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Taking a student-centered approach to data

Younger students in higher education have grown up in a world of personalized two-way communication through social media. In exchange for their personal data, platforms like LinkedIn provides students with tailored information on internships, Facebook suggests them curated friends and events, and Twitter provides curated news. According to a recent Ellucian survey, some students are looking for the same relationship with colleges and universities who will use their personal data to keep them on track and help them succeed academically and professionally.

Results from the Ellucian survey report that over 80% of students expect post-secondary institutions to use their personal data to deliver positive and enhanced learning experiences. As it stands however, institutions tend to use student data more for internal communications and resources rather than externally engaging with students.

The survey finds students want their colleges and universities to leverage their data to offer support in the following ways:

  1. Enrollment and retention: Students expect post-secondary institutions to use their personal data to ensure they succeed in their courses and graduate on time. Students want personalized emails and electronic support on items such as scholarships, tutors, on-campus activities, course-selection, and academic advising. a tailored email or communication may offer the encouragement they need to pursue support or illuminate an opportunity they didn’t know existed.

    The University of Kentucky uses student data in this manner to support students at risk of dropping out of a course or program. By sending tailored communications to students who were not likely to reenroll, the University of Kentucky boosted overall retention rates.

  2. Financial aid: Students are expecting post-secondary institutions to support them with financial aid and on-campus job opportunities. A bot integrated with the student database may notify students of new opportunities, upcoming deadlines, and alert them of missing documents and improperly submitted material.

  3. Life after post-secondary education: Over half of all students say they want their alma mater to leverage their personal and academic information to provide professional support after graduation. Students want to be able to network with other alumni and receive guidance for upcoming job interviews and opportunities. Royal Roads University in Canada been an early adopter of this with through their alumni engagement site launched this November. The site uses personal data of alumni to create profiles and allow them to engage with professors, peers, and prospective students while also providing employment and research opportunities.

    Post-secondary institutions already have access to their data, so students expect it to be used in a more meaningful and impactful way for them. More institutions need to consider taking a bottom-up approach to student data than the top-down internal approach that has been the standard for years.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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