If There’s a Will, There’s a Waze: Navigating the Student Journey

by | May 21, 2019 | All Topics, Student Success

We often speak of the student lifecycle as a single trajectory, beginning when a student is admitted and ending with graduation and a fulfilling career.

Of course, the reality for many students is that this pathway is not at all linear. But, given the way we often speak about it, the technology marketplace has responded accordingly. This has led to webs of internal processes and student support systems that work well for some but not all.

What if there was technology that broke this mold?

Below are two images that illustrate this issue. Our technology systems assume that students drive along a simple, trouble-free road like that on the left. Instead, this pathway looks more like the image on the right, where roadblocks and traffic jams occur and where it is not always clear how best to navigate to the destination.Simple Student Journey Complex Student JourneyTo help us get from place to place in our personal lives, many of us rely on mobile map applications. These provide directions and real-time information about traffic jams and other issues, and help us choose from more than one pathway to our destinations. Specifically, many of us use Waze, which supplements this information with crowd-sourced awareness of additional impediments to your trip, such as traffic accidents. 

Now, imagine if we had such a tool for students as they progress along their journeys through higher education. Imagine further that this tool could provide students with more than one option, show the steps along each path, the challenges they might face, and calculate how choosing a different path would impact a student’s destination. This kind of tool could, for example, lessen the time and cost students incur to complete their degrees, allow advisers to work more proactively to address roadblocks toward graduation, and ultimately improve student success.

Several companies are trying to do just this. We’ve identified three that will comprise a new segment in our 2019 Technology Landscape we are calling “Student Journey Management Solutions.” One of these vendors, Civitas, develops solutions to unearth data to help students and advisors identify potential issues that might impact student success. Another, InScribe, serves as an engagement layer between students and support staff, helping students find answers to any questions they might have along their journeys.  The third vendor, Salesforce, works with institutions to overcome disparate data systems to provide a single, 360-degree view into student progress from enrollment to graduation.

While solutions like these show promise, they would not alone deliver on supporting students along their journeys. For example, Waze is essentially a piece of technology. It involves strategic decisions about the data it will collect, the best method of displaying information, and what the overall experience of engaging with the technology and information should be to enable its users to arrive on time. It does not, however, address long-term planning or address all of the pros and cons of a decision about your trip.

Our take is that, like many technologies, institutions should avoid seeing these as a silver bullet. Instead, they may be most valuable when viewed through the lens of how they support the range of strategies, such as advising, to improve student success. Likewise, it is important to consider what an institution would need to do to position solutions like the ones discussed above for success, before they try one.

Here are three steps to begin “Waze-ifying” your approach to student pathways:

Pivot from a technology focus to a service focus. Many times, higher education technology leaders view their technology ecosystem as a collection of solutions and IT principles. To best deliver on the promise of supporting student journeys, leaders first need to view their ecosystem as providing services to their stakeholders rather than simply allowing them to perform some task. This view, already used by some institutions, recasts technology to place stakeholders at the center and allows measurement of the technology in terms of the value it provides to them.

Specific to the student journey, this pivot enables all stakeholders to think about how technology might provide the best support to students, which may include anytime, anywhere access to information, student ownership of their own data, and promoting student engagement with faculty and advisors.

Identify the right data. Institutions collect a wealth of student-related data, including enrollment, financial aid, and credit accumulation information. It is not clear, however, which data actually shows student progress on their journeys. It is critical, therefore, that institutions consider what data best provides insight about where students are, anticipated roadblocks, and the most effective ways to get them back on track. Often, this step requires identifying where data sets exist across the technology ecosystem, and, where duplicate data exists and which data is the source of record.

As an ongoing matter, institutions also need to consider their definitions of data quality—accuracy, timeliness, etc.—to ensure that any action leaders take to support student journeys relies on the best quality data.  

Determine the “what next.” Mobile map applications do not merely identify roadblocks; they also provide alternative routes and the impacts of those alternatives. Likewise, institutions should consider the next steps they want to provide to students who face challenges along their journeys. These alternatives may include nudges—behavioral prompts to encourage action—or connecting students to advisors to help with overcoming their challenges.

Also, where students have access to information about their journeys, institutions should consider what next steps they want students to take and provide clear alternatives to help students identify and take action on issues they encounter.

The Bottom Line

We will, for the first time, include solutions that support the student journey in our 2019 Higher Education Technology Landscape. We believe any consideration of acquiring these solutions should begin with the three steps above. In future reports, we will dive more deeply into the student journey, and how viewing the student path through higher education in this way impacts institutional technology ecosystems and vendor products.

How can higher ed institutions increase enrollment and completion rates, and promote new programs, all while managing resource constraints, working within legacy infrastructures, and bringing skeptical staff members on board? Based on research from the Eduventures Student Sentiment Survey™, and Eduventures Program Innovation advisory services, this webinar will help you understand:

  • How a successful program marketing strategy includes not only the right content but also the right channels
  • The importance of looking beyond conferrals and the labor market, and considering also the context of the program at a particular institution
  • Examples from colleges and universities that have successfully launched new programs, curricula, and beyond.

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