Texas A&M at Galveston hopes a new personal assistant app will help students manage their time more effectively, engage more fully with the campus community—and stay in school.

app-personal-assistantMany freshmen find the freedom—and responsibilities—of college overwhelming. Loosed from tightly scheduled lives overseen by hovering parents, they lack the ability to manage their own time and can struggle as a result. Nationwide, about a third of college freshmen drop out every year.

Texas A&M at Galveston is hoping that a new mobile app will help address the problem by serving as a personal smart assistant for its students.

“Our main focus is getting students better at time management and balancing everything that they have going on in their lives,” said Joe Hoff, associate director for recreational sports and the project lead. “We’re not immune to the general climate within higher ed. We struggle with retention just like every other campus.”

Known simply as TAMUG (Texas A&M University Galveston), the app is powered by Oohlala, a Montreal-based company whose tool has been adopted by 150 colleges in five countries.

While it’s too early to tell whether the app has had any impact on Galveston’s retention rate, its popularity among students gives rise to hope. Four months after its launch last fall, about half of the school’s 2,300 students had downloaded the app, which uses a tile-based navigation system to give students access to everything from their course schedules to campus events, student clubs, maps, and even discounts at local restaurants.

The app replaces a paper planner given to all incoming students each fall that included a calendar of events. “By the time the planner was published, dates would inevitably have changed,” said Hoff. “As a concept, too, the paper planner was getting a little out of date.”

The new app, which works on both Android and iOS devices, now tells students about scheduling conflicts, can wake them in time for class, and even guide new students there via GPS. “Students put their classes in first and then start looking at the different activities they want to pursue,” said Hoff. “The app might say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that—it overlaps with a class or some other appointment.'”

(Next page: Implementation strategies; communication value)