High Tuition Does Not Guarantee a Better Digital Experience for Students
Posted by Jeremy Branton
The new generation of students has high expectations of its colleges and universities. Quality teaching, job training, access to faculty and innovative research are just part of the equation. Students expect their on-campus experience to be user-friendly, especially with the school's administration. But a new global survey conducted by Unit 4 shows that, despite hefty tuition fees, schools fail to provide the expedient digital management experience students want.
While online learning is well-established at many schools, the digital management of students' financial records, registration, degree planning and counseling lags behind, even if out-of-pocket costs for tuition are increasingly expensive. High-fee schools don't always give students the tools they want: a single digital system to manage all aspects of student life, a single login and a mobile app to access university services. Students are increasingly aware that high-priced education does not automatically equate to ease of access online.
Nearly half of students surveyed expected their student life would be easier to manage, given the fees they pay. This was true for the majority of students in the United States and the United Kingdom and 65 percent of those surveyed in Singapore. In the country that fared best, 32 percent of German students experienced disappointment about student life management -- still a significant portion of the students surveyed. Singapore's dissatisfaction is particularly poignant, given a 2014 CNBC report finding that Singapore is, on average, the second most expensive university option for international students, just behind Australia.
Notably, 26 percent of students surveyed by Unit4 said their university program is hard to manage digitally compared to other aspects of their lives. This was as high as 31 percent in the United States but only as low as 20 percent in New Zealand. Taken together, this data shows that universities are out of step with the reality of student life on-campus, and students feel disaffected when their expensive education doesn't provide the minimum of convenience they expect.
Universities that rely on alumni support and positive student experiences to increase their appeal to quality learners should take steps to enhance their digital systems. Forty-one percent of students surveyed globally said they would be more likely to recommend their alma mater if it provided a better digital experience, with overwhelmingly high numbers supporting specific mechanisms to increase student convenience.
Students were particularly receptive to the suggestion of a single online location to access a full suite of university services. Eighty-six percent said it would be useful to have an app or web page to manage student life that they could reach from any digital device. Students responded positively to specific potential app or mobile web page services, including proof of qualifications and degree progress. In most markets, at least 80 percent supported this kind of innovation.
The cost of education has increasingly turned students into consumers, looking for a return on their investments. Name recognition, teaching, research and student life are all important criteria in the choice of one school over another. Given the pervasiveness of digital technology in their day-to-day lives, many students simply assume their pricey schools will keep pace. When they don't, students can experience the first disappointment of their university careers. Schools that want to compete in the education marketplace should work toward preventing this disappointment and meeting students' expectation of digital convenience.