As Founding Director of the Campus Computing Project Casey Green noted during the inaugural episode of the Jenzabar Podcast: Issues that loomed large for many institutions before the pandemic began—enrollment, student engagement, digital access, and IT infrastructure—now loom even larger. As colleges and universities enter 2022, they must assess upcoming challenges and what strategies might be employed to address or circumvent these issues.
Institutions may have struggled during the spring semester of 2021, but they are moving into the new year with clearer strategies and better tools. Addressing every single issue that might arise in 2022, however, is an exhausting proposition. What should institutions be most concerned about, and how might they respond to these concerns?
Even before the pandemic began, institutions were exploring how to leverage student data and use analytics to help make critical campus decisions faster and more intelligently. Yet, as noted by Meghan Turjanica, Jenzabar’s Senior Manager for Analytics and Student Success, “In the pandemic’s wake, analytics has become an even bigger part of the conversation surrounding digital transformation.” Issues that threatened institutional viability before the pandemic—engagement and enrollment—have become even more pressing, and institutions are turning to their data to find solutions.
But negotiating years of accumulated information can be difficult. Green recounts that in his conversations with campus leaders, their main concern with data was how to make sense of it. Part of the problem, Green says is that, “it’s not data from one source. It’s the data gumbo. You’ve got lots of different data from lots of data sources that reflect different parts of the data elephant. How do we bring this together?”
Turjanica says that uniting data in the cloud makes a huge difference and is an important first step to making good decisions with that information. But institutions also need some level of data competency. “The first step is to get it into one place and format it for analysis,” Turjanica explains. “But you need help to transform that data into something usable.” Institutions that don’t have in-house data analysts can hire outside consultants to analyze information and advise on courses of action.
Student engagement is another challenge that was present before the pandemic and has grown in the past two years. Data shows us that the more engaged a student is, the more successful they will be. In the beginning of the pandemic, however, concerns surrounding course delivery took precedence. Platforms like Zoom and Webex helped campuses stay operational, but they didn’t give professors the tools to assess student engagement, nor did these platforms aid in developing best practices around how to foster engagement online.
Institutions are eager to address issues of student engagement and are searching for virtual classrooms with more functionality. They are also trying to find new ways to better engage students by empowering them to help themselves. “We see this reflected in the steep rate of chatbot adoption,” says Turjanica. Chatbots that have 24/7 functionality allow students to get their questions answered whenever they decide to ask. The tools also provide students with self-service options, which can go a long way toward engaging them in their educational future.
“If students want to pay a bill, for instance,” said Turjanica. “The chatbot can tell them what they owe and give them the necessary instructions.”
According to Jenzabar’s Vice President of Marketing, Carina Ganias, many institutions are realizing that they need to embrace change. “There is hope, there is optimism,” said Ganias. “Institutions are taking the lead and moving toward digital transformation—not just a digital upgrade. They’re aligning a new vision that meets students’ needs with a holistic tech vision.”
Jenzabar’s Director of Product Management, Jeff Elliott, knows that this change can be difficult. According to Elliott, there have been two main triage moments since the pandemic’s onset. The first emergency schools faced was over how to get students off campus and classes online. But the second triage moment surrounded the desire to return to some sense of normal. “How long can the digital transformation be delayed?” Elliott asks.
Elliott sees the second triage moment as happening in IT departments. “They’re going to have to ask ‘Where are we actually broken?’” IT departments are going to have to decide exactly what technology their institutions need, and which company can best provide those necessary tools and services.
Issues of data-driven decision making, student engagement, and embracing change are issues driven by technology and are therefore those that can best be addressed by working with the right technology partner. But the right partner isn’t only the partner with the right solutions, it’s the partner with the best communication.
Communication between an institution and a technology partner is necessary to solving problems as they arise and even preventing their occurrence in the first place. A provider with a long history of innovation and market expertise can help your institution make the most of your technology investment and achieve your 2022 goals.