Working smarter on the student experience

Many universities and colleges have been experiencing declining enrollments, and that challenge is likely to get tougher with the looming demographic cliff, which will see a drop in college-age young people. For administrators, that’s a central concern. When asked what outcomes are critical to their future success, higher education C-level executives place attracting and retaining students at the top of the list, according to recent CBORD Insights research.¹ And one important key to achieving that outcome will be data-driven decision-making. 

Today’s technology not only makes life more convenient for students, but it can also give administrators the ability to use data to constantly improve the student experience. This stems from the growing implementation of the connected campus concept, in which linked technology helps eliminate silos across campus to deliver a better student experience. As the connected campus enables the centralized management of operations across departments and facilities, it also makes it possible to easily collect and use large amounts of data about those operations. 

“That data is extremely valuable,” says Scott Jerabek, director of product management at CBORD. For example, he explains, “Some campuses are now using their data to help with student success and wellness.”

With students using a single electronic ID to get access to buildings, sign up for classes, purchase food, and so forth, administrators can look at the data to get a sense of students’ activities and engagement and to identify signs that a given student might be struggling. “A student who doesn’t have a footprint in the system before noon every day, who is not going to events or using doors at academic buildings — that can be a red flag,” Jerabek says. “The university can reach out to them to make sure they’re OK.” Similarly, if a student needs to be reached in an emergency — or located for their own safety — the data can help find them quickly. 

The Dining Experience

Meanwhile, in dining operations — a cornerstone of the student experience — the integration of data from point-of-sale, menu management, and vendor systems can enable institutions to keep track of what students are buying and how those patterns are changing. They can then quickly identify and adapt to any shortages and make sure that the food that students want is available when and where they want it. 

Institutions can generate even deeper insights by applying analytics tools to their growing volumes of data. For example, analytics might reveal that one on-campus dining location is highly popular among students from residence halls across campus, even though that facility is farther away than many other dining options. With analytics, administrators can find out why that is the case by exploring what that facility has that the less popular facilities don’t have in terms of menu items, hours, and other factors. “You can figure out why students want to go to that eatery that’s all the way across campus — maybe it’s something as simple as the ice cream they offer or the type of seating they have,” says Jerabek. Administrators can then add those key features to other dining facilities, track the effect that it has on student behavior, and make fine-tuning adjustments based on that feedback.  

Analytics also makes it especially easy to develop insights from data. “The analytics tools let you draw heat maps that visually represent the data about where buildings are being accessed, the food and retail sales that are taking place — basically, what students are doing — and then find ways to smooth the experience across the campus,” says Jerabek. “The visualized data is more impactful and easier to digest and share with others, compared to looking through reports and numbers.”  

Finally, data-driven decision-making can help increase efficiency in operations and reduce the need for labor in operations. It reduces friction from both operations and students’ daily lives and helps institutions keep costs down while improving the student experience — both of which will be critical as competition for students continues to heat up. 

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¹ CBORD Insights Student Experience Survey, April 2023. N=179 C-suite/VP-level administrators in public and private universities with undergraduate and graduate programs. 

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