Promoting Student Success With Digital Transformation

D. Christopher Brooks |

Former Analyst

Top of Mind: Promoting Student Success With Digital Transformation
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Digital transformation (Dx) is a relatively new and somewhat fraught concept for higher education. Dx in higher education leverages technological innovation to produce shifts in the institutional culture and workforce to generate operational efficiencies, realize cost savings, and improve the institutional value proposition. Despite the potential benefits, higher education institutions are finding it difficult to engage in digital transformation, with only 44 percent of institutions reporting that they are currently involved in a digital transformation initiative.

In addition to insufficient cross-institutional planning and a lack of buy-in and understanding of Dx, one of the significant obstacles facing higher education institutions today is cost. Large-scale technological investments may appear daunting in an era of shrinking budgets and reduced tuition revenue, but they are necessary to modernize institutional workflows and processes. Student success initiatives are a high-impact, relatively low-cost way to embark on a Dx journey and are, in fact, made more impactful through Dx.

Digital Transformation as Student Success

The Tambellini Group has focused on a variety of ways in which the proper implementation of technology with an emphasis on shifts in cultural and procedural approaches can move the student success needle.

  • Focus on modern student systems. Resource-strapped institutions may balk at the idea of replacing a legacy student system with a modern one. But a robust, cloud-based student system is the bedrock upon which student success initiatives rest. Some cost-saving approaches to modernization include selecting a single, modern cloud system for the entire enterprise suite (e.g., HCM, student, and finance), considering modular options, and moving toward administrative solution alignment.
  • Modernize CRMs for student success. Implementing a modern CRM embodies many facets of digital transformation to create a unified yet personalized student experience. Collecting disparate student data from across the institution into a single platform allows institutions to leverage CRMs to create one-stop shops for students and catalyze behavioral and cultural change in the service of supporting students.
  • Consider student success platforms. Student success platforms are an emerging market of cloud-based solutions that support campus advising and retention through integrated and automated advising workflows. Student success platforms typically support case management, early alerts and outreach, push notifications and multichannel communication, real-time analytics, and integrated appointment scheduling.
  • Investigate academic planning and degree audit tools. Academic planning and degree audit tools contribute to institutional Dx in three critical ways: 1) the technology replaces paper-based processes with digital ones; 2) students take greater control over their degree planning, exploring efficient paths as well as ones based on their interests and completed coursework; and 3) advisors can cultivate more meaningful relationships with students, focusing on pressing topics like internships, career plans, mental health, physical well-being, and the like.
  • Embrace early alerts and learning analytics. Early alerts were one of the first student success tools developed, affording instructors, advisors, and counselors the ability to raise flags, send nudges, or give kudos to students. Inline analytics and embedded outreach, especially in the LMS, allow instructors to identify at-risk behaviors or students who might be struggling and empower them to email, text, or message students without leaving their view.

Steps CIOs Can Take

As noted above, introducing new technologies is just one component of Dx. Dx also requires shifts in institutional culture and the workforce championed and led by strategically minded campus leadership. To lay the groundwork for the successful Dx of student success, IT leaders can take the following steps:

1. Join the conversation.

Neither Dx nor student success is an IT project, but IT plays a critical role in the partnerships of these initiatives. Developing an approach to Dx and student success requires talking and listening to stakeholders from across the institution. Understanding the needs of faculty, advisors, support staff, and, most importantly, students is critical to the success of these initiatives.

2. Commit to transformation.

In addition to investing in and fully leveraging the technology infrastructure for the project’s success, IT leaders need to prioritize the groundwork that will contribute to wholesale cultural and workforce changes. Aligning processes with desired technologically driven outcomes is critical, even if it means delaying major technology implementations.

3. Keep students front and center.

Dx is fundamentally about student success. Prioritizing student success tool functionality in the context of the larger technology picture will ensure that students continue to find them extraordinarily useful, assuming they know the tools are available.

4. Plan incrementally.

Dx is an intrinsically uneven process, with some parts of the institution proceeding apace while others remain untouched. Understanding the larger picture affords an opportunity to implement new technologies strategically and as the institution can do so. Such an approach increases the likelihood of buy-in, adoption, and alignment with new processes while reducing sticker shock.

5. Plan for the complete student lifecycle.

While higher education tends to focus on the first part of the student life-cycle (e.g., recruitment, enrollment, completion), opportunities to engage learners after a degree is awarded abound. Planning now for how the institution can attract, support, and educate (returning) adult learners seeking to up- and reskill could pay dividends in the long run.

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D. Christopher Brooks |
Former Analyst
Dr. D. Christopher Brooks researches and advises members about the strategic importance and impact of information technology in higher education at Tambellini Group. With more than 20 years of experience in higher education as an instructor, professor, and researcher, he specializes in several areas, including digital transformation, student success technologies, learning spaces, and more. Christopher has co-authored two books, published dozens of research articles, reports, and blog posts, and delivered keynote addresses and research presentations worldwide. Christopher earned his PhD in political science from Indiana University.

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