COVID-19 accelerated and emphasized the need for change, but the movement towards a more holistic and humanizing understanding of student success has been in the works for a long time. By now, most higher education CIOs know that expectations for student success in their institutions are evolving. What was once the purview of faculty, advisors, and select frontline student support staff is now the responsibility of everyone on campus. New definitions encompass the entire student experience, including personal wellness and growth, financial security, social engagement, professional development, and academic performance. Everyone, including the CIO, is responsible for student success.
I’ve noticed that some higher ed CIOs have embraced their role in student success, while others struggle to understand it. It can be challenging to operationalize abstract constructs, particularly for campus IT leaders without direct access to student constituents and their experiences. Nevertheless, these CIOs need to try. Since so many student success initiatives involve data and technology, IT leaders tend to have a seat at the table. They need to use it to elevate student voice, educate colleagues on the principles of next-generation technologies, collaborate with functional leads to improve business processes and workflows, and help lead the significant cultural change that must occur at many US higher education institutions.
Earlier this summer, I wrote about how CIOs can help to humanize learning by prioritizing student access, privacy, respect, and empathy in their technology decisions. One approach to putting this framework into effect is for CIOs to partner with functional leads to find and reduce friction in interactions between students and the institution across campus and throughout the student lifecycle. Higher education institutions are complex systems with many moving parts. Helping students navigate the system through good design, workflows, and human navigators is essential to their success.
CIOs committed to student success are working to improve the following pain points in system navigation—either directly or in partnerships with other campus leaders. In doing so, they are preventing students from falling through the cracks and enabling them to focus on their coursework.
- Technology infrastructure. Ensuring access is always the first (but typically not the only) step in easing system navigation and supporting student success. Every higher education CIO must prioritize good Wi-Fi and device access for students.
- Student and parent portals. Even before COVID-19, the student experience often begins on campus websites and portals. A reliable, integrated, accessible, well-designed, mobile-first hub for self-service information and essential platforms is critical to the frictionless student and parent (or support person) experience. Many institutions are investing in chatbots to reduce search times and connect students with appropriate resources—particularly those related to financial aid, student accounts, the registrar, technology support, and academics. Others are also integrating feedback collection with real-time analytics into the experience to facilitate continuous improvement and outreach.
- One-stop shops. Institutions are trending towards 360-degree case management and one-stop shops for all student services. While the trend began in academic advising, it has extended to IT help desks, financial aid counseling, basic needs support, and other areas essential to student success. One-stop shops can be entirely virtual, supported through unified web and phone access, case management software, and embedded videoconferencing. However, more schools are combining physical and virtual resources so that students can access all services through a single walk-in or online location.
- Schedule optimization. Once limited to facilities management, scheduling optimization has expanded to course demand analytics, allowing institutions to leverage historical and current student data to optimize course section times and formats to meet student needs. These approaches help campuses avoid under enrollment, and many schools are interested in course demand analytics for financial reasons. However, prioritizing course demand over traditional methodology also helps students reduce bottlenecks and ensure the availability and correct sequence of coursework within established learning pathways.
- Streamlined academic administration. Many institutions still rely on manual (sometimes paper-based!) workflows for major declarations and changes, course schedule reviews and approvals, and add-drop processes. These manual workflows are pain points for everyone and distract students from their academic work. CIOs can help business and academic areas work towards automation and self-service. Campus user surveys and outreach are always a great place to start.
- Raising awareness. Depending on campus culture and readiness for change, the ideas presented here can seem overwhelming. As with everything, people and process change must accompany new technologies if transformation is to occur. Some CIOs may need to start by raising awareness before they can contribute to significant change. Campus outreach, user surveys, advocacy for new governance groups to guide student success initiatives are a small but important step for getting started.