Five ways digital innovation increases student retention

By Matt Searles, Industry Director for Education, Unit4 UK

Technology plays an extensive role in university students’ lives, from their personal entertainment to the way they study. According to McGraw-Hill, students rely heavily on mobile technology for studying, with 81% using a smartphone or mobile device as part of their routine. When students search for the right higher education (HE) institution for their needs, technology is playing an increasingly large role in that decision.

Traditional methods have been undergoing a digital transformation and improving student retention numbers is a major goal for many organisations. Taking a student-led approach supported by new digital student systems can have a huge effect.

Identify non-traditional student needs

Non-traditional students represent a critical demographic for every institution as the majority of today’s undergraduates are considered non-traditional. This student demographic has a lot on their plates, as they typically are balancing their coursework with full-time jobs, family or other responsibilities. If they don’t find the support they need from an institution, they may struggle too much to succeed, or drop out entirely. The right tech tools can help non-traditional students to access vital resources when they’re on a work break, as well as obtain self-help options for pressing questions when availability doesn’t allow them to talk to someone in person. Many organisations still put a primary focus on students who live on campus, entered HE following further education, and who don’t need a job while at university. Without adapting to the vastly different needs of the non-traditional student demographic, you lose out on promising students who can’t make it to graduation without extra assistance.

Empower students on their degree paths

Students require a full understanding of the steps needed to complete their degree. If their academic advisor is overburdened or otherwise can’t provide the assistance required, students can get frustrated. When they don’t know the right subjects to enroll on for their degree, they may consider other institutions and transfer. Consider implementing a technological solution that offers students clarity into their degree path. If you can tie in such a system to your timetable planning tools, you can also let students proactively plan out upcoming terms. Many institutions have limited availability on some subjects, and visibility into these potential issues allows students to avoid having to return for a single required option.

Taking a student-led approach supported by new digital student systems can have a huge effect.

Connect with at-risk students at key moments

Students who are at risk of dropping out usually exhibit red flags long before they make the final decision to leave your institution. Early intervention with these students gives them the resources they need to succeed in HE, all the way to graduation. Big data technology looks at many student metrics to identify red flags far faster than a manual review could. Some indicators of at-risk students include poor results, decreased attendance, an inability to afford hall of residence or private landlord fees, and lack of interaction with institutions. Once the system identifies these students, the institution can reach out to them and find out the challenges they face, and then determine solutions to prevent the student from leaving. 

Meet students’ technology and personal expectations

Smartphones, tablets and laptops fill every table and desk at today’s HE institutions.

If your website, student portal and e-learning solutions fail to work with the students’ preferred platforms, it will prove difficult to attract and retain top-performers. It goes beyond simply making resources mobile-friendly. The right mobility features appeal to the almost-always-connected student who wants to study whenever they get a chance, whether in line for coffee or at the bus stop. They can’t always lug their laptop around with them, but they always have their smartphone. Institutions can pull inspiration from the mobile apps their students use the most.

Carefully consider the information you are delivering to students. Recent research undertaken by an independent specialist on behalf of Unit4 highlighted student annoyance at being bombarded by their institution with irrelevant information. The good news is that it is getting much easier to personalise communications based upon their specific interests. Digital CRM systems can automate and control the push of information based upon an individual student’s historical interaction with a student system. This means they receive only the most relevant information at a timely juncture to help significantly enrich their experience on campus and attitude towards University life.

Give mentors the information they need

While staff would love to give students the help and guidance they need to get to graduation, they probably don’t have the data available to provide the appropriate assistance. An integrated solution can pull student data together to create full visibility into each student’s needs. A single database benefits the institution by giving staff details into each individual’s course load, where they live, what their subject is, whether they have any at-risk red flags, and other metrics that indicate the best way to help. This will ensure institutions cut down on students slipping through the cracks and not getting the mentorship they need, when they need it.

These innovations benefit institutions in many ways, especially when it comes to adapting to a student demographic that practically grew up with a smartphone in hand. Digital innovations should be put to good use by improving student retention rates, empowering staff with the data they need to do their jobs more productively, and delivering the right help to students at critical times.