part 2 of a Two-Part Series)