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Doing More With Less: How Colleges’ Strategic Technology Investments Can Make A BIG Impact

By: Ready Education on Sep 6, 2022 9:00:00 AM
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With greater demands on stressed budgets and smaller, lower-resourced teams, university administrators are being asked to consider a tough question this Fall: How do they do more with less? 

At Ready Education, we believe the answer to that question lies in technology; in investing in a tool that can streamline and centralize campus communication, increase student engagement, and actually save staff time. 

But how exactly do you know if a tech investment is worth it in the long run? Here are three things to consider when evaluating the long-term value of your technology investment, all from real-life customer experiences.

#1 Consider this: The right campus-wide technology can help prevent staff burnout. 

When Golden West College started looking for a technology partner they were primarily looking for a solution that would help them create an active online community where students could engage and build a sense of community. They weren’t thinking about how having a campus-wide mobile app would help prevent faculty burnout, but that’s exactly what it did. 

One of the most valuable features of Ready’s Campus App is the Student Community Feed, a secure private “Campus Wall” that allows students to share posts directly with the larger campus community, and respond to fellow students’ questions. 

When asked how Ready Education’s Campus App had been received by students at Golden West College, former Director of Campus Life, Frank Cirioni, said, “We appreciate how simple it is for students to use because we’re not necessarily the facilitators.”

“[Students] are using the platform naturally and organically,” said Cirioni. They’re adding friends, sending direct messages to each other, forming groups, and posting questions on the Student Community Feed. These questions––that range anywhere from “What’s for lunch?” to “How do I get information about financial aid?”––are often answered by other students before a faculty member can jump in with a response. 

“It saves a lot of staff time,” says former Director of Academic Support Programs at Eastern Michigan University, Dr. Christine Deacons. “Instead of answering the same question over and over again, faculty members are able to use that time on impact-driven initiatives, work that’s connected to the reason why they got involved in higher education in the first place.”

This is crucial. Research shows that the more time an employee spends on purpose-driven work and the more they feel a connection and sense of belonging, the happier and more fulfilled they will be in their role.That’s an important metric for Higher Education institutions to consider, especially given that more than 25 million people have quit their jobs since April of of 2021 and new research from Microsoft suggests 41% are thinking about quitting. According to McKinsey, “even among educators, “the employees least likely to say they may quit—almost one-third reported that they are at least somewhat likely to do so.”

At a time when staff resignation and burnout is at an all time high throughout higher education, it’s more important than ever for institutions to invest in technology that can support staff and help them feel more connected to their roles every day.

#2 Consider This: The right campus-wide technology can help reduce operating costs while providing students with more support and improving their overall experience.

"The engagement data from the app showed us that no one was looking for tutoring before noon, so we moved all those hours to the afternoon or evening,” said Tracey Sonntag, Interim Associate Director of Holman Success Center at Eastern Michigan University.

The result? An increase in the number of students using the tutoring resources available to them. A win for students, and a win for university resources. 

Unfortunately administrators across Higher Ed are all too familiar with the way each year so many university resources go unused simply because students don’t know about the program, or aren’t able to take advantage of the support at a time that is convenient for them. It’s one of the most common frustrations Ready Education team members hear from administrators, and a topic often chronicled in industry publications like Inside Higher Ed.

What’s perhaps most frustrating for those of us who work in EdTech though, is knowing that this resource-utilization gap can be easily solved with technology. The right insights can help faculty understand how to tweak resources offerings, like adjusting the time or format, to encourage more student use.

Word-of-mouth also plays a big role in resource utilization; after all, we’re all more likely to take direct recommendations from our friends and peers than seek out information on our own. The right technology can also help facilitate this kind of organic resource sharing among students, helping increase the program utilization. In addition to being able to share and comment on posts in the Student Community Feed feature of Campus App, students can share links and resources within closed groups/clubs and send direct messages to one another.

With everything administrators have to do and think about every day, it’s often easy to overlook these seemingly small details. But that’s a mistake because these small adjustments are precisely the changes that can have a big impact over time and significantly impact a student’s chance of success. With data and analytics reporting at your fingertips, it becomes easy to see where the limited budget is and isn’t being appropriately allocated, and then take concrete action to improve offerings and make sure they are truly aligned with students’ needs.

Director of Student Life at North Central Texas College, Daisy Garcia, echoed these sentiments when speaking about the impact Ready Education’s Campus App has had on their institution. “For the first time, we’re able to track students that participate with our programs. I appreciate being able to keep that data and use it to drive more student engagement.”

The right technology tool helps address these resource utilization gaps at a fraction of the investment it would take to find, on-board, train, and retain an additional staff member. This isn’t always the primary reason institutions begin their search for the right campus-wide mobile tool, but it is one more example of how the right technology can have a big impact and make the investment well worth it over time. 

#3 Consider This: The right campus-wide technology can help students turn new connections into crucial, supportive relationships that support their long-term success.

A new environment brings a lot of unknowns and can feel overwhelming for first-year students who often struggle to make friends and find a community of support. A national survey by a Boston University researcher of nearly 33,000 college students revealed the prevalence of depression and anxiety with half of the students screening positive in 2020. Similar student surveys around the world have revealed an equally grim picture. According to research published by higher education policy group Wonkhe, one in every five students in the United Kingdom say they don’t have one “real friend” at university and a third report feeling lonely at least once a week.

While universities try to encourage these important student connections with orientation programming as well as sophomore and transfer initiatives like pre-semester backpacking trips that offer new opportunities to meet students and bond off-campus and outside of class, these efforts often come up short. Not all students can take advantage of these opportunities, and even the ones that do often need a little extra support turning these budding friendships into supportive, lasting relationships. 

As we all know, making friends takes time and does not always feel like an intuitive process. Technology can help bridge the gap, providing students with a digital meeting ground to keep the conversation going, strengthen new bonds, or form new ones. 

Some of the ways in which technology can facilitate this type of digital bonding are pretty straightforward; topic-based channels can help students connect over shared interests, while direct messaging allows students to continue the conversation privately. But there are other surprising ways technology can help students connect too: cat memes. Yup, you read that right. Here’s what we mean:

Back in the Spring Ready Education ran a special online event all about improving student engagement with two special guests: Matt Weitzel, IT Project Manager at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, and Tracey Sonntag, Interim Associate Director of Holman Success Center at Eastern Michigan University.

About three-quarters through the event, the live conversation digressed to cat memes, and the way in which this seemingly silly online phenomenon has served an important role in bringing students together on both of these campuses; memes can be a huge way for Gen Z college students to break the ice and bond with each other, an early step in the process of building a stronger relationship. 

These strong, supportive relationships aren’t just an important part of students’ well-being and mental health; they also play a crucial role in helping a student persist and succeed through any challenges they may encounter during their time at university. For years, research has shown students who have strong friendships and feel like they belong are more likely to see the value of required work and have higher self-belief in their chances to succeed in their course (Verschelden, 2017). Students with close digital connections are more likely to stay in school; 92% for students with high closeness centrality, compared to 81% for students with low closeness centrality. 

When viewed through this lens, the value of creating an engaging, social-driven, online experience for students that’s secured in a private container exponentially increases, for this digital world is where so many of these beginning connections and conversations can happen. And for a generation that’s in many ways more comfortable and used to engaging with other human beings online, it often feels safer to interact in this way at first.

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We hope these examples have helped you better understand some of the less obvious but very important ways the right technology solution can have a positive long-term impact on your faculty, students, and institution at large. The technology works for you and your institutional goals year-round, helping improve faculty morale, save time and budget, increase student engagement and university resource utilization, and help students build the kinds of deeper connections crucial to their success. 

We always love hearing from you about the unique ways Ready Education has helped you centralize campus communication, increase student engagement, and improve retention. 

If you’re curious about how our technology solutions can support your institutional goals, or interested in becoming a customer, we’d love to speak with you about that too. Please use this form to get in touch with us.