Placing the student at the center

Technology has spurred a level of integration and customization unimaginable 20 years ago.
By: | Issue: November, 2016
November 7, 2016

How many databases does your campus administer in the broad area of student support?

American University utilizes more than 36 databases for different student-related administrative and learning management functions. Each data system was designed to serve the professional needs of discrete administrative units and is maintained and updated as needed. For the most part, these systems meet their intended purposes. Yet, there is little to no integration among these discrete data elements.

While serving the administrative functions of units well, how do these disparate systems assist in understanding the overall student experience? Do these systems facilitate effective support for a student who has complex issues and experiences multiple touchpoints throughout a given academic year? Is a system of disconnected records best suited for advising today’s residential student and the enormous diversity of experiences and backgrounds brought to campus?

Professionals advise students using the information that is available to them. This scenario risks, for example, an academic advisor recommending that a student drop a course or switch a major without information needed to assess the impact on the student’s financial aid award, emotional well-being, ability to participate in athletics, or financial sponsor’s reaction to changing the major.

In the current information structure, the range of campus interactions that students experience simply defies one’s ability to easily have a 360-degree view of an individual’s situation. Helping a student, especially one who is at-risk, may necessitate the will and ability of professionals to share information across units in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, when such information exchange does occur, the intervention often transpires too late, when the student is frustrated, has missed deadlines, or is at the point of dropping out or dismissal. A comprehensive view of a student influences the effective and timely guidance we seek to provide students. In short, we have done a good job at creating single purpose data sets that lack serious coordination and integration. Now, we have entered an era where technology has spurred a level of integration and customization that would have been unimaginable twenty years ago. Hand-held digital marvels have enabled easy access to goods and services.

Traditional-age students have grown up in a world where technology is ubiquitous and information is available at a moment’s notice—and from a single device. Bureaucratic systems and services in multiple sectors have adjusted or faltered in this new world of responsive information. The health care system, which is arguably as or even more complex than higher education, has begun to adjust to this new world. Higher education, however, lags far behind. For higher education to effectively meet the needs of the current generation, successfully address the challenges inherent in its complex structure, and maximize student success, breaking down data silos and fragmented services in an effort to provide a more holistic educational experience is incumbent.

Indeed, we need to reinvent the experience so that the student, rather than the administrative function, is at the center of the academic, information, and service core. With the student placed at the center, the support and accessible information shifts accordingly, making it possible to provide a more responsive and holistic educational experience. Systems that focus on management of the overall learning relationship offer potential technologies to realize this ambitious goal. In addition to this technology, our organizational culture, process, and structure must adopt this shift in mindset. Now is the time to undertake this major student-centered transformation.

Scott A. Bass is the provost of American University