Multiplicity of Backgrounds, Goals, Challenges and Needs

When one risks its sanity by hazarding itself in the nobel goal of improving the student experience, it can get overwhelming how very rich yet massively complex each journey can be and how different it can be from the next one. It becomes a challenge as to what one can do to contribute positively to that experience, but it’s still a very appealing and worthy goal.

From past experiences, it can become such an overwhelming task that it’s very tempting to take shortcuts and consider the student experience as an homogeneous journey shared by all students.

But as you all know, here’s part of the reality of what the student population at your HigherEd institution most probably looks like.

Graphs representing the heterogeneity of the US student population

(Graphs representing the heterogeneity of the US student population)

And that is only part of the picture. How about students who need to support their financial needs by working part-time or even full-time? Students who are the parents of young kids? Off-campus students who attend online classes? Your students have so many backgrounds with very differing goals. All those factors contribute to an educational experience that will differ immensely from student to student.

Throughout their journey, students will face different challenges and have different needs. How your institution provides the services that will contribute to their progression and how a student will persevere throughout that journey, all those interactions are what will in the end contribute to a student’s experience.

 

Capturing the Student Journeys

Such variety of journeys means that the students you are serving have different objectives and needs, and that’s what makes their experience unique. It is not homogeneous and to better grasp that variety of journeys, we need more sophisticated means. Those of us preoccupied with improving the experience of students are in need of something better than what we know of as a single, fits-all student journey map.

We are firm believers in the power of data to inform student experience experts and decision-makers in making the most appropriate decisions that will elevate the experience of each and every student within an institution. Analytics provides the insights to gain knowledge and intervene in a student’s journey to further engage them in their own path and project’s objectives, and also support them towards the successful completion of their program of study.

Students leave a trail of digitally captured interactions on their educational path. Each institution has many strategies to capture those important pieces of data, which usually takes the form of a CRM.

This is a representation of a student's journey through the visualisation of the data trail left by its interactions with an institution's business units

(This is a representation of a student’s journey through the visualisation of the data trail left by its interactions with an institution’s business units)

With the right analytical strategy, there is an opportunity to really understand how the journeys of your students, with their goals and needs, differs based on their profile. An analytical take on student journey mapping allows for the dynamic segmentation of the student population and the evaluation of that specific segment’s journey.

Segmentation dashboard from the StudentAnalytics.io journey exploration and mapping platform

(Segmentation dashboard of student journeys)

As students go through different key phases in their journey, their own profile will dictate their needs and how they overcome obstacles. Even though needs and obstacles can be shared amongst all students, some of those are specific to a certain group. For example, a foreign student may have very different financial needs which should be reflected in the type of service requested and during different periods than other students.

According to Jisc (the UK higher education, further education and skills sectors’ not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions):

Using activity patterns to recommend resources of particular relevance in the individual’s context (taking account of course, unit and even physical location) will accord with student expectations of a quality experience – https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/qa-how-can-i-use-analytics-to-benefit-my-students-20-mar-2013

 

The Value of a Fully Deployed CRM System

Of course, the data in our dashboard above has mostly been randomly generated which is meaningless. But the point is that it is based on simple structured interactions that are found on any CRM. And most postsecondary institutions already have a CRM or are thinking of implementing one. CRMs can be a powerful engine for any student experience/success program.

Trouble is that CRMs are usually deployed with a specific intent such as improving recruitment efforts or donations from alumni. There lies an infrastructure that can provide powerful insights into your student’s journeys, but which is usually used only at the beginning or end of a student’s lifecycle.

A CRM is a powerful tool in any effort that cares about helping registered students reach their objectives, become more engaged and successfully complete their program of study.

To start, it’s simply a matter of focusing on one dimension of the student’s journey (such as academic progress), define what needs to be captured and train the front-end staff to clearly and thoroughly document each interaction they have with your students. It’s not easy, but we’ve seen it done with very interesting results.

 

Strategic Considerations for Student Experience Program Managers

Financial and reputation concerns are great strategic incentives to launch student experience programs. But it’s a complex task as services are structured based on “stereotypical” representation of a student’s journey. Support system in a HigherEd institution is structured around the typical journey of a domestic first-time student with no distinct accessibility issue. All the while, students are sharing less and less the same profiles, objectives and paths.

There are many factors that are contributing to that explosion of student journeys. There are a lot of papers and discussions that describes increased access, the globalization of the education system and atypical pathways.

This graph represents the evolution of how ... students have become more present throughout the years in the US

(This graph represents the evolution of how foreign students have become more present throughout the years in the US)

But whatever the factors that have contributed to that state, post-secondary institutions have a responsibility to adapt their offering and services to support students in how they will experience their journey, encourage the engagement of each student and contribute to their success.

While we hear and talk a lot about Big Data and its predictive super-powers, here we are confronted with a problem that is perfectly suited for analytics and easily in reach to most institutions.

We now have the power to easily investigate how the journey of a specific segment differs from the rest of the student population. And with further research into the documented interactions of that segment, for a specific phase of their journey, analytics is now allowing institutions to effectively personalize their service offering for each student. And that should be the next reachable goal of any institution that relies on improving student experience to help students engage and succeed, but also improve an institution’s financials and reputation.