Today’s higher-ed environment demands the a number of “must-haves” when it comes to communication, student engagement, and retention

When it comes to student engagement, support, and success, technology matters


Today’s higher-ed environment demands a number of “must-haves” when it comes to communication, student engagement, and retention

It’s been nearly a year and a half since COVID first discombobulated higher education and put in motion major technology changes relatively overnight. One could argue such changes were record-breaking in an industry that prefers to move much slower by nature.

While the changes were reactive due to COVID, there is a big opportunity for higher ed to proactively implement enabling technology solutions with the help of the $40 billion American Rescue Plan (ARP) – which included the Higher Education Emergency Fund III (HEERF III), one of the largest single investments ever made in higher ed.

HEERF III covers comprehensive student education needs

While a large portion of the investment is focused on directly helping students, the government also recognizes the many challenges students–especially lower income students–face in returning to school to complete their education. Therefore, part of ARP is focused on recovery, students with exceptional need, health services, emergency financial aid, support for staffing, retention, reengagement, prevention and mitigation of COVID, and negative impact on students’ educational progress.

This flexibility in allowable costs is great news for institutions and students; however, implementing processes to address just one of these items is a tall order for any administrator.

Take retention and reengagement, for example. These are complex issues that cannot be addressed and managed through a call campaign and a spreadsheet. Students are multidimensional and their needs and COVID challenges are varied, so the process of identifying students at risk, reaching them, and providing the right level of support at the right time is complex. Institutions need much more than the ability to send an email, generate a report, and keep a spreadsheet.

Today’s higher-ed environment demands the following “must-haves” when it comes to student communication, student engagement, and retention.

  • Access to students via mobile phone through text, custom apps, and social media
  • Ability to identify at-risk students (whole student, not just attendance and grades)
  • Proactively prescribe mitigation plans for students to keep them on track
  • Tools to quickly identify and triage escalation of student issues
  • Effective case management and monitoring of interactions
  • Ways to care and communicate with students outside of the classroom
  • Insight into and active promotion of student participation outside of the classroom, including clubs, activities, and campus life
  • AI (artificial intelligence chatbots) providing students helpful and relevant information outside of institutions’ business hours

Investing in technology creates scalable student support options

To truly focus on recovery, retention, reengagement, proper communication, and mitigation of negative impacts on students’ education, institutions must look to technology solutions. Investing in a few staff members will not likely yield the same results nor provide insight or capabilities as technology solutions, especially if we are considering a mid-size school–or larger–that is already short on resources.

The U.S. Department of Education has designated the use of institutional HEERF Funds to include retention and reengagement of at-risk students negatively affected by the pandemic, so all impacted institutions should use this opportunity to proactively redefine their student success strategies.

The first step is to identify the specific challenges that students are facing. Next, they should evaluate which approach and solution will best address these challenges. Once these details are established, institutions need to align key aspects with enabling technology that can be leveraged to execute the overall strategy, effectively identify at-risk students, and deliver targeted support quickly and effectively throughout the student lifecycle. This will help ensure their individual and collective success toward graduation and beyond.

As many institutions must make large-scale changes to support their students through the next stages of recovery, reengagement, and reconnection, technology can help administrators execute renewed student success strategies at scale. With the help of the American Rescue Plan and HEERF III funds, many more institutions are now empowered to proactively invest in the right technologies for improved student engagement and outcomes.

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