Like many other industries, much of the change occurring in colleges and universities is driven by the rise of mobile devices, the consumerization of IT, and higher customer expectations. With so many educational choices both on-campus and online, institutions have had to set aside their aversion for change in order to meet the digital desires of a new generation of students and compete on a global scale. But what will higher ed’s strategic digital efforts look like in the future?

Then: Simply Keeping Pace

Along with the economic downturn of the late 2000s that caused students, parents, and even prospective employers to begin questioning the value of a college degree, which resulted trends in career and employability-focused education programs and CBE, as well as the replacement of legacy administrative systems with more modern systems, the move to a more digital campus has also been driven in a large part by the demands of a tech savvy-generation raised with smart device in hand and accustomed to anytime, anywhere access to information. Accreditation agencies today are not only looking at student competency and course offerings when rating performance — they’re also looking at student satisfaction surveys and student outcomes.

Students now expect the same amount of digital literacy on the websites, programs, and applications offered through their school as they do in their personal life–and they’re not afraid to say it. In fact, a 2016 survey by Unit4 and DJS Research found that 7 in 10 students would recommend that their university changes their digital strategy. [Read more stunning results from this survey: “Students say campus technology needs major overhaul—but why?”]

Now: Tailored for the Evolving Student

The desire for a more digital campus has also come hand-in-hand with the rise of the non-traditional student, a population of which is generally characterized by part-time attendance, student swirl, working either full or part time, and taking classes either partly or entirely online. [Read: “Is it time to rethink the term nontraditional student?”] Online learning platforms change the lecture and classroom experience to allow students to connect with the university through a familiar medium–their mobile device.

Digital transformation isn’t just about the changes to the curriculum, however. Many forward-thinking colleges are embracing digital strategies to modernize their administrative side as well, such as processes for financial aid, course sign up, campus enrollment, the bursar’s office and others previously operated independently. Digital integration between departments can streamline tasks and make them accessible online to adapt to the needs of remote students, meaning campuses can put the student first and can streamline operations to follow the student journey.

Today, hundreds of colleges worldwide allow students to register for courses through mobile apps that guide them, helping to streamline and previously lengthy and time consuming process. In addition, many colleges offer dashboards where students can explore outstanding requirements to complete their majors, access grades and transcripts, and manage course loads.

However, mobility isn’t just for students — admin users of ERPs and student information systems (SISs) want mobility too. They desire a consumer-grade experience, just like students and admin users across the campus need mobile-friendly access to perform work on-the-go.

(Next page: The digital learning experience in 5 years)

5 years: A Surge in Artificial Intelligence

We are coming to a tipping point for broad adoption of digital strategies, both on the digital learning and administrative sides of the fence. Unfortunately, the majority of campuses still use student management systems that are on average 13 years or older. Piecemeal updates and patches have worked for a while to keep these technologies running over the last decade, but an explosion in new technological advancements will soon make these technologies obsolete, if they are not already.

Predictive analytics, machine learning, chatbots and augmented reality have the ability to bring us into a completely new era of digital learning. In order for higher ed institutions to truly embrace these possibilities, advancements must encompass both student learning and student administrative functionalities.

Big data and predictive analytics can help us understand how well students are learning and performing, and when implemented properly, can be used to modify and tailor curriculums to meet the unique needs of each individual student. Chatbots will be able to prompt students to meet with advisors, help navigate the complicated financial aid process and identify and apply for relevant grants or financial aid.

Course and major requirement dashboards will track a student’s progress and point them to the classes needed to complete their major on time–and can help advisors to preemptively determine which students are at risk of dropping out.

Augmented reality applications, coupled with chatbots will provide students with a virtual tour of their new institution, and help them navigate to their classes on their first days on campus. For administrators and student mentors, this will mean more time freed up for mentoring students toward success, as self-driving solutions will take care time consuming tasks such as scheduling meetings, filling out forms, and sending out reminders.

The possibilities are endless, and we have the technology to get us there. The next few years will be an exciting time for students and universities alike, and you can absolutely expect to see a great number of digital transformations and advancements in the coming months and years.

About the Author:

Jami Morshed is the vice president of global higher education at Unit4 http://www.unit4.com/us. His responsibilities include the Unit4 Global Center of Excellence, which helps institutions prepare for the future through scalable and comprehensive software solutions that streamline and modernize core business processes while eliminating the burden of managing ever-changing technology.


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