Thoughts on the State of Technology in Higher Ed: Guest Feature from Spectrum’s Chief Product Officer

The Oculus Rift VR Headset: Just one piece of disruptive technology that could enhance your admissions arsenal in the next decade

The Oculus Rift VR Headset: Just one piece of disruptive technology that could enhance your admissions arsenal in the next decade

At Spectrum, our expertise spans many different aspects of the higher education industry, and today we want to take some time to share a some thoughts from a more technical perspective with our readers. Moreso than simple adoption, the ability to leverage new tech trends towards an enhanced student experience that creates more appealing, more interactive pathways for students to engage is the principal competitive advantage for any institution seeking to retain a current standing in a shared target market. Every year, we see more and more adoption of new technologies that are changing the landscape of everything from the application process to alumni relations. For an industry classically maligned for a sluggish (or even luddist) attitude towards the incorporation of new technologies, this is a welcome change.

In this feature, I will share a few observations about the current state of tech in higher ed and some thoughts on what forward-thinking admissions offices should consider in developing a competitive tech advantage in years to come.

Although IT in the higher education sector tends to be an unavoidably secondary consideration, it is vital that each institution facing the presence of public scrutiny should seek a sleek and modern feel, particularly when that ‘public’ consists of college-bound high school students who are natives to current technology. It can be extremely difficult for institutions to grab the attention of the viewer and stand out among the crowd due to a vast array of student interests combined with the differing approaches to education all over the country. Here are a few thoughts that may aid your school’s admissions department in its efforts to remain current:

1. Stay flexible:

Technology changes so quickly that a plan that does not account for this rapidity can (perhaps unfairly) render your school’s outbound presence conspicuously out of date. A very simple example that we have touched upon previously on this blog is failing to keep your website compatible with mobile devices using responsive design principles. Consistent updates are crucial to the success of your school, so each public facing website and social media account must be kept up to date to avoid reflecting poorly on your institution. We believe the industry leaders today are those that have successfully tapped into the mobile market. Although postcards, mailings, and viewbooks are still integral to each school, all interactive elements should be fully functional on mobile devices for the full enrollment experience.
Thoughts for the future: Technological development is in the realm of Moore’s Law—by definition, it will continue at a gallop. Spectrum suggests taking a ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ approach to your technology adoption—the bridge is painted continuously, rather than in as-needed, man-power draining  bursts. Always have an eye on what you can be updating, and in that way, you will always have a current presence on at least on front of your marketing. This is much easier to maintain than full-scale rebranding and reprogramming every few years. To that end, we invite you to visit Spectrum’s newly re-envisioned website at www.spectrumedusolutions.com.

2. Get ready for more social, but in a different way:

Every year we see new ways people prefer to communicate: whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Whatsapp. This past year was Snapchat, but what will be next years new up and coming app? This forces schools to change how they communicate to not only potential future students, but current students and alumni.
Thoughts for the future: While the medium may switch, the core idea remains: students want a direct connection with a fun face that presents an opportunity to understand your school as more than a monolith. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Soundcloud – the list goes on, and will go on, but the concept shared between these channels is ‘be where they are, how they are’. Social media is an almost exclusively student-and-not-parent channel to communicate, so while your print may provide a more informative, classical presentation of your school, look at new social media channels as new opportunities to show off your school’s unique humanity and use your community to create an inviting, inclusive marketing front for your brand.

3.  Security:

This has always been, and always will be something to consider—chiefly, the transition from paper to digital forms means students are transferring more and more sensitive information to your school in a channel more frequently thought to be the domain of ‘evil hackers’ who are just waiting to intercept social security numbers and the like. While the threat of information theft is real, your school can take measures not only to tighten your security during transfer and in database, but advertise to your prospects that you’ve taken measures to take their security seriously. Many forms are still almost exclusively provided in print – housing forms, medical records, transcript agreements – but switching to digital may make the lives of your staff and your prospects easier. Just ensure that everyone involved understands how sensitive data is being protected.
Thoughts for the future: While we know not to judge a book by its cover, the sense of security a student feels when volunteering sensitive information to you digitally can be greatly enhanced by how your front end looks. Inquiry forms and applications are, let’s be honest,  frequently amongst the ugliest aspects of a school’s digital presence, simply because they are approached from a purely utilitarian angle. Having a modern look promotes the idea that you have taken modern security measures as well. In other words, if you’re asking for students to trust that you protect information security with comprehensive, modern measures, you need to show them, not just tell them.

4. Keep it simple:

Complexity can cause all sorts of trouble. Students are looking for an attractive yet sleek design. Spectrum Client Faulkner University recently underwent a gorgeous renovation of their website, featuring one of the clearest, most easily navigable front pages we’ve seen from any school. While the depth and expanse of information you can provide should be accessible through appropriate navigation, anticipating what students and parents want on first contact and providing that clearly is the most reliable way to lead them further into your marketing plan
Thoughts for the future: Less is more. More is more. Both concepts have merit, but one thing is clear—less confusion is more beneficial in student retention. If you are venturing into a website overhaul, we advise looking beyond competitor websites, which may reflect antiquated practices, and exploring the ways other, more tech-oriented business approach their front end. If you can successfully lead a prospect through your site through ease of use, you can more effectively promote aspects of your school and your marketing campaigns without losing them in a maze of subpages.

What comes next?

Google Glass, wearable electronics, and all sorts of other technologies will emerge in the next decade, and that’s an incredibly exciting prospect! Wearables and VR peripherals like the Oculus Rift will create the biggest splash in regards to campus visits, although there is a clear utility for them in alumni connections, admissions interviews and student-to-student dialog. And, while many currently available technologies are underutilized (we’re still waiting to see a QR code campus scavenger hunt and geo-tagged campus tours), the increasing prevalence (and student adoption) of technologies will create opportunities for niche usage. You don’t necessarily need a full suite that comprehensively involves every single new piece of technology that hits the market, but creating a very successful deployment for even one channel or peripheral (like the University of Houston’s lauded Snapchat campaign) can help your school truly stand apart.

When looking towards the next few years, we believe the biggest trends that will arise are all about mobile, social communications, and how to still keep these new tools private and secure. But, the bottom line is that you should always ensure your schools technologic capabilities are modern, sophisticated, and up to date. The results will yield success for both your school as well as each prospective student.

We want to hear from you! Share with us how your admissions department is staying up to date and utilizing the latest mobile technologies.