Post-secondary institutions today are as diverse as the cities they’re located in. But diversity has its challenges, especially when it comes to keeping students engaged and promoting an inclusive student experience. As college graduation rates are declining, it is more important than ever for higher education institutions to focus on retention strategies. While many major universities talk about improving graduation rates, University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is actually doing something about it.
According to an article in UTSA Today, UTSA received a five-year, $3.25 million Title V collaborative grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2015 to create the PIVOT for Academic Success Program. The program aims to prepare, inspire, validate, orient and transition (PIVOT) students, including increasing the number of first-time, full-time Latino, low socioeconomic and first-generation students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
This investment comes at a critical time as, according to a recent Pew Research study, Latinos still lag behind other ethnicity groups in obtaining four-year degrees. The study revealed that as of 2014, only 15 percent of Latinos ages 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 22 percent of African Americans, 41 percent of Caucasians and 63 percent of Asians.
So, how can modern institutions implement strategies that support student engagement, retention and success, especially for low-income and minority students? How can they ensure students have access to the personal resources they need to succeed? And, how can they promote an inclusive student experience that makes every student feel like they belong?
As some students don’t have time to respond or even read email, yet are checking their smartphones 70+ times a day, the answers to these questions may make some institutions re-think their mobile strategy.
While the concept of a campus mobile app is not new, most higher education institutions are simply unaware that an app can do more than just provide information on the day’s dining hall menu.
Using UTSA as a case study, here are three main challenges institutions face connecting with a diverse student body, and how a robust campus mobile app can help promote an inclusive student experience.
Challenge 1: Juggling Multiple Responsibilities
According to a UTSA Center for Research and Policy in Education report, “Latino students often struggle through college because of the multiple worlds they juggle including academia, familial responsibilities and their former communities.” To help students stay on-track, UTSA uses personalized push notifications that alert students when their grades are announced, assignments are posted and when tuition is due. As some lower-income students may not have access to a personal computer at home, it was important for UTSA to enable students to perform critical functions—such as adding and dropping classes, buying books and communicating directly with teachers—within the app.
(Next page: 2 more challenges; 2 more campus app solutions)
Challenge 2: High Number of Students on Financial Aid
Approximately 68 percent of undergraduate students at UTSA receive financial aid. As payment schedules and deadlines can be difficult for busy students to stay ahead of, providing easy access to this information is critical to enrollment. By natively integrating its student information system (SIS) into their campus mobile app, rather than just incorporating links to web pages that aren’t mobile-friendly, UTSA is improving the way students access their personal financial aid information on their mobile device. This empowers students to view account balances, charges and make payments, as well as receive alerts when payments are due, ensuring that their account is never put on hold.
Challenge 3: Promoting Inclusion
In addition to academic and account information, UTSA’s mobile app also ensures that all students have access to campus resources, including campus life information, directory of faculty and staff, maps, library and listing of open computers in the computer lab. Additionally, the app also features a listing of on-campus events—such as the Latino and Black Heritage Annual Banquets, Asian Festival and Annual Cultural Fair—which creates a sense of belonging and in turn keeps students invested in the university. The app is also compatible with most languages, ensuring UTSA is communicating with students in the language they prefer.
Effective communication is key to keeping today’s diverse, mobile-first students engaged. As higher education institutions continue to focus on boosting graduation rates for all students, a robust mobile strategy is quickly becoming the mainstay to increasing engagement and promoting an inclusive student experience.
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