Incredible gains in student retention noted by universities using edtech strategies

At the heart of today’s college completion conundrum is the challenge of helping more first-generation college-goers, especially low-income students and students of color, start and finish strong. While first-generation students compose nearly one-third of students entering two- or four-year colleges and universities in the US, only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. The first-year experience is especially problematic for these students—the Pell Institute found that low-income, first-generation students were almost four times more likely to leave college after the first year than more affluent peers.

More than Financial Support

How can institutions help first-generation students beat the odds in their first year? Increasingly, student success experts find that experiences beyond the classroom walls may hold the key. First-generation, minority and low-income students need more than just financial support to be successful to stay on track toward completing college.

With the help of emerging digital tools and innovative coaching methodology, institutions are creating new models to support the first-generation college student and seeing real progress. Here are several ways in which success coaching and technology can unlock the potential of first-generation, low-income students:

1. Navigate bureaucratic hurdles. Too often, college can feel like a bureaucratic labyrinth for first-generation students as they maneuver through the financial aid process, class scheduling and registration. It’s a daunting task, especially for students who are the first in their family to go through the process. Service centers on campus often go underutilized, and students don’t know how to begin or where to obtain information.

Improving student communication and reaching them through text and email can go a long way in preparing students for success from the start of college through their first semester. Even simple notifications can help remind students about financial aid or course registration deadlines and begin to map out class schedules aligned with their career goals and general education requirements.

2. Foster soft skills. Employers are increasingly looking for–and are having difficulty finding–candidates with strong soft skills, including communication and organization. According to a recent study, jobs with high social–or ‘soft’ skill requirements are in higher demand and pay more. These skills sometimes fall by the wayside in favor of traditional academic skills, but are critical not only for completion but for career readiness.

By focusing on enhancing a students’ ability to problem solve, persevere and show grit, you are setting them up to succeed not only in academic settings, but for their future career.

(Next page: 3 more ways to help boost first-year student retention; measurable gains)


Technology trends that help keep our campus safe

History was made on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman reached the top of the UT tower and opened fire, killing several people with which he had no personal connection. The UT tower shooting was the first mass campus murder in America. As we observed the 50th anniversary of this tragedy last year, we’ve lost count of how many school shootings and threats to campus safety that has since come to pass.

Campus safety is one of the most pressing matters of our time, and we’re eager to find solutions that put the sense of security back into the educational system. As technology emerges to address the issue, it’s quickly becoming clear what’s necessary for them to be effective.

Effective Means Mobile

Like any technology these days—the solution has to be mobile. Gone are the days when emergency call boxes were an acceptable answer to the need for campus safety. The most imperative aspect of campus safety is the ability to quickly communicate with emergency responders, and right now there’s no better way of execution than through mobile apps.

Released in 2013, the creators of CampusSafe™ saw the need for mobility in campus safety technology. With CampusSafe™, faculty and staff are not only able to reach emergency responders with a tap of the button, but campuses are also able to communicate in real-time with people on campus of any perceived threats to their safety.

Cost Goes Down

With mobile app solutions, campus safety technology is not only easy to access and offers quick response time, it’s also a more affordable option than other common alternatives. In a time when most public universities are tightening their belts under strict budgets, it’s increasingly harder to meet the diverse needs of faculty and staff.

With a mobile solution like CampusSafe™, schools are often able to spend less on the installation and upkeep of hardware meant to serve the same purpose. And, with a license-based service through schools, CampusSafe™ is a free service to its end users. This increases its adoption rate, making it a wholly more effective solution.

Compliance is Easier

As campus safety becomes more of a pressing matter, laws are being created to help define what is a threat to safety and how campuses must respond to these threats. Laws like Title IX bolster the need for solutions like CampusSafe™ to help schools comply with safety laws. This means we can expect to see the number of campus safety solutions to grow over these next few years, and time will tell what proves to work best.

It will take even more time for developing technologies to completely replace a security system already set in place at campuses, such as security cameras and building access cards. Once these systems are integrated—those that detect or deter danger, and those that spread the word about potential danger—we will see something truly powerful.

And with part of that power helmed by students and faculty through self-reporting, you are putting a greater sense of safety back on campuses.


Are Apple devices in higher ed all they’re cracked up to be?

A new survey reveals that that Apple devices may just be easier to manage than other devices–and user preference seems to be a driving force behind higher adoption rates.

Jamf’s third annual global survey of IT professionals on Apple adoption rates covers enterprise, K-12 and higher education organizations.

Ninety-four percent of higher education organizations have iOS users and 80 percent use Macs.

A majority of higher-ed institutions saw an increase in various iOS adoptions over the preview year–87 percent reported an increase in both Mac adoption and iPad adoption.

(Next page: The key areas and tasks where higher-ed respondents said Apple devices outperform other devices)


These 10 tips helped save an entire IT department

[Editor’s note: This post originally published on Optimal Partners’ Blog. For even more tips on how to better your IT department, read the full post here.]

In 2010, the Information Technology Services team at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse got the news that no IT department wants.

It was not the well-oiled machine an IT department hopes to be. An external review and audit pointed out some troubling aspects: low morale and ineffective leadership seemed to plague the department’s credibility to service the IT needs of approximately 10,000 students, 600 faculty members, and 117 academic programs—91 undergraduate, 26 graduate.

Today, the department is thriving; after a new Chief Information Officer was hired, he went directly to the university’s Academic Technologies Director, Jim Jorstad, about how best to go about revitalizing the department.

Strategize they did. Jorstad and his team came up with ten ways they could work on bettering their department:

1. Increasing Communications

By “increasing communications,” one may think that the department just sent out more emails. On the contrary, they upped their quality of messages. Jorstad adds, that, with the increased quality of messages, including a high quality video, “I can send a message out at 8 a.m. and I will double our projected attendance at an event by lunchtime.”

2. Being Innovative

Rather than just keeping the technology to the department, they opened it up for faculty members to try for themselves. This allowed the faculty to bring new innovations into their lectures. As the article points out, an art history class was able to view Egyptian hieroglyphics in an exciting new way due to the university’s 3D printer.

3. Building Better Relationships

Those in attendance at training and certification events were able to network with other individuals and even got to make attending the sessions fun by redeeming proof of attendance to get a parting gift.

4. Be A Visionary

Understand how your IT department fits into the larger picture of your institution. Jorstad reached out to a furniture maker to make sure the library’s new Learning Commons had great furniture on top of great technology for the students.

5. Strategize Effectively

You’re all part of the same university; reach out to other departments to find out how you can assist them.

(Next page: IT tips for department success 6-10)


Community colleges begin linking digital badges, ePortfolios and recruiting matches

Digital credential provider Credly and Portfolium, an ePortfolio platform that makes a student’s academic and co-curricular experience searchable by employers, announced a new partnership that enables learners to demonstrate evidence of their learning and competencies to potential employers.

The new integration allows Portfolium users to access and display digital badges earned through Credly in their ePortfolio, and enables employers to search and find candidates based on badges that match specific job opportunities and targeted skillsets.

“There are more students graduating with degrees or certificates than ever before, and yet 60 percent of employers claim these students aren’t graduating with the skills they need to fill their jobs,” said Adam Markowitz, CEO of Portfolium. “Portfolium is solving this problem by allowing employers to match their jobs to the proven skills within students’ portfolios via our employer recruiting platform, TalentMatch. This partnership with Credly will allow millions of Portfolium users to showcase verified achievements in the form of digital credentials alongside examples of their best work, helping pave the way for the evidence-based hiring revolution.”

Community Colleges Hop on Board

Among the first to take advantage of the new integration are the nine colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), the nation’s largest community college district. As part of the Los Angeles Healthcare Competency to Career Consortium (LA H3C) project originally funded by a TAACCCT grant, the consortium developed an innovative training model designed to recognize students interested in the health science profession, retrain adults new to the healthcare field, or upskill current professionals on new specializations.

Students receive digital badges that recognize achievement in industry-aligned, competency-based programs in eleven health science career pathways.

“The demand for healthcare professionals is rising at an unprecedented rate, and finding candidates with the necessary training to meet this demand is becoming increasingly difficult,” said Linda Delzeit, education technology instructor leading the digital credentialing efforts at Los Angeles Trade-Tech Community College (LATTC). “Digital badging and ePortfolios have made it possible to demonstrate the relevant, industry-specific skills students are developing, and to do so in a timely manner. Going digital has enabled us to more quickly connect well-prepared individuals to jobs in our rapidly changing sector.”

To date, the program has issued over 6,400 badges to students who have demonstrated industry-specific skills, including senior care, BLS CPR, safe practice and infection control, as well as soft skills, including diversity and cultural awareness, customer service, compassion and empathy, and professionalism and ethics. The new integration enables students to showcase evidence of these skills by importing the digital badges, managed through Credly, into their individual ePortfolio, hosted by Portfolium, where employers can find candidates based on their skills for open health care professions.

“Today’s employers are looking for more effective ways to identify candidates with the right skills to meet the rapidly-changing demands of the workforce,” said Jonathan Finkelstein, founder and CEO of Credly. “But traditional transcripts and resumes often fall short in communicating the depth of a learner’s experience and qualifications. Our integration with Portfolium makes it easy for job-seekers to provide hiring managers with a robust portfolio of work, bolstered by verified digital credentials, creating a more agile and transparent way to link education and training to career opportunity.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Why some colleges and universities are restricting access to 3D technology

A number of factors, including lack of guidance and management issues, are leading educators to restrict students’ access to 3D printers, according to a survey from Y Soft Corporation, an enterprise office solution provider.

Surveyed educators overwhelmingly cited motivation, creativity and use of technology with STEAM subjects as reasons their institutions use 3D printers in courses.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed said it is “very common” for students in their institution to have access to 3D printing, and 58 percent said it is “very exceptional” to have such access.

The survey asked educational 3D printer owners a broad set of questions about 3D printing use to determine how educators include 3D technology in their classrooms. Most institutions who own 3D printers own between 2 and 5 (38 percent), with 28 percent of institutions owning between 6 and 20.

Why Student Access is Difficult

Overall, 35 percent said student access to 3D printers is fairly or very difficult. Thirteen percent of those surveyed said it is very easy for students to access 3D printers and 52 percent said it is fairly easy as long as a process is followed.

(Next page: The three areas where support for 3D printers is lacking)


A teacher’s perspective on a first-time blended class

For the first time ever, I am instructing a blended class.  My expectations were nothing short of idealized excitement.  Students would be laser-focused during our face-to-face time, and the freedom to complete work on their own time would encourage ownership and agency.  In addition, by removing some basic skills study from the classroom, we could focus on more dynamic learning activities.  This dynamism would feed the desire to be in class and, ultimately, produce better writing.

Unfortunately, the course has fallen short of my expectations.  Students have been discombobulated by the shared format.  The discombobulation has stunted our class and led to low engagement.  In addition, they have struggled to use the online interface.  Our class time has been plagued by failure to produce drafts and questions about missing assignments.  This frustration pervades the atmosphere of our face-to-face time.

As a teacher, and true believer in the blended format, this has been disheartening.  Without having a control group alongside these classes, it’s been hard to identify the specific causes of struggle.  It’s challenging to evaluate how different I am within these blended classes as well; the problems may ultimately revolve around me as much as them.

Perhaps these difficulties are a result in students still having feet in both worlds.  Many students have face-to-face classes alongside this blended class.  They may also have an online class.  When they look at their schedule, they just see courses.  Yet, there is a significant paradigm shift between these 3 models.  By neglecting to learn the rules of each format, students inevitably approach the courses with the same mindset.  This is problematic when I, the designer, approach it completely differently.  Both parties are left frustrated and confused.

Evaluating these struggles more objectively brings me to a question of integration of technology in education.  How do we as educators make sure our students know that with changes in format and delivery come changes in expectations?  It’s not just about doing less in class; it’s not just about getting out early; blended and online classes are about a fundamental change in the definition of work and class time.

Those who design the learning experience know how different things have become; those who participate in the learning experience don’t always know that.  This is not new.  Designers of the learning experience have always naturally known more about its moving parts.  But, with an ever-growing array of formats, LMS platforms, and options for education, having a grasp on the various assumptions these options rely on is critical to success.  As an industry, it’s important to educate our students on that fundamental idea.


What the college digital experience will look like 5 years from now

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)


The surprising new way students are paying for college

In the face of rising college costs comes a somewhat surprising funding trend: students are increasingly turning to GoFundMe, a social fundraising platform that allows anyone to contribute to funding campaigns on the site.

“In 2016-17, average published tuition and fee prices for in-state students at public four-year institutions range from $5,060 in Wyoming and $6,360 in Florida to $15,450 in Vermont and $15,650 in New Hampshire,” according to College Board data cited in a new college funding guidebook from GoFundMe. Those costs increase for out-of-state students.

Since 2014, more than 130,000 GoFundMes have raised $60 million from over 850,000 donations for college tuition and related campaigns.

Among the top states where students raise college funds on GoFundMe are California, with 15,338 campaigns raising $8.3 million; Texas, with 10,152 campaigns raising $4.6 million; and New York, with 6,844 campaigns raising $4.2 million.

(Next page: Standout college tuition GoFundMe pages; additional financial pressures)


New Purdue partnership will help colleges, universities pioneer college funding alternative

Purdue Research Foundation and Vemo Education announced, today (March 9), a joint initiative to help colleges and universities design and implement income share agreements (ISAs) that provide students with an alternative to traditional private and Parent Plus loans.

Purdue has received national recognition for its Back a Boiler – ISA Fund. Designed to reduce the financial burden for students, the program allows Purdue University juniors and seniors to pay a percentage of their post-graduation income over a set number of years.

The Back a Boiler – ISA Fund is the first large-scale ISA to be offered by a major U.S. higher education institution. Since the launch of Back a Boiler during the 2016-17 academic year, 160 juniors and seniors have received nearly $2.2 million in educational funding.

“Even before officially launching Back a Boiler, we received numerous inquiries and requests from leaders at peer institutions who had heard about the program and wanted to explore the opportunity for their students,” said Brian Edelman, chief operating officer for the Purdue Research Foundation who worked closely with Purdue’s Division of Financial Aid to create the program. “Our partnership with Vemo is designed to help take the complexity out of ISAs. We have created a concise process to help other institutions leverage our experience to develop similar programs.”

The agreement between Purdue Research Foundation and Vemo will assist interested institutions with best practices and technical support needed to establish new college funding models on their respective campuses.

Income share agreements were conceived in the 1950s as a mechanism to enable schools to share risk with students by aligning institutional revenue with student outcomes after graduation. An ISA has no principal balance or interest, so its payments adjust with the student’s income over the life of the contract. If a student makes less income than expected, he or she is not beholden to the investors for any more than the agreed-upon percentage of actual income earnings.

“Income share agreements align interests between students and universities. When students succeed, so does the university. This encourages institutions to invest in programs and services that increase the probability of student success,” said Vemo Education CEO Tonio DeSorrento. “Unlike loans, which are typically based on the historic finances of their parents, ISAs are based on the future potential of students.”

Any proceeds received by Purdue Research Foundation from the partnership will go back into the Back a Boiler program to support enrolled students in the form of scholarships or other non-obligatory aid.

For additional information, email or visit

Material from a press release was used in this report.