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Student Engagement | 5 minute read

Shift from Iteration to Reinvention: Leveraging IT to Serve the New Student Lifecycle

Recruitment; Enrollment; Retention; Graduation; Alumni Donation – that’s the traditional student lifecycle. And once upon a time, in the era of the three-stage life, that made a ton of sense.

Students would enroll in a postsecondary program, graduate with a degree, get a good-paying job on a career track in a stable industry, grow over time and eventually earn enough money to donate to their alma mater. Every now and then, to show students their college or university still cares, the institution would put on a Homecoming event to bring their alumni back on campus, or host a lecture in their town to keep them engaged.

In 2019, we’re already way past the five-stage student lifecycle. And as time moves forward, this model will become less and less relevant for colleges and universities.

The modern student lifecycle is complex and fits their multi-stage life. It doesn’t assume that their postsecondary engagement will be a single program in their youth, but recognizes that success in the emerging labor market requires regular and substantive ongoing education engagements to support the constant upskilling and reskilling of today’s professional.

In the era of the 100 Year life, we need to fundamentally rethink how we’re engaging with learners. According to Jeff Russell, Dean of Continuing Studies and Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this will significantly impact how we want modern learners to engage with postsecondary institutions.

“To accommodate longer lives, we’ll need to develop academic programs that stretch from childhood into old age,” Russell wrote in an article on The EvoLLLution. “This will require creativity in how we deliver courses, with an emphasis on flexibility and personalization. It will also require creativity in how we provide credentials, from degrees to certificates to digital badges.”

Unfortunately, most colleges and universities do not have the infrastructure in place to address these challenges, and this is because institutional infrastructures have followed an iterative—rather than a transformative—model. And more unfortunately, the space postsecondary institutions have left unaddressed is already being jumped on by alternative providers and market entrants, like bootcamps, who recognize the potential and have designed models specifically to serve non-traditional demographics.

“Most online enrollment registration systems in higher ed grew up around the physical structure of the college or university, and were built with an administrative focus in mind rather than the needs of the student,” said Mark Mrozinski, Assistant Vice President of Workforce Development and Dean of Community Education at Harper College, in an interview with The EvoLLLution.

“You know what those older systems looked like: they had an admissions module, a curriculum module, a registration module, a finance module, a financial aid module. The student navigated the online system just as they would if they walked on campus and you sent them from one office to another to another. There was no continuity of service.”

This is a perfect example of iteration. We took the experience we were delivering on campus, and found ways to translate it almost exactly online. But we didn’t redesign the processes themselves to fit the need and expectations of modern consumers who are used to advanced eCommerce experiences.

“Students today are looking to get things done with three clicks,” said Ed Massey, President of Indian River Community College, in an interview with The EvoLLLution.

“We look at each step to see what we can eliminate. What we find is that many steps are in there because they’ve just always been there. You have to intentionally try to create efficiency and remove some of the unnecessary steps. You have to change the old habits to new habits, ensuring you’re still getting the job done in a quality way.”

Once this process of reinvention begins, it’s plausible to begin looking more intentionally at the experience you’re delivering to your students… and the reasonableness of that experience.

“In student-centric environments, policies and processes are designed in such a way to promote access rather than create barriers,” wrote Michelle Fach, Director of Open Learning and Support at the University of Guelph, in an article on The EvoLLLution. “These environments adapt to changes in student demographics and align the system to foster engagement and remove obstacles.”

This is where technology starts to become really important. Once institutional leaders recognize the need to serve learners more flexibly over the course of their lifetime, they often find they have to work around (rather than with) their established systems to deliver the kind of experience that supports the lifelong engagement of modern learners.

“Often, the institution has policies in place that can make it difficult for CE units to maneuver innovatively,” said Sandi Pershing, Assistant Vice President of Outreach and Engagement and Dean of Continuing Education at the University of Utah, in an interview with The EvoLLLution.

“These barriers to innovation can also be technological. For example, you might try to run a class within continuing education that’s outside normal semester timelines so it doesn’t work with the traditional campus database. In situations like this, you have to build outside systems to work around the traditional system, which can be cumbersome.”

As we move into a new era of postsecondary education—one characterized by a new standard for the student lifecycle—colleges and universities need to find new technologies and establish new cultures designed to deliver this new experience.

To learn more about the critical importance of  technological systems designed to serve the modern student lifecycle—and the modern student experience—download our whitepaper.

Download a paper on how universities can better serve students and staff