Modern students are more connected and empowered than any generation in history. As consumers, they expect the brands they patronize to understand their needs and deliver consistent, great online experiences. And as students, they demand similarly fulfilling encounters.

Unfortunately, most institutions of higher learning would barely receive a passing grade if tested on their ability to deliver appropriate levels of service and support from the moment students enroll to the day they graduate and become alumni.

Why? Because it can be extremely difficult. Indeed, large corporations have struggled for years to meet the rising expectations of digitally sophisticated consumers, such as millennials who grew up with mobile and connected technology. It takes time and money to deploy the big data infrastructure and roll out the types of mobile apps people increasingly demand. And companies only recently began recognizing the fact that competing in today’s environment means prioritizing customer experience–despite the initial costs.

So, some would argue it’s easy to forgive colleges, universities and private institutions for being a little behind the curve. Top schools aside, most will tell you they’re struggling to find the budget and resources they need to compete and build effective student information systems (SIS) for the digital age.

But as the private sector knows, there’s really no choice. Roughly 60 percent of students at four-year public and private colleges choose their institutions because of receiving personalized attention prior to enrollment, according to a National Student Satisfaction Report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Multiple studies also suggest prospective students may shun schools they perceive as technologically primitive.

In fact, educational institutions that fail to put some form of modern high-tech infrastructure in place, to assure ongoing engagement with prospective and existing students, run the risk of seeing shrinking enrollment, declining graduation rates and a loss in related funding. For the latter point in particular, many higher education institutions in the US are beholden to funding that is based on a formula that includes college completion and academic performance as criteria.

Worse yet, their public image could deteriorate as frustrated students share their challenges on social media, something that’s happening more frequently with 86 percent of young adults active on social sites.

Whereas two decades ago, most schools built SIS infrastructure around transactions, such as registration and enrollment, today there is a pressing need to collect and use data to understand students and create more productive, meaningful and lasting relationships with them.

Today’s student cloud solutions must re-imagine the student journey to meet their modern expectations across the entire student lifecycle. Using the right tools, institutions will be able to anticipate the needs of their students and illuminate the right path to empower them to succeed. Here are 5 ways educational institutions can deliver more satisfying experiences for modern students:

1. Don’t Ignore Your Data

Every college or university has a wealth of information about their students. And whether it’s academic or personal in nature, the data institutions have on file can tell a lot about students’ past behavior and how they might perform (or stumble) in the future.

The first step toward becoming a modern campus, therefore, is to get your arms around the data you have so you can easily access, analyze and make predictions and recommendations based upon it. Leading universities start by deploying a SIS infrastructure in conjunction with customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation software. They also spend considerable time identifying, consolidating and cleansing data to assure the best possible “single view” or “golden record” for students.

In the end, you want actionable information to underlie every communication with students so they believe you know and care about their success.

(Next page: 3 more ways to deliver a better student experience)

2. Engage Students on Every Channel

Once you have a solid understanding of what makes your students tick, then it’s time to put systems in place to enable regular, effective communication with them. But today, it’s not enough to do that in just one or two ways.

That’s because, unlike their parents who relied heavily on the telephone or email, modern students are much more likely to communicate with other individuals and organizations in multiple ways, whether it’s walking into a counselor’s office, calling an administrator by phone, emailing a professor or asking questions of the Ombudsman on Facebook or Twitter.

It is critically important, therefore, to assure a consistent level of engagement across every channel that students prefer to use to communicate with a school, much as retailers try to create a consistent shopping experience across physical and digital stores.

3. Be Willing to Get Personal

Modern students receive hundreds of digital messages every day. It’s the result of being connected through so many devices, whether it’s a PC, smartphone or tablet. As a result, they are incredibly discerning about which communications they’ll read or discard.

It’s vital, therefore, for institutions to provide very targeted and personalized communications that tap into what students care about. Companies that want to be successful in what Forrester calls “The Age of the Customer” need to offer contextualized experiences that meet customer needs, feel personal and deliver in the moment. The same is true for colleges and universities.

For example, using modern cross-channel communication tools, organizations can automatically contact a student after they visit a financial aid office or website with a follow-up message. In fact, by incorporating academic and other personal details, some solutions can even send students pertinent information about the actual aid for which they qualify. Institutions can also run automated dropout prevention campaigns based on academic performance criteria or provide timely updates to those who are commuting to campus – all to improve each student’s individual experience.

When planning how to engage with students, make sure personalization is central to your strategy.

4. Know What They’re Saying About You

Ever posted a complaint or a comment about a retailer on Facebook or Twitter and then received a response from their customer service department? It’s still more the exception than the rule, but it does happen. When vendors respond to comments, it sends a message they care enough to listen and directly address whatever might be on customers’ minds, demonstrating a commitment to their experience.

The same must hold true in higher education. Postings to social sites–good and bad–can have an enormous effect on an institution’s reputation. The average Facebook user has 155 friends, and the average Twitter user has more than 700 followers. A negative comment that takes off within these communities can go viral in an instant if not properly managed.

Therefore, many leading higher education institutions are deploying technology solutions that enable them to monitor social media and track the number of “Likes,” “Shares” and “Tweets mentioning them by name. Some more progressive solutions enable organizations to automatically monitor hundreds of thousands of social sites, sift through the noise to understand what students are saying and capture the “sentiment” of those comments over time. These same systems make it possible to respond to individual messages in an attempt to engage the submitter in a productive dialogue and resolve any issues they may have.

To encourage good comments and head off the bad ones, organizations must know what students are saying. These solutions can help.

5. Get Your Arms Around AI – Now

While it may seem like a leap for an institution to be thinking about artificial intelligence now, when they’re still grappling with just getting the rights SIS in place, it’s important to recognize this technology is coming fast.

With AI, institutions will be able to leverage existing data, analyze it and automatically make proactive suggestions and recommendations to help guide the student journey. Your colleges and university peers will soon be using chatbots or “virtual advisors” to help students pick the best course schedules that achieve the requirements of their majors while considering real-life challenges, such as work schedules and commutes to campus (75 percent of college students commute). Similarly, these automated systems will be able to help students choose the best financial aid packages for their needs and income levels. They will reach out to students with questions and advice when their grades or course loads appear to be dropping, which can be an indicator of a student at risk.

Before long, every institution of higher learning will be affected by the arrival or sophisticated AI technology, and schools must be prepared for when it becomes commonplace.

So, there you have it: 5 ways educational institutions can deliver more satisfying experiences for today’s students. The list is certainly not exhaustive but provides a good starting point for organizations interested in mapping a successful long-term path toward becoming a modern campus.

About the Author:

Vivian Wong is group vice president for Oracle Higher Education. Wong is a dynamic, outcome-driven, and accomplished technology executive who is highly focused on service excellence and customers’ success. She brings a wealth of experience and talent to develop world-class software and lead global engineering teams. Wong has a proven track record in delivering high quality products from concept to market, with over 20 years of experience building enterprise software and Cloud applications at PeopleSoft, Taleo, ServiceMax, TargetX and Oracle. Vivian is currently leading the Higher Education Product Development organization at Oracle for the latest innovation and delivery of Oracle Student Cloud.  As a strong customer advocate, she ensures that quality, usability, performance and scalability are always designed and built into her products.

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