Many higher education institutions have been forced to create contingency plans for the incoming fall and spring semesters to run a campus without students, faculty and employees, and ultimately no face-to-face learning or interactions.

The unexpected and sudden change in the standard learning environment can make students wary of whether they will still be able to receive the high quality education they are seeking, which may significantly impact enrollment.

According to the COVID-19 Strategy Survey of Association of American Colleges and Universities, 42 percent of presidents from higher educational institutions are most concerned about enrollment. To address this, institutions should start to aim at reforming and establishing their foundational operations and procedures that will support these new educational experiences.

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Institutions must implement reliable solutions that support newly established plans and processes to assure students that their educational experiences will not be significantly disrupted. Otherwise, institutions may risk decreased enrollment as students consider other options or even consider taking a gap year. The need for widespread autonomy across educational institutions is an opportunity to reconsider administrative processes that can improve student experiences and streamline operations, both in the short and long run.

As all communications shift online, most colleges and universities have already started looking at augmenting their virtual capabilities and a large majority of higher education leaders are looking to reengineer operational processes to streamline costs, create a sense of community, and develop concrete processes for the new reality encompassing students and faculty to this different learning environment.

Transitioning to online classes

Schools need to establish a process to inform students of the availability of online classes, how to enroll, and how to best access and utilize them. As 33 percent of university students have only taken one course online, according to Babson Survey Research, colleges will have to provide detailed information about the courses, along with providing logistics on how classes will be run and evaluated to inspire confidence and spike engagement.

Incorporating digital tools, such as customizable online forms, that make signing up for classes simple and efficient will be essential to encourage enrollment. Choosing a form builder allows schools to create beautifully designed forms in minutes, as well as allow the forms to easily be embedded onto the school’s website and social channels with no manual coding.

Designing online forms with ease should include options such as a simple drag-and-drop interface to streamline automation and workflows, while increasing efficiency and reducing time-consuming processes. These forms can also help universities keep track of whether online classes are filling up and can then use this information to adjust curriculum accordingly.

Additionally, these forms can collate data to share logistical email updates with students signed up for each class, allowing for easy organization. Digital forms that efficiently gather/organize data and can be used to send the appropriate documents to the right people depending on set triggers will help to not only reduce data chaos but streamline workflows and data management.

Greater need for IT support

With administrators, educators, and students all operating remotely, colleges will have to deal with an influx of IT-related requests and security maintenance, as all aspects of the online learning experience will rely on technology. University IT teams need to empower end users with the right technology to deliver or participate in virtual learning, continue research, and maintain administrative operations, without having to rely so heavily on IT.

For example, using digital forms with conditional logic enables inbound requests to be automatically routed to the appropriate person or department to resolve in a timely manner. This eliminates the need for a team of people to review each request and determine who is responsible to handle and resolve the issue, costing a significant amount of time that can be used for higher value tasks.

How data and technology will drive the future of higher education

With a hacker stealing 75 records every second, per the Breach Level Index 2020 report, another key factor when developing new administrative and educational processes is to incorporate digital tools that provide a source of security and privacy. As everyone shifts to online platforms, security becomes a vulnerability, so work with digital tools that enable security measures such as email and data encryption and password protections and are fully compliant with EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to help ensure data is kept private.

Refining the online learning experience

During this time, schools are also facing the unprecedented challenge of offering fully remote education. It will be more important than ever to hear from educators and students on their feedback regarding the online education experience.

Gather input from students and faculty to help make smart decisions through substantial data collected via surveys to guide strategies and plans. Also, by surveying both parties, colleges can ensure they are creating regular touchpoints and engaging with faculty and students. The data captured can be used to discover trends, opinions, wants, needs, likes, dislikes and more, helping to develop strategies that ultimately benefit the students, faculty and administration.

Incorporating workflow automation solutions will bolster colleges’ adoption of the new curriculum and systems, and identify opportunities for individual or smaller group interactions. Colleges and universities can deliver a higher quality experience to all students and staff by inculcating the proper equipment and processes that support distance learning for the foreseeable future.

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About the Author:

With 25 years’ experience in technology, business development and product growth, Rob Wiley is Head of Marketing & Product Strategy at Formstack, a workplace productivity platform helping companies digitize information, automate workflows and transform processes. Prior to Formstack, Wiley served in a wide range of marketing, product strategy and advisory roles in some of the Midwest’s fastest-growing technology companies, including ExactTarget (Salesforce), Emma, PERQ and Cheetah Digital.


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