As students rely more on tablets and smartphones to stay connected, universities are under pressure to make student services easily accessible from mobile devices. “In my experience, students arrive on campus expecting the university to be mobile-ready,” says Karl Horvath, CIO at Gwynedd Mercy University, a 2,600-student school in Montgomery County, Pa. “Gwynedd Mercy is surrounded by 80 other schools, and we are all competing in the same student market. Meeting mobile expectations is a key tool for recruiting and retaining students.”
To stay on the cutting edge, Gwynedd Mercy has been shifting away from traditional computer resources and building a mobile-friendly campus. “We are shrinking our computer labs, and investing in bring-your own-device (BYOD) technology, such as smartphones and tablets,” says Horvath.
As part of that effort, the IT team at Gwynedd Mercy is working to make mobile-friendly versions of all the university’s web content. “We are condensing information so that the pages can be read on a smartphone screen,” says Horvath. As of now, students at Gwynedd Mercy can bring up campus maps, lists of student events and academic calendars on pages that are optimized for smartphones and tablets.
Gwynedd Mercy is also trying to capitalize on the popularity of mobile apps. Last year, the university joined on as a beta-tester for Elucian Mobile, a pre-made mobile app that can be easily customized for specific universities. The app is connected with the university’s student information system so that students can log in and access grades, class schedules, the location of classes and lectures, and other information. “Students already use apps from their health-care providers and banks, so they have come to expect all institutions to provide a similar service,” says Horvath.
The university pays Ellucian a yearly subscription fee to ensure that the app is updated and constantly improving. “Keeping the app fresh is key. Otherwise students will not use it,” he says.
Over the next year, he hopes to build out the app to allow students to pay their bills and register for classes on mobile devices. Long-term, Horvath is planning to expand the university’s mobile ecosystem beyond student services to engage alumni.
“We are working with the development office to roll out a separate platform for our young alumni,” he says. “Ideally, former students would access a whole different platform, where they could keep up with alumni events and make donations on their phones.”
Overall, keeping up-to-date with technology is pivotal to making Gwynedd Mercy competitive. “With the Ellucian app,” Horvath says, “we’re able to meet students where they are—on their smartphones.”