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Transforming the Student Experience

I have to admit that “Transforming the Student Experience” has eclipsed “Student Success” as the phrase that is most likely to send shivers up my spine – although the two concepts, as they are generally understood, are related.

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Vendors, in particular like to throw these terms around. After all, they claim to have the add-on products, the services, and the subscription fees or license and maintenance fees to address these “goals”.

But what does “Transforming the Student Experience” really mean?

One recent article stated that, based on a survey conducted by a marketing firm, more than three-quarters of students indicated that their personal information should be used to enhance their college experience – inside and outside the classroom. Further, surveyed students indicated they wanted their personal information used to improve tracking graduation requirements and progress, selecting and registering for courses, and scheduling academic advising sessions. Who can argue with that?

I have to ask myself, though, that if students have a hard time understanding graduation requirements and tracking progress, determining what courses to take when and scheduling advising sessions, why is that? Layering technology on top of or alongside dysfunctional business processes never solves problems. And if one of the objectives of higher education is for students to learn to take responsibility for their decisions and actions, are the business processes and technology that support them, furthering this goal or undermining it?

When we work with Colleges and Universities on improving services to students we have never heard students state that they want more of their personal information used. Ever! Our approach is one of open ended queries not survey questions which may be phrased in a way to get a pre-determined outcome.

We have had students tell us that in interacting with their institution that it has a business perspective rather than a service perspective and no amount of technology is going to fix what is essentially a cultural issue.

More generally, what we observe is that most College and University managers are tactical (rather than strategic) and so are the students – but for the students it is very personal and even if a given office believes that they are doing a good job with students, students often believe differently.

If the student experience needs transforming, it may be best to first figure out the impediments to information they need and how to use that information to further students’ individual goals. Technology may be useful in resolving whatever issue or issues exist, but if you do not know what questions to focus on, technology (or a marketing survey) is not the answer to start with.

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