Higher-ed institutions that provide experiences that surpass students' expectations are at the forefront of enhancing student engagement.

Boosting student engagement through student experience management

Higher education institutions that provide experiences that surpass students' expectations are at the forefront of enhancing student engagement

Students enter college with a lot of expectations. Expectations about their classes, what they’ll learn, their social lives, the challenges they’ll face, and how they’ll succeed. All these expectations have one thing in common: they are grounded in students’ unique lived experiences and day-to-day – even moment-to-moment – interactions.  

For decades, colleges and universities have strived to foster environments that understand and improve student engagement, and many do this by using research models and tools. While this mission-driven work has always been difficult, the last few years have brought these difficulties to unprecedented heights as engagement levels head in a downward trend. Enrollment numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate, and many students are struggling mentally, emotionally, and socially. Institutions need a new approach – one that goes beyond identifying what is happening to uncover why it’s happening.  

That’s where an experience management strategy with advanced analytics comes in. Using such tools, the higher education community can work to reshape the definition of student success and the next frontier of student engagement. 

What the Research Says: How Student Engagement and Satisfaction Have Evolved 

Since the education philosopher and reformer John Dewey championed “learning by doing” in the late 1800s, educators have sought ways to measure the levels and effectiveness of students’ involvement in their own education. Today, this is called “student engagement,” which has been defined in a variety of ways over the years.

In the 1990s, Vince Tinto’s Leaving College concluded that the more students are involved socially and intellectually, and the more frequently they connect with faculty and other students, the more they are likely to learn. More recently, a 2006 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report which provides the most commonly-cited definition of student engagement, shared that it’s “the investment of time and effort in educationally purposeful activities.”  

Student engagement – which is ultimately a measurement of behavior – has been studied for decades, but there is another important element that helps to paint the full picture: student satisfaction. Student satisfaction focuses on the student’s perceptions and opinions about the quality of institutional services, facilities, and amenities. As student research frameworks evolved, it became increasingly apparent that capturing both engagement and satisfaction levels lead to the most comprehensive and accurate findings. 

A broad body of research shows that satisfaction breeds loyalty. Satisfied higher education students are more loyal to an institution in appreciable ways: they are more likely to engage with alumni activities, more likely to maintain an ongoing relationship with their alma mater, and more likely to recommend an institution to others. While satisfaction may not drive the same educational outcomes as student engagement, a lack of satisfaction can certainly drive students away. Improving experiences is key to improving both student engagement and student satisfaction.  

Even with the combination of student engagement and satisfaction surveys, the feedback collected is just a snapshot of student sentiment at that point in time. While institutions can accumulate these snapshots to measure progress over time, without real-time insights these fixed moments will always be outdated. Although this style of surveying remains relevant today, there have been major advances in technology that enable institutions to arrive at deeper, more actionable, real-time insights. Over the years, educational research has evolved into Big Data – including a myriad of models and techniques aimed at understanding how well institutions are serving students. It’s through Big Data and the insights gleaned from these advanced data sets that achieving accurate measurement of student engagement and satisfaction is made possible. 

Tackling the New Student Engagement Frontier 

Higher education institutions that invest in and implement innovative methods to understand students individually and provide experiences that surpass their expectations are at the forefront of enhancing student engagement. Here’s how with advanced analytics, colleges, and universities can follow suit:  

  1. Listen and Remember: Students are more than the cohorts they inhabit. Every student touchpoint with a higher education institution is an experience, offering the opportunity to engage and create a positive memory. With advanced conversational analytics, listening to students offers a chance to influence an opinion, shape a personal connection, and create a sense of belonging.  
  1. Process and Understand: After listening, it’s time to make sense of the data collected. The right technology can help provide insight into the emotion, effort, and intent of what students are saying in real time so those ‘experience blind spots’ can be eliminated, and proactive next steps can be recommended. 
  1. Take Action: Automation makes taking action scalable, so that every opportunity to act in a way that engages and improves each student’s experience is never missed. 
  1. Establish Institutional Rhythms: Institutions can easily create a cadence of collecting feedback that best suits their needs. Establishing best practices helps more readily identify gaps in the student experience and understand which actions have the biggest impact on experience, engagement, and performance. 

It’s time the industry graduate from institutional data snapshots to deeper, more actionable, real-time insights. With the right tools and technology, colleges and universities all over the world can more effectively understand and improve the student experience. 

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