Self-Service – the Battle to Serve Students

More and more students want to go online, get the information they want, take action and get on with their lives.

Increasingly, education providers are building robust websites and mobile apps that further facilitate self-service so that students can access information when they want, from wherever they are, and without ever having to interact with a human being. This has many benefits, including the reduction of cost-to-serve as human intervention is relatively expensive.

The challenge?  So often, the pure information is not enough to help a student clear the hurdles they are encountering in their personal and academic lives. Students are increasingly afraid to ask for help, or even reticent to admit they need it.

Furthermore, new CRM / SIS platforms give us a false sense of being in touch with our students because they provide predictive analytics that show us who our at-risk students are, and some institutions even proactively reach out to those students that are showing signs of risk.  Perhaps they’ve missed classes, or failed assignments – and those triggers send up a digital “white flag” indicating that they need intervention.

While more at risk students drop out as a percent of total population, schools still lose too many students that show no signs of weakness or stress, but disappear at term end, or fail to return after a summer break.

Innovations in data will begin to parse the pages that students visit, even if they take no action on that page, and marry them with the typical risk assessment algorithms to begin to paint a more complete picture of student risk – so that someone who is a straight-A student, but who visits a page about school withdrawal, even if they don’t fill out a form, for example, would receive outreach.

These new methods will also look for trigger activities that should be changed in student portals so that a student cannot find the information they need online and must contact the school for additional support – requiring the human intervention that could put them back on a successful course and/or connect them with the resources to help them overcome the challenges and/or perceptions that may prevent them from returning, even if they are having great success in school already.

Additional changes are being made in the methods of information delivery. For sensitive questions, some sites now require test delivery of critical information. The scenario, for example? Student wants to withdraw. They visit the website and find a page that explains the withdrawal process, but instead of delivering a link to the form, the page has a form the student must complete that will then text them a link to the withdrawal documents.  This process requires the student to provide contact information, and grant permission for text messages, which then opens the door for a human to interact with the student before the student can complete the withdrawal process.

The extra hoop seems counterintuitive to the “all access, all the time” philosophy of student self-service, but the extra step could make the difference between a student slipping away with high debt and no degree, or accessing needed resources that will enable them to complete their program and successfully transition to their post-college career.