Students’ experiences shape their view of your school. Whether the student has a negative experience with a faculty member, has to navigate a website that isn’t intuitive or is inconvenienced with a less than satisfactory trip to the campus store, these circumstances have the ability to influence their overall opinion about the school. A series of good encounters can demonstrate that your institution cares about his or her success, rather than sending him or her to that hard to reach, at-risk category.
A while back, I worked for a large academic department at a college. While I was there, we sent out an alumni survey. We collected a variety of responses that ranged from glowing memories of the wonderful experiences they had to those who felt the opposite. Through the course of combing through the data, patterns begin to emerge. There was one period of time, in particular, that the students who graduated were more likely to be unhappy. Many of the students who fell into this timeframe chose not to answer the questions, but to write long letters about their experience. There is undoubtedly a variety of factors that led to the disconnect, not the least of which was that the students felt like they had no ally at the school who cared about their success.
Situations like this are why colleges have to treat a student’s experience with care that is similar to the way stores care for customers, especially when enrollments are down and retention is vitally important. Below are three areas schools could focus their efforts to enhance the student experience.
- Faculty relationships
Having committed, happy faculty members can make a huge impact on the student experience. Faculty members have the most direct connection to the students. Most of us can look back on our time as a student and pinpoint one — or several, if we are lucky — teachers who opened our eyes to a world of knowledge. These relationships can leave a lasting impression. Ensuring faculty members are happy and feel valued by the school will translate into a better experience for the students they are teaching.
In an article the President of Woodbury University David Steele-Figuerdo wrote for the Huffington Post, he states,
“My institution, Woodbury University, recently completed a pre-enrollment survey of parents and students. These students had been admitted, but had not yet made the decision to enroll. I expected that among the top factors for students and parents in choosing a college would be a beautiful campus with top-notch facilities. In fact, the leading factors were subtler, and parents and students concurred in their conclusions. The availability and quality of the academic major ranked first — similar to the product in retail — followed by experienced and qualified professors (#2) and professors who mentor (#4), paralleling the importance of customer service in retail. In short, this survey indicated that a personalized educational experience, with close faculty-student connections in a welcoming and safe community, were the keys to success at our institution.”
- Easily accessible information
Students aren’t likely to come to you for help until they have exhausted the internet as a resource. Chances are they will not dig deep into your school’s website. They will most likely head for their go-to search engine and try to find the answers they are looking for. Make sure there are simple, up-to-date explanations for common questions easily available online and that SEO on those pages has been optimized.
- Immediate support
Like most people, students don’t want to wait for responses to problems they are experiencing. Streamlining channels of communication to offer 24/7 support will help ensure students have the help they need when they need it. Also, offering students a variety of ways to reach out to you, such as phone, email, live chat and social media, can improve their experience.