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The learners are in the driver’s seat… Are colleges and universities ready?

Posted by  Jami Morshed

There was a time when colleges and universities called the shots and students molded themselves to the ways schools worked. But all that is changing. Schools are adapting. They have to – the competition for the best and brightest students is too fierce. The need for successful outcomes is too important. Today’s university must be student-centric and learner-led in order to attract the right students, support them throughout a successful education, and guide them to their eventual employment and fulfilled participation in society. Microsoft and Unit4 have teamed up to enable universities to meet those demands today.

Microsoft has laid out a vision of the future of higher education, a world where colleges and universities are no longer the hub of the educational experience. In this world, the student is at the center and the traditional university is just one spoke on a wheel that spins throughout a career filled with advanced learning, certifications, and competencies. Students take charge to effectively participate in the rapidly changing job landscape. Higher education must adapt to remain relevant and impactful. They need to put the student at the center of everything.

Today the student experience can be very confusing. Interactions are complex and tedious. Student information is hidden inside a maze of systems that are difficult or impossible to access. A new approach to student management is needed, one that can turn frustration into simple, understandable, and productive solutions. A study by Unit4 found that 73% of students recommend their university change its digital strategy*. Universities need to transform the way they interact.

But how can you possibly make each student the center of every interaction? Especially when addressing hundreds or thousands of students every semester? Making each a positive experience can be overwhelming. The right kind of interaction attends each and every student’s needs with understanding, caring, simplicity and success.

Smart student information systems exist today that can help. Systems like Unit4 Student Management do everything a campus needs to be effective and efficient – recruiting & admissions, curriculum management, student records, academic advising, financial aid, and student billing.  But they do them better. Simpler. Well, smarter.

Take Admissions - the first interaction to impress or depress a prospective student. As the competition for students increases, your school better be the best. The process can be frustrating. The university can appear cold, demanding, confusing. The student jumps through endless hoops. Or not.

What if admissions to your university is a real “wow” experience? One that is easy and intuitive to navigate? One that offers personal, intuitive guidance? One that interacts with digital natives on their terms, in a way they’re accustomed to as consumers of the latest technology? One that shows that your school “gets” this generation?

Enter Wanda, Unit4’s higher education ChatBot. Wanda is a simple interface that interacts with students on any device through natural language text, using their favorite apps such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Slack.com. She is their 24x7 personal digital liaison with the university. Her attention, patience, vast knowledge, and intuitive solutions are the epitome of student-centricity. She also gets smarter over time through machine learning and can process more information than any human could dream of.

Imagine a prospective student has inquired about admission to your university, a wonderful student, a perfect match for your school. Wanda can interact to answer questions about programs and send information, while she collects data about the student for your systems. She can proactively follow up with prospects, guide them through the admissions process, identify missing documents and help submit them, and provide any other support to give a real wow experience.

Wanda comes to the student’s turf and solves the admissions maze on the student’s terms. She stays engaged, removes roadblocks, and streamlines processes. She provides an applicant-school connection that transcends the limitations of your staff and takes full advantage of the sophistication of Unit4 Student Management.

This ChatBot represents you – she is the face of your school in a highly competitive market. She gives applicants the first and best impression possible. She is effective, clear and accommodating - totally student-centric, symbolizing your school’s competence and ability to be truly student-centric. 

Not only is Wanda the competitive edge in applicant relations, she paves the entire way through the student lifecycle, through course registration, payments and Financial Aid, and every other step to graduation and beyond. She makes that journey simple, understandable and smart.

Wanda is just one example of what happens when great technology comes together. Unit4 and Microsoft are bringing innovation to the higher education market.  Unit4 Student Management-- a mobile-first, next generation student information system (SIS) that automates the entire student lifecycle-- is built on the Microsoft Azure platform. Student Management inherits a robust cloud infrastructure and technologies such as machine learning and complex event processing. Wanda is powered by Microsoft’s Bot Framework and Cognitive Services. So you, the institution, stand out by harnessing the industry’s only “self-driving” student system. It’s a competitive edge in a competitive market. 

Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft says, “Unit4 brings real expertise to student engagement and continues to deliver rapid innovation to the sector on our platform. Our global economy is reliant on access to new, skilled labor and higher education continues to play a key role in economic development. Institutions that serve their students well and embrace technology can increase employability around the world.”

Meet Wanda and the entire Unit4 higher education portfolio at Educause, October 26-27, in booth 1311. You are also invited to visit the EDUCAUSE Breakout Session “Your Students' Digital Experience: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in which I participate with Robert Curtin (Director Higher Education, Microsoft), Scott Krajewski (Director of IT and CIO, Augsburg College), Jay Sample (EVP Operations/CIO, Claremont Lincoln University) and Jeffrey Alderson (Principal Analyst, National Research Center for College & University Admissions) on Thursday, October 27, from 9:10am - 10:00am, in Meeting Room 210D, Level Two.

Jami Morshed

Jami is vice president of global higher education at Unit4. My mission is to help colleges and universities improve student success and institutional effectiveness. I’m responsible for everything we do at the Unit4 Global Center of Excellence to help institutions prepare for the future through scalable and comprehensive software solutions that streamline and modernize core business processes while eliminating the burden of managing ever-changing technology.

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