The average high school student lives in a world that is tightly micro managed. If it’s not “helicopter parents” overseeing every aspect of their education, it’s schools with heavily structured curriculum, and a schedule that never changes. Then one day everything changes and they wake up in the middle of the campus maze. All they now know is that in two or four years they are supposed to make it out with a degree in their hands. Failure in higher education means failure in life. The stress for many can be suffocating.
UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that college students are suffering more from stress than in the previous 30 years – and they party half as much as the previous generation.
Meanwhile the stated goal of most institutions, and something that can also impact federal funding, is the successful completion of a degree within four years. As any parent and student well knows, higher education costs have never been so expensive, and therefore the stakes have never been higher. The failure of a student to graduate in a timely fashion is a failure that radiates across multiple strands of society. So what is the main roadblock that is causing students to struggle more than we’ve seen them struggle in decades? The answer is simple: the campus maze.
So what is the campus maze and what problems does it cause?
The campus maze is an environment of processes and academic systems where a wrong turn can result in devastating consequences. There may be many paths to success, but an even greater number of paths to failure. In IntraSee style, let’s look at the top three wrong turns we commonly see while students traverse the campus maze.
Wrong Turn #1 – Student’s Waste Their Time
Often, none of the academic systems are connected and it is impossible to find anything. Sometimes there are awful redundancies where more than one system is used to achieve basically the same thing. We knew one university with over 60 help desks! The problem is that the student wastes so much of their time. Wasted time trying to figure out which system they need to use. Wasted time trying to learn new navigations and search engines for each and every system. Wasted time calling the help desk or asking friends/advisors when they get stuck.
All that time wasted does three things:
- It creates a tremendous amount of stress. Given that students complain that time management is one of the main things they struggle with, this is stress piled on top of the stresses students already feel. And this is no small problem. Stress is a huge concern area for universities.
- Wasted time is just taking away from their studies. Add up all the wasted time and that time not spent studying or researching can impact grades and degree progress. This is a real problem!
- Student’s perception of the university changes when so much of their time is wasted. They begin to ask how such a prestigious university could be ignoring these issues. They start talking publically and the whole problem spirals into negative publicity.
Wrong Turn #2 – Student’s Miss Deadlines/Indicators
The next big problem when you have such a decentralized environment with no centralized UX layer is that Students miss deadlines. Think about all the notices and alerts each of these systems can send. Your library book is overdue, your parking fine hasn’t been paid, you have an upcoming homework assignment, you haven’t met with your advisor to clear your enrollment, your student financials account is overdue, and on and on.
The maze leaves students having no idea what they need to do. The student misses these alerts because they are all buried in places they don’t frequently visit. What happens when critical notices aren’t read and acted on? Problems as bad as missing your graduation date can result. Stress levels spike when they are surprised to learn of the consequences of missing something they didn’t even knew existed!
Progress indicators are also all over academic systems even if in subtle form. Assignment grades, term grades, degree progress reports, advising notes, tuition paid to name a few. When students don’t have visibility at their fingertips into these indicators, they can miss the signs that trouble is on the way. Next thing they know, they are paying for an extra semester to graduate.
And one more thing, all this should be visible on the student’s phone, because that’s where they spend much of their life! Times have changed, and how students expect to interact with your university have changed too. Mobile access isn’t a nice to have anymore. It’s a requirement.
Wrong Turn #3 – Poor Progress Planning
In today’s higher education, students really need to be on top of their plan to graduate. They need to make sure they decide their major/concentration early enough and that they are taking the right classes, in the right order, to graduate on time. Given the maze of pre-requisites and required courses, sometimes there is only a single semester that can feasibly hold a class. You miss that window and now you are graduating late.
Some of the problems are related to not understanding the degree requirements, but increasingly there are issues around availability and capacity. If a student doesn’t realize a class is hard to get into, they may fall victim to no seats being available. It then becomes a chain reaction pushing back all courses, as the class in question is a pre-requisite for other classes. Problems can also be as simple as not understanding how long it takes to walk to class. Once a student realizes they will be 10 minutes late each day, they end up dropping the class which again sets the chain reaction in motion.
The Advisor has a role to play in navigating this maze, but we will leave that for a future post.
Given the highly negative impact to student success that the campus maze causes, the obvious question is why does it exist, and why are so few organizations focused on solving it?
According to the latest CDS Benchmarking report, 80 percent of higher education IT budget is spent on operations (run), 13 percent on incremental changes (grow), and 5 percent on non-incremental changes (transform). No institution type spends more than 8 percent of their technology budget on transformative projects.
The sad truth is that transformative (UX) projects are not a priority in the higher education world, aside from some notable exceptions (Harvard University, as in many things, leads in this area). Instead, IT departments are almost entirely focused on maintaining the current maze of systems that are in place today. Somehow the goals of the university and the goals of the IT department are massively out of line.
The only way for schools to meet the needs of the students is to focus far more of their spending on UX (transformative) projects, and far less on the day to day running of multiple legacy systems.
This isn’t about spending more money, it’s about spending money more wisely (see our recent blog on this subject).
The first step in this transformation is to create your UX experience in the Cloud. The worst thing you can do is to try and shoehorn a UX into each of your campus systems. All this does is increase your maintenance costs, and creates a vicious cycle of ineffective IT spending. Plus it dooms your UX initiative as it almost inevitably entails trying to solve a critical problem with all the wrong tools (see this blog for an explanation on that)!
Simply by implementing your UX in the Cloud you get four immediate advantages:
- Lower total cost of ownership (so now you don’t have to dedicate 80% of IT budget to maintenance)
- Access to better tools in the Cloud to more easily provide a coherent UX solution
- Protection of your IT dollars in your UX investment. Now that your UX is not tied to your legacy systems you do not need to rebuild your UX each time a legacy system changes
- As you slowly migrate all your legacy requirements to the Cloud, the cost of doing so will be reduced because your UX already sits in the Cloud.
At IntraSee we would recommend using Oracle Platform as a Service (PaaS) tools to solve your UX problems (check out this short video on the subject). It’s something we are doing today and we know it works. And better still, it works with your current PeopleSoft Campus Solutions, your other legacy and Cloud systems, and also your future Cloud Student Information System. So why not make 2017 the year of transformation, and the year you finally start to focus on student success? It’s time to solve the campus maze problem. And to kick things off, let us know if you’d like to see a live demo of what this could look like for your organization. So contact us now.