Unit4, world leader in Student Management systems for Higher Education, today released the findings of a new research study that shows how Higher Education institutions are evolving to support student success and close the student-college digital divide.
Unit4 undertook the research to ascertain the importance of student success among higher education institutions and how it is driving investment in core systems. Responses from Higher Education IT decision makers in the US, from 2-year (33%) and 4-year (59%) institutions of varying sizes, show that student retention is the number one priority driving organizational change, technology and cloud investment, and new approaches to enrollment.
When asked to rank student success initiatives in priority order, student retention came out on top, followed by course completion rates and time-to-graduation; student experiences and services; and job placement and employability. Additionally, respondents were asked how integral their core administrative systems (e.g. Student Information System, Financial System, Human Resources Management) are to managing their institution's student success program, and on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is integral, the average score is 3.88.
Interestingly, 73% of respondents say that their institution's organizational structure has evolved significantly to better support student success initiatives in the last two years. When asked if their institution has shifted its enrollment approaches to target best-fit students, 24% of respondents answered in the affirmative, even if enrollment counts suffer negatively. Overall, 40% of respondents expect student success to be the main driver for replacing their core student information system in the next two years.
It’s clear that a lack of technology investment in Higher Education has caused a significant student-college digital divide. When asked approximately how many years since their core student information system was first implemented, responses range from 1-2 Years (56%), 5-7 years (20%), and older than 15 years (14%). Unsurprisingly, ERP systems are generally much older, with only 9% of respondents having replaced their systems in the last 1-2 years and the majority (25%) confirming their ERP system is more than 15 years old. More positively, 81% say their institution has invested in technology (either in new software applications or modernizing existing ones) to support student success initiatives.
Looking at modern technology implementations, one fifth of those surveyed say that more than 50% of their new technology is custom developed versus standard commercial software applications, while 63% said less than 50% is custom developed and 15% said none is customer developed. When asked how important they feel an integrated system approach is versus standalone applications to support student success, respondents scored an average 4.12 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not important and 5 is very important.
A relatively small number of respondents (37%) confirm they leverage a data warehouse and analytics to support their student success initiatives. However, 60% say they are using automation in their core systems to support early-alerts and action plans for at-risk students. 62% have recently overhauled their student portal, self-service capabilities, or developed new mobile applications to improve the student experience. However, only 28% claim to leverage CRM to support their student success initiatives, with 19% confirming they don’t and a large percentage (52%) admitting they don’t know. Unsurprisingly, new technology like bots and AI are still some way from becoming mainstream with 6% of those surveyed confirming they are used to support student success.
"To truly close the student-college digital divide, organizations need to embrace digital transformation."Jami Morshed, Global Head of Education at Unit4
“Higher Education institutions are investing more in enterprise technology than they have in the last two decades, but there’s a long way to go,” said Jami Morshed, Global Head of Education at Unit4. “They need to make actionable sense of the raft of data and information they produce, embrace new technology innovations, and strive for efficiencies while delivering better student service. The fact that today, over one in five of those we surveyed have not modernized their student mobile experience, and have no automation in their core systems to support early-alerts for at-risk students is deeply concerning. To truly close the student-college digital divide, organizations need to embrace digital transformation, through integrated modern cloud applications that support a truly mobile strategy, delivering new services and value to students and faculty.”
To learn more about Unit4’s solutions for higher education, visit us at booth #409 at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, the largest higher education EdTech event in the U.S. EDUCAUSE is taking place in Philadelphia, PA, from October 31 – November 3.
 Responses were gathered from 150 higher education IT decision makers in the US, mostly CIOs, CTOs, VP/Directors of IT/Technology. The average number of students enrolled across represented institutions is around 6,000. One third record more than 10,000 students and almost 3% more than 70,000.