Tal Frankfurt is the Founder and CEO of Cloud for Good, a Salesforce partner that creates transformational value with technology.
The higher education sector finds itself at a historic crossroads. At this intersection appears two varying paths: one headed in the same direction that led to this crossroads, and the other branching off in an entirely new direction.
Institutions nationwide are grappling with a rocky start to fall semester as a result of Covid-19’s overstayed welcome. Those fairing best are the institutions adaptable to change and ready to make mindful pivots in their technology strategy. A coronavirus vaccine likely won’t be ready any time soon, and an incoming recession will likely lead to more people headed back to school.
While higher education can sometimes be slow to evolve, the pandemic has precipitated change for institutions on a widescale. Here are five ways in which higher education can adjust to the changes and thrive — not just survive — in the post-pandemic world.
1. Go all-in on online learning
Reports of higher education’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Online undergraduate and graduate degrees represent the greatest silver lining for the higher education sector’s immediate and future success. Many institutions have been pushed into online learning as a result of the pandemic. While the circumstances are unfortunate, that push can be exactly what these institutions need to shed outdated beliefs of online learning’s inferiority and more openly embrace the advantages of online accessibility and opportunity.
On the other hand, the move to remote learning could increase the risk of student (and faculty) attrition. The move to “online” should include a thoughtful and intentional approach to engaging with students using technology. Many institutions that are not accustomed to engaging with their students and faculty in the online environment might have to reckon with the issues that present themselves, while institutions more equipped to retain virtually will be set up for future success.
2. Cut the red tape surrounding procurement
Procurement departments within the higher education space are vital to the short- and long-term success of their associated institutions. The ability for these departments to direct, plan and coordinate the strategic use of institution resources ensures students, teachers and faculty are provided with the tools, technology and facilities needed to excel.
Unfortunately, so often we see these departments getting tangled in red tape, slowing their ability to effectively manage buying decisions and create transformational value in the process. The pandemic has shown us that higher education institutions can move fast when pushed to and make quick decisions when alternatives are few or undesirable. It’s also shown us the risks involved with not moving quickly enough. Making forward-thinking technology decisions will help institutions meet the moment, as well as move past it.
3. Reduce friction associated with the giving experience
The latest edition of the Higher Education Online Fundraising Scorecard reports that the higher education online giving experience features significantly more friction (factors that slow or discourage giving) than other nonprofit online giving experiences. This friction is generated from a number of online giving missteps, including too many form fields on online giving pages, making them feel cluttered and confusing.
Many people are still working, educating and living most of their lives at home, so a connected and intuitive online experience is essential to the well-being of an institution’s fundraising and donor engagement. Ensure online giving pages are optimized for mobile devices and tablets, streamline the process so that only the most pertinent information is required to give and don’t overcomplicate what should be a quick and easy process. Efforts must be merged so that the right message can be sent at the right time to the right person by the right department.
4. Centralize and consolidate communications
Whether related to alumni engagement, fundraising solicitation or the online student’s connection with their institution, a centralized communication network provides higher education institutions a foundation in which to grow and prosper. During a time where instant communication and notification could potentially save lives, there is little room for error and absolutely zero room for a fragmented communication strategy lacking omnichannel unification. Students cannot excel when engagements with their institutions are splintered. As we navigate the current circumstances and head toward a post-pandemic landscape, it’s critical that communications are unified and streamlined.
5. Incorporate AI into your technology strategy
Now is the time for procurement, fundraising and engagement departments to become more proactive and rely on data-driven analytics and technology to push past the pandemic. With more and more institutions making greater commitments to online and remote technologies, a unique opportunity presents itself to reallocate resources away from more traditional tenants of the physical campus experience and toward the virtual learning environment.
AI tools can help institutions drive enrollment, assist students in their course selections and aid teachers with their online instructing. More specifically, chatbots can gain insight into student concerns and questions, allowing an institution to better understand, and then address, the needs of its student body. They do so using predictive analytics, which can also help to recommend the next donation from alumni, or establish best practices to convert a one-time donor into a sustainer and utilize AI to better identify probability for course dropouts and summer melts.
With public health and safety prioritized like never before, new and returning students and their families, as well as staff/faculty and their families, will be expecting added flexibility and accommodation. Those accommodations can be addressed with the right amount of proactiveness and prioritization through assistive AI technologies.
The end of 2020 just might represent the start of the next great leap for higher education — one in which technology is prioritized to provide greater online accessibility, greater student safety and greater financial stability for the institution. These technologies are here to assure and protect us, as well as to assist in our educational pursuits and our financial well-being. Technology can help higher education remain relevant when it is needed most. It’s up to the decision-makers heading these institutions to understand the moment we find ourselves in and act with the conviction this moment demands.
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