Higher education has become an online service industry. Students submit — and colleges accept or deny — applications online. Parents pay tuition on the web. Schools post curricula and students select courses and manage their college experiences via portals. Professors publish websites listing syllabuses, assignments and office hours. Classes, tests, and research can all be conducted online. Online services are now a necessary and expected part of campus life.
And students are more web-savvy than ever and demand access to technology. Recent survey results from IBM and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion show:
— 93 percent of students own a laptop
— 97 percent have a profile on a social networking site
— 99 percent own a cellphone
— Seven in 10 view technology as “the future”
— 50 percent want to improve their technology skills before graduation.
From the university side, The Campus Computing Project’s 2008 National Survey (of 527 U.S. colleges and universities) showed:
— 16.5 percent have an official presence on MySpace
— 16.7 percent have a public wiki
— 31.9 percent of universities have an official presence on Facebook
— 55.6 percent have a campus portal
— 93.8 percent agree or strongly agree, “Technology has improved instruction on my campus.”
Admittedly, embracing Web 2.0 can cause occasional academic and administrative challenges. For instance, online services like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter can potentially disrupt classrooms. And, according to the Campus Computing 2008 survey, 12.9 percent of campuses reported student security incidents linked to social networking sites, up almost 10 percent from 2006. Add the fact that 46.2 percent of universities experienced a hack/attack incident on the campus network, and it is no surprise that the Campus Computing survey found that 20.3 percent of institutions consider upgrading/enhancing network and data security to be the single most important IT issue confronting institutions over the next two to three years.
However, online tools and services can also provide more data, choices, information, and insight for campus faculty, administrators, and students alike. The web can be the catalyst for more convenient, personal, and timely interactions and communications among administrators, faculty, and students. And Web 2.0 applications can also offer a cost-effective and efficient alternative to overbooked schedules and over-utilized resources including professors, alumni, courses, events, and facilities.
For example, students can be challenged or find insurmountable many aspects of campus life, including:
— Understanding what courses are available based on chosen major(s)
— Seeking financial aid
— Paying bills
— Getting jobs on campus
— Registering for classes
— Meeting with professors or industry professionals aligned with the college or university
— Obtaining grades
— Completing coursework
— Finding out about relevant events
— Feeling part of the campus community.
Simultaneously, higher education institutions must respond to escalating costs; decreasing budgets; changing student requirements (for the first time in six years enrollment in computer science majors jumped up according to the Taulbee annual survey conducted by the Computing Research Association); and increased competition for qualified students. As noted above, technology is prevalent and has been for awhile within the educational environment with varying rates of adoption. However, less than 50 percent of institutions are employing Web 2.0 technologies, according to Campus Computing.
TimeTrade Systems has years of experience working with higher education institutions of varying sizes—such as Harvard, Columbia College of Chicago, North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, and University of Arizona—to provide web-based scheduling for a broad range of student activities and services. There are many areas within the campus that can be impacted quickly with the application of innovative web-based technologies. Below are just a few examples. The common link among these examples is that they all enable some level of self-service to students, provide better access to guidance and open up the full range of resource possibilities.
— Leverage social media to recruit new students. Prospective students are already using multiple web-based social network sites, such as Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. By creating a site for your college on a social network, you can engage the new student early, provide a tour, share other student experiences and demonstrate that your college or university is committed to reaching out proactively using technologies that are part of the everyday pre-college experience.
— Create single-sign-on portals for students to self-manage their campus life. These portals provide students with one place to view course catalogs online, register for classes, pay bills, complete coursework, receive grades, learn about events, find out about financial aid options, explore on-campus employment opportunities and share special interests. Additionally, some universities are also enabling professors with access to these portals so they know more about the student before starting in their class or prior to a counseling meeting. This enables a better student/professor relationship. This same capability can be offered to alumni—Harvard Business School is an example—to help them in their pursuit of job opportunities or networking.
— Through the same portal, provide on-demand scheduling for administration and students. One of the biggest headaches and time drains for administrative staff is setting up and juggling schedules. These range from student consulting and advisory time to scheduling proctored exams to managing the utilization of campus resources. On the flip side, students who have to walk around campus to schedule meetings with professors, talk to counselors to receive financial aid guidance, schedule time to use sports facilities and arrange meetings with tutors, often are unsuccessful due to lack of resource availability. And even if a student is successful at scheduling, they can often forget the meeting time or inadvertently double-book themselves and forget to postpone or reschedule. Columbia College of Chicago (CCC) leverages self-service appointment scheduling for admissions, student financial services, advising, the writing center and many other departments. CCC uses Jenzabar Portal (OASIS) and TimeTrade’s self-service scheduling, which integrates with their portal, eliminating time staff spent scheduling in admissions, for example, by 100 percent. With self-service scheduling solutions, students, faculty and administrators can share availabilities for time, book meetings and easily change/cancel, and do so from their dorm room anytime of the day or night. This web-based capability makes it easier for students to get the help they might need and cuts down on administrative time and costs.
— Streamline access to financial aid. The global economic struggles are impacting the higher educational environment significantly, as much as they are commercial enterprises. The average college endowment is down around 25 percent, and many schools have to reduce financial aid. The amount of loan capital from private lenders has declined by one-third. Offsetting these issues, there are new sources of aid, including increases in the Pell Grant and new federal funding for the family loan program. The need by students for financial aid is at an all time high. By consolidating all information about financial aid including scholarships, loans and jobs through an online portal or the campus website, it makes it much less daunting for students and prospective applicants. To expect students to navigate the complexities of financial aid and be aware of any new federal grants is not realistic.
— Offer distance and online learning programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics by 2013 there will be more than 18 million students enrolled in some form of distance learning. Online learning is projected to grow 15 percent to 20 percent over the next decade. Certainly the economic environment is driving interest in developing new skills and degrees. Offering options for students of any age and professional status, opens up more possibilities to increase the student body.
— Generate pride and enthusiasm through the campus website. The website is vital to increase applications from prospective students and drive enthusiasm and participation among the student body. While keeping a website active and updating it regularly takes time, it is time well spent. As commercial enterprises and other organizations leverage their site for sales opportunities, it is just as important in the higher educational environment. Students want to learn what is new on campus, updates on research programs that are ongoing, new awards won, availability of upcoming events, news of alumni achievements and other aspects that confirm they’ve made the right educational choice.
These are all examples of ways higher education is using web-based technologies to drive student self-service, lower administrative burdens and improve the overall campus experience. One or more could prove to be useful as colleges and universities evaluate and streamline operations to stay vital in today’s economic and highly competitive academic environment.
Ed Mallen is president and CEO of TimeTrade Systems.
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