From clusters of college closures and dramatic budgetary cuts to technological advances and data security breaches, changes in higher education have institutions contemplating strategies that will enable them to thrive in the future. But how do colleges and universities determine which strategies to focus on first, or most?

When navigating the industry’s tectonic shifts, institutions can find a North Star in their students. Increased diversity in student bodies—whether that means ethnicity, gender, beliefs, age, economic status or culture—the way they learn and the way they want to learn are the best indicators of the way forward.

Reports by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show constant increase in racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in higher education. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education more than doubled from the 1990-1991 school year to the 2014-2015 school year. Additionally, colleges and universities must continuously increase access for students with disabilities.

The most successful institutions will be the ones that are in tune with their students’ diverse, evolving needs, and digitally transform operations to easily pivot in response to change in policy or demand.

North Star Tip 1: Go Beyond Traditional Learning Environments for Today’s Students

Every year, more students enroll in colleges and universities expecting student services will be as easy as using Amazon or iTunes. At most institutions, however, students are required to fill out rounds of paperwork, visit various departments or schools, and wait for the many back-office processes to be completed to do something as simple as adding or dropping classes.

(Next page: More future-looking tips for institutions focused on students)

About the Author:

Linda Ding is the director of strategic marketing for Laserfiche. She speaks frequently on issues surrounding deployment of institution-wide IT initiatives, information governance and integration strategies. She was an executive panelist at the Wilbur K. Woo Greater China Business Conference at UCLA and has presented at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) Annual Meeting, EDUCAUSE, the Harvard IT Summit and the Laserfiche Institute Conference in Los Angeles. She holds B.A. degrees in Economics and Cognitive Science from UC Berkeley and an M.A. degree in Program Evaluation from Claremont Graduate University.