How a unified mobile platform can keep students engaged – and in school.
GUEST COLUMN | by Chris Hopkinson
Higher educational institutions have a lot of responsibility to not only attract applicants, but also ensure the experience and tools that they provide encourage students to remain enrolled and engaged. As roughly 33 percent of first-year students don’t return their sophomore year, institutions are beginning to recognize that positive experiences for students during freshman year typically set the tone for how the rest of their educational career will be.
Understanding retention challenges, as well as how mobility is increasingly being woven into the fabric of student life, a leading mobile app solution provider to higher education institutions created a platform that enables institutions to easily connect with students on their smartphones. Providing students a robust, authentically mobile experience is an integral part of retention efforts, and hundreds of partnering institutions – including Bridgewater State University (BSU) and California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State) – cite positive user experiences and increased engagement as a result.
Creating a Mobile-First Strategy
Today’s “mobile-first” student interacts with a mobile device 40-60 times per day, and for many, mobile has become the primary mode of interacting with the world. Therefore, driving student engagement should be the primary objective of any mobile program.
Being mobile today means much more than having a school app or mobile website; it’s about understanding the role of mobile technologies as a tool for aligning student needs with institutional goals.
Institutions that have successfully developed a mobile-first strategy are actively engaged with Student Affairs and Student Government Associations to learn what students want out of their campus mobile app. What they’ve learned is that students want one, easy-to-use, personalized mobile app that delivers all the information and resources they need to succeed in a way that makes them want to use the app and return to it frequently.
BSU is a prime example of how working with students has led to the successful implementation of the school’s mobile app. The BSU app, developed on the platform, boasts a 98 percent return rate and 68 percent of users utilize the app at least once a day to view information such as course details, roster, schedules, grades and announcements.
Personalizing the Mobile Experience
A personalized app is inherently more engaging because it provides everything the student needs upfront, as opposed to having to search through complex, fragmented apps for information. Instead of making the costly mistake of creating an app that simply mirrors an institution’s website, or creating multiple apps that aren’t connected to each other, the platform enables institutions to cost-effectively integrate their entire enterprise system into one centralized platform.
Within the natively integrated, customized mobile app, students can quickly and easily connect with teachers and classmates, buy books, pay parking tickets, access academic information and more. In addition, the app enables push notifications that can be customized to the preferences of each individual student. Personal notifications, such as when grades are posted and when assignments are due, have proven to be useful tools that contribute to student success, and alerts about when tuition is due can increase retention rates by ensuring that busy students never miss a payment.
The benefits of creating one robust, personalized app include a higher download rate, fewer challenges for IT managers and better experiences for students. Student life activities and social features, such as listings of on-campus events and bus schedules, can also help keep students engaged by virtually connecting students to the entire school within a single app.
Additional features and functionality—such as providing live feeds of the lines at the on-campus coffee shop and laundry room—make the app a valuable and desirable tool for students that they can incorporate into their everyday routine. Since the launch of the Cal State app on the platform in January 2016, there have been more than 14,800 downloads and more than 500,000 visits to the app, which generate on average seven activities per visit. The successful use of the app has generated more than 240 student reviews and has an aggregated rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 in the app store.
Being mobile today means much more than having a school app or mobile website; it’s about understanding the role of mobile technologies as a tool for aligning student needs with institutional goals. Since 2008, my company has partnered with more than 150 schools around the world to provide a native, highly customized unified mobile solution that increases student engagement to improve performance and retention.
Chris Hopkinson is VP of strategy and business development at DubLabs, LLC. As a founding member with nearly 20 years of experience in emerging technology companies, Chris is an expert in business development as well as student mobile technology usage and engagement strategies. Write to: [email protected] and follow @dublabs.