Medicine Hat College: “We’re excited about the improvements we’ll be able to make and the new services we can offer in the future.”

Posted by  Unit4 Communications

The future of education lies in powering new levels of student engagement. Alberta-based Medicine Hat College IT director discusses the importance of new technology to improve communication and engagement between staff and students.

Medicine Hat College is a public, board-governed college located in southeast Alberta, Canada that is committed to providing students with an immersive and collaborative learning environment. Serving over 8,000 learners each year, the college also partners with other universities and programs in the area to offer students diverse educational opportunities that prepare them for a variety of future careers. Having just completed an RFP process, the college knew for some time that it needed to find a future-proof digital service platform. Among their top priorities for such a system was one that was architected around the student life cycle and journey through the college, as opposed to one designed around the traditional administrative model of a college.

What prompted your search for modern, cloud-based student system. Why now?

It has been a multiyear process for us but one of the key things that has been consistent throughout is a recognition that we want to engage with students better. Fortunately, our board had the foresight seven years ago to put some money aside for this type of project. Of course, at the time, they didn’t know what systems we’d want and how the project would manifest itself, but we certainly had a forward-looking board that got the process rolling years ago and that has helped us immensely in achieving buy in across campus. We knew the time to move forward with this process had come because our inability to access all the data we needed to make confident decisions had become an inhibitor.

We want to be able to give our student a fully immersive online service that they can access from mobile devices every day to find out, for example, about their progress at the college as well as information about tuition payments. Students need to be able to access the information they need when they need it to boost their learning experience so we can support them and help them be successful during their time with us. We want to do better at providing them with real-time information about their programs and where they're heading.

We’re also investing in growth, and we need modern systems and services if we’re going to attract more students and better serve our community. We can use our resources more effectively to help us gain efficiencies and focus more on the student experience. A new cloud platform with all systems unified will ensure improved data access and data integrity so we can understand our business better. We believe we can serve people with more respect in terms of their time and the way that we manage that information.

Can you give me a couple examples of what level of data access the new systems will give you?

Right now, the systems that we use do not connect to our student records. We’ve done a good job of creating a bridge between the student system in our donor system and aspects of the financial system, but none of those systems were designed to interconnect. On our old systems, it’s difficult to perform detailed and accurate analytics. To support students effectively we need access to the right data. Unit4’s education suite gives us the data connections we need in a modern cloud platform. We’re hopeful that it will be easy for our small IT team to manage but provides a powerful modern database and a single record of truth for all campus-related data and initiatives.

What is the primary differentiator of Unit4 Student Management compared with your existing student system and others which you evaluated?

Unit4 approaches its software design from the student’s perspective, focusing more on the student life cycle and the student’s journey from initial interest in the school to graduation, and afterward. Some of the other systems we looked at were based on the traditional kind of administrative model of a college and didn’t focus on student needs first. With the kind of development perspective that Unit4 has brought to the product, it will help us to meet the needs of students first, rather than mapping the student experience to the administrative structure of the college.

What benefits do you expect?

We are confident we’ll be able to deliver an improved experience for our students, many of whom are non-traditional learners. It provides the ability to improve the way we interact and engage with them and our partners. We are a very diverse institution and do a lot of different things for a lot of different communities.

Describe your experience working with Unit4

We found them [Unit4] very flexible and accommodating. One of the things that I found in working with Unit4 is that even in the few days that they were here demoing, they got to know some of our people so that they could provide information and answer questions directly related to their role.  The team really showed they understood our needs as a smaller college and were able to suggest solutions to the challenges we face as a small public college. We’re confident in them and Unit4.

What could another institution learn from your experience?

I think the most important thing is getting the whole team engaged because the new system will touch all operations. We think about the project as an institutional transformation, a change management project, as opposed to an IT project. It is important institutions recognize this and manage it this way. We’re driving change in people and the way people think and work and cooperate. It’s significant and it’s been a learning experience, too.

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