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Changed priorities ahead: improving student success in 2018

Matt Searles, Industry Director Education at Unit4, outlines 10 trends likely to enhance HE attainment in the coming year

Posted by Julian Owen | November 14, 2017 | Technology

The proportion of students expected to leave higher education without any qualification has been rising. Student progress is often impeded by taking irrelevant courses, transferring between institutions, being disengaged from social activities that connect students to the community and working overtime. The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework will only focus scrutiny. There are several approaches that can enhance student success, so here are 10 areas of focus that should be a priority for institutions in 2018:

1. Providing Clear Student Guidance

Providing students clear information about student life and what is expected of them may sound simple, but information is often lost in complex systems and paperwork. Freshers, for instance, need easily accessible information that is clear about student life, work load, even the logistics of compiling and submitting coursework. Digital systems which are easier to navigate should be considered. In particular, digital assistants which use artificial intelligence (AI) can use access to student/university systems in combination with individuals’ data - such as module choice, location or grades - to prompt student action. This technology removes the stress of administration and gives back time for study.

2. A Shift of Enrollment Approaches to Target Best-Fit Students

Institutions will shift enrollment focus to target best-fit students even if (initially) enrollment suffers. This will better match institutions and students so both will thrive. Over the long term, with improved retention and better results, this approach will grow reputations and, ultimately, institutions.

"Improving student success in 2018 will call for an evolving approach to supporting students with technology befitting modern institutions and the digital age."

3. Continuous Evolution

Organisational structures will continue to evolve to support student success. Academic advising is one of the structures of higher education hierarchy that is projected to continue its evolution. For example, universities will increase specialised advising roles and experiment with new advising models to enhance student success. This is a large and complex undertaking, but technology can be used to support it with academic planning tools and a means to keep communication between advisor and students both open and regular.

4. Integrated System Approaches

Supporting students calls for changing approaches. Many institutions find that their legacy student information systems make it harder to adapt to new models, hampering admissions and advancement efforts. Shadow systems and siloed operations create an opaque information hub that discourages collaboration, undermining data integrity. And disconnected administrative systems make it difficult to craft budgets, control spending, and quantify the RoI of human capital. Growth strategies incorporating a new approach to core systems are starting to focus across the entire student lifecycle, which means integrated system approaches will emerge in 2018.

5. Increased Use of Data Warehouse and Analytics

In 2018, the use of data warehouse and analytics will increase. Predictive analytics is an area more universities will utilise to find and retain students. For example, colleges will use big data to track prospective students in order to be more focused with outreach for admissions.

"Student progress is often impeded by taking irrelevant courses, transferring between institutions, being disengaged from social activities that connect students to the community and working overtime. "

6. Automation Focus

Being able to reduce repetitive tasks and keep processes agile helps academic institutions to better support students. In 2018, core system automation will support early alerts and action plans for at-risk students. Academic advisors will be able to use technology that facilitates automation to identify problem areas faster and gauge patterns that may impact a student's performance, providing a clear action plan for improving overall success.

7. Mobile Apps, Student Portals and Self-Service for Enhanced Student Experiences

Being able to provide students with better experiences online is a central pain point that academic institutions frequently tackle, while enhanced self-service portals help to reduce tedious registration and application processes. There will also be more focus on student portals, self-service and mobile app development to improve student experiences in 2018.

8. Increased CRM Usage

The sector will see an increased usage of CRM in 2018 to support student success initiatives. CRM technology allows universities to leverage deep profiles of students and alumni and can present an opportunity for colleges to better reach alumni who have the capabilities to provide employment or mentorship opportunities for current students.

"Academic advising is one of the structures of higher education hierarchy that is projected to continue its evolution." 

9. Growing Artificial Intelligence

AI is particularly suited to the sector. The diverse nature of services and fast pace of change is difficult for traditional systems - which tend to be linear and constricted - to manage. AI, on the other hand, has the potential to ‘learn’ on the fly, making it more adaptable.

The digital assistants using AI mentioned previously are a prime example. Not only are they available to students (as introduced by Unit4 last year), they can also be used by staff members. Their capability will continue to grow, becoming more and more ‘intelligent’. This means they adapt quickly and proactively provide information staff need, all using natural language - no programming required.

10. Increases in Core Student Information Systems Replacement

The year 2018 will also see an increase in organisations replacing their core SIS, which on average are old and dated. This trend will be driven by pressure to report student success outcomes and provide technology-savvy, fee-paying students with the latest digital interfaces.

Final Thoughts

Improving student success in 2018 will call for an evolving approach to supporting students with technology befitting modern institutions and the digital age. Leaders in the education community and among academic institutions must keep abreast of the emerging technology trends that will play a profound role in shoring up retention.

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