Institutions of higher education were designed to aid young men and women in their transition from high school graduate to college student, helping them navigate along the way. Administrators would recruit, admit, enroll, guide and pretty much handhold these students from admission to graduation.
In today’s technology-driven world, though, more and more of these steps are put on the shoulders of the students themselves. They have access to technology that allows them to be personally responsible for their matriculation through college. What does this mean for higher ed? It means colleges and universities must transition to being more “student-centric” institutions.
What is “student-centric”?
Student-centric incorporates student success and then takes it even further. It is an all-encompassing view and approach for supporting the complete student lifecycle. Think of it as an ecosystem that is designed to support the student, not just academically but in all aspects of their college experience (i.e. communication, socialization, extracurricular pursuits, etc.).
Are we rushing into this?
Is this student-centric approach new?
Not really. We have seen this transition happen slowly over the past decade. It is only now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, that we see this transition elevated to a higher priority and at a much faster pace. For instance, remote learning was considered, at one time, an option and/or a luxury. Now, it’s become more of a necessity and, at some institutions, a requirement.
Pandemic aside, the transition has also been hastened by the students themselves. Students are more comfortable – and reliant – on technology. It’s almost to the point where students expect institutions to have technologies in place to help them at every step of their postsecondary lives.
Institutions likely already have some infrastructure in place to aid in this student-centric approach. What may be of concern to them, though, is the cost of filling in that remaining infrastructure. While schools may balk at making such a significant financial investment, they should first consider the alternative: not making the transition could cost them students and money in the long run.
Addressing the challenges
Moving to a student-centric focus certainly comes with its fair share of challenges. As an example, let’s look at the switch to remote teaching and learning, since it has taken on a new level of urgency.
So how does a brick and mortar institution transition to being a successful ‘virtual’ institution? For starters, instructors must consider a new way of teaching and students must adapt to a new learning environment. Some educators have focused on ways to make the learning process more beneficial and productive for both the students and instructors. They are focusing on three types of interactions:
- Student-Content: instructors provide an active learning environment where students have activities that are both meaningful and reflective
- Student-Student: the learning community is structured so that students are encouraged, if not required, to interact with each other
- Student-Instructor: the focus here is to develop a more productive environment where students and instructors both contribute to the learning experience
Although these focused interactions are a good starting point, there is no “one-size fits all” model. Every institution will need to develop and design instruction that best suits both the students and the instructors.
Here are some questions that institutions should ask to help instructors become successful, regardless of which type of teaching path they choose.
- What level of interaction works best for your coursework?
- What tools do you have available to develop a successful environment?
- What technologies does your institution have that will assist in creating a beneficial and productive learning environment?
A deeper dive
Let’s dive a bit deeper into what “student-centric” is.
Before higher ed can become more student-centric, they need to understand what this model would look like. Student-centric does not mean you cater to the students’ every need. It doesn’t mean you need to hold their hands through every step of their college path. What it does mean is that you design interactions and communications around the needs of the students.
Some things to remember when doing this:
- Student-centric is very personalized. Every interaction must be relevant to the student’s situation and affect them on a more personal level. It needs to carry value.
- When communicating in a student-centric environment, institutions should tailor their language in a way that feels conversational and non-judgmental.
- With technology taking over so many aspects of their lives, students need to be able to access the institution 24/7 and get answers quickly.
- For the student-centric platform to work, all departments must contribute to a single source of information.
The process behind the transition
When a college or university decides to become a more student-centric institution, they need to understand that it will not be a quick or easy process. There are a lot of moving parts and players involved. The following should be asked or considered:
- What goals are you trying to reach and how can you work across departments to accomplish these goals?
- How well do you understand the lifecycle of the college student? What are their immediate needs? Where are they trying to go? What is their desired outcome?
- Communication and cooperation are key to the success of a student-centric model. Be sure to connect with other organizational teams as you evaluate your process for moving to this approach.
Many institutions are loaded with far more resources than in the past to produce an enormous amount of information at warp speed. The shift to a student-centric institution has been happening for a while, but even with all the advances it’s still not as fast as most students would like.
Still, to stay competitive, universities will need to transition to this model or they will lose out to those already doing so. And while these changes will cost money, not evolving will cost them even more. The long-term investment by an institution to move to a more student-centric focus can not only result in an improved student experience but, in the long run, lead to an increase in enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.