Improving the Digital Student Experience in Higher Education
Today’s students live online, and more than ever they find and apply to schools through searches—not through word-of-mouth or admissions offices.
The raison d’etre of any institution is its core academic programs, but your learners are unlikely to consider your school if navigating your website feels as complicated as navigating a real-world campus. And yet that’s exactly the student digital experience many college and university web pages offer.
In this post, we’ll discuss:
- Why the digital student experience is so important,
- What students are demanding from an online experience,
- Market demands, and
- How to make your digital student experience seamless.
When visiting campus is not a recruitment option, your website—and the digital experience it provides—becomes the only way for a prospective student to experience what life on your campus might be like.
Why is the student digital experience so important?
For both learners and staff, improving the student experience in higher education is critical in an increasingly digital age.
For students, smooth digital experiences drive enrollment.
Today’s students are accustomed to seamlessness in their digital experience. When they visit sites like Amazon or use apps like Uber, every step of the transaction is built around their satisfaction, and every piece of content is tailored to make that interaction as simple as possible. The modern learner is a consumer, and they want what every consumer wants: to get what they need quickly, and with little-to-no input from anyone else.
Consumers quickly learn to value businesses and platforms that put as few digital barriers between them and their goal. Similarly, schools that place the student digital experience highest on their list of priorities tend to see enrollments increase, along with their learners’ satisfaction with the institution. The modern campus needs to reflect the expectations of its learners, or those learners will return to the search bar to find one that will.
For administrators, patching up the back end supports the front line.
Students aren’t the only ones who suffer when content is poorly optimized for their needs. Administrators spend papering over the cracks left by inefficient systems. In reality, most content management systems (CMS) aren’t built around the specifics of higher education, so important data is often presented in ways that aren’t relatable to the higher ed audience.
One of the biggest mistakes administrators can make is to implement a CMS that touts itself as a “one-size-fits-all” solution—only to find that they will spend valuable financial and staffing resources correcting back-end efficiencies and bottlenecks caused when a CMS that can’t provide the agility demanded by the workflow.
When the front line isn’t bogged down with needless requests for support, these administrators have much more time and energy to spend on more important tasks.
Reduce inefficiencies, boost enrollments, and drive retention with your digital experience.
Students and visitors come to your site to learn about your offerings, and staff are there to grow the institution and position students for success. Neither can do what they need to when facing roadblocks like obtuse site functionalities and slow publishing processes that stall the release of crucial program/course information for eager visitors. Furthermore, it can be difficult to keep staff motivated when they’re inundated with requests for assistance, or to keep visitors engaged when they’re navigating broken links or badly designed web pages.
The digital student experience in higher education is often sorely lacking simplicity.
A seamless digital experience is the glue that holds everything together. It showcases the precise content your prospect needs to make an informed decision while presenting your institution as forward-thinking and student-centric. Improving the digital student experience in higher education reminds the student that their satisfaction is important to you, and keeps them coming back for more.
By introducing the tools needed to deliver a high-quality digital experience, inefficiencies that plague many web support teams disappear—often eliminating the tedium of bottlenecked workflows. This frees time for editing, content creation, and looking ahead for innovative ways to serve learners.
Simplify the digital student experience in higher education.
A strong online experience—the kind learners remember and come back for—emphasizes convenience. Moving swiftly to the end goal with as few clicks as possible is what separates big names like Amazon or Uber from their less adaptive competitors, and customers flock to them as much for their convenience as the services they offer.
In higher education, this burden falls on your website’s shoulders. It’s best to build from the ground-up, on the back of agile management systems built to handle the unique demands and workflows of your school’s web office. For a school’s website to support a student in their journey as a potential customer, this can mean implementing student lifecycle management (SLM) software to clear a path for learners to find programs that suit them, all while automating processes to take the pressure off of administrators.
For example, the Corporate College at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) noticed an immediate increase in enrollments within the first six months of implementing Destiny One—a student lifecycle management system from Modern Campus.
By simplifying and automating many aspects of the school’s online registration process, enrollments in publicly available non-credit programming grew 16%, with over 35,000 registrations. The percentage of students registering online grew 52% over the same six-month period the previous year. In all, a two-year analysis showed the percentage of registrations processed online grew 64% in that same timeframe.
Harper College enjoyed similar growth with the same system, exceeding their initial online enrollment targets within the first term after implementation. Before, they’d processed 35% of their registrations online. With Destiny One, that number skyrocketed to 93%. The software eliminated tedious administration processes that hindered the success of their student digital experience and added features that made the site much more attractive to students and easier on administrators.
When visiting Harper’s website, any prospective student can now add their desired courses to a shopping cart, move seamlessly through processes that align with e-commerce best practices, and pay securely online with a credit card (and now, with PayPal). If they add courses to the cart but leave without checking out, the SLM system automatically sends them an email encouraging them to complete their purchase.
Self-service is the first step to a strong digital student experience.
The key here is convenience, and few things are as convenient for the modern learner as getting what they want from your institution without needing to speak with you. Using the tips mentioned above is the best way to position your prospective students to serve themselves, ensuring they remember your school’s administrative experience for its ease of use, and have few qualms about returning when they need a program or certification you can provide.
The market demands consistency.
The modern learner has endless choices at their fingertips and is far more selective as a result. Your college or university’s offerings might be top of the line, but when you’re competing with other postsecondary institutions, MOOCs, and free educational resources, branding is key to making sure you’re reaching learners where they live (online, mostly).
When the appearance of your website is shoddy or inconsistent—either within its own pages or with your school’s other branding assets—it signals a lack of digital competence to prospects and contributes to low market visibility.
Your institution’s web presence should reflect the modernity of its learner base. CMS and SLM solutions can facilitate the design and ownership of a digital experience that offers just that: sleek, consistent design that exudes professionalism and makes sites easy to navigate visually. These systems also afford a great deal of control over branding, making it easy for web staff to adapt and make changes on the fly.
Make your digital student experience seamless!
At a time when the student digital experience has been brought so sharply into focus, it’s never been more crucial to your college or university’s success to prioritize a web presence that’s centered on the student’s success. Give them a digital experience to remember and you’ll also boost enrollment, reduce the administrative burdens placed on staff, and establish your college or university as a higher ed option that values student engagement.
Boost enrollments and cut down on staff burnout by downloading Why a Seamless Digital Experience Matters: How Understanding and Delivering on Student Expectations Drives Divisional Growth.
Last updated: February 5, 2021