Every dollar saved in time and budget can be put back toward serving students.

by Dustin Ramsdell

Time is the enemy. You can’t save time, you can only spend it. These are refrains many of us appreciate, as with all the other turns of phrase about time. On top of this, higher education today is a demanding field for staff and faculty members, as well as a complex system to navigate for students.

While we all have the same number of hours per day, it is important to acknowledge the ability for people to spend their time efficiently is not the same. “Time poverty” is the concept seeking to capture this discrepancy by highlighting how low-income individuals with shift work jobs and familial obligations can’t efficiently accomplish as much. This is in comparison to those who can delegate tasks such as child care, transportation or household chores. The BBC and The New York Times both detailed this problem and the impacts of it on society.

Regarding higher education, students grapple with these issues as they seek to achieve better careers and break the perpetuating cycle of time poverty. Institutions must leverage digital tools helping everyone optimize their limited time. This will also better manage costs for all involved, in addition to accomplishing better outcomes for students.

Managing Student Support Costs

Maintaining high-quality student support resources remains a top priority for retaining today’s learners. Doing so requires a substantial time and budget commitment. Utilizing effective digital tools manages these costs by increasing efficiency. For example, if a student requests support from a particular office, a lack of efficiency here has detrimental consequences for the student. They either will make decisions in a vacuum without the right answer or don’t get the support they require in time before a deadline approaches. This happens a lot when course registration opens up or a student needs a tutor before a big assignment is due.

Ideally, students can answer most questions on their own, which limits the need for a massive infrastructure of staff to respond to all inquiries in a timely manner. It also limits the lag time in responding to these students and allows them to get things done on demand. 

There is also a huge efficiency benefit for the students’ ability to find documents in one centralized, searchable database. A rich library can be right at a student’s fingertips, augmenting all the other information available elsewhere. This eliminates the need for back and forth between staff and students every time they need a form that’s seemingly unavailable or inaccessible.

Robust digital tools should be responsive to student needs, so institutions can provide reliable and high-quality service in a timely manner without compromising their bottom line.

Simplification of the User Experience

The evolution of digital tools over the past several years has enabled more intuitive design to permeate many aspects of students’ lives. Having a simple, streamlined and easy-to-use interface helps students more efficiently navigate through all the information presented to them. On top of the modern user experience, personalization allows institutions to contour what a student sees so they don’t get bogged down in a cumbersome maze of resources. The personalization can be specific down to the student’s major, class year, residency status and anything else relevant. Each of these roles require very different information and streamlining the user experience to their needs helps simplify their complicated lives.

Today’s learners are more adept at using digital tools than ever before, but regardless of someone’s proficiency with learning new technologies, we must start by making them easy to use from the moment they begin until they graduate. We also can’t assume every student will be completely comfortable navigating every platform. Many adult learners may need all the support they can get, and we can make the transition easier by designing simple user experiences.

Achieving Potential of Existing Resources

Institutions now have a plethora of student support services available to intervene for learners who are struggling. Students often aren’t aware of all the resources available to them and, even if they are aware, may not have the ability to readily access them. It’s not enough to singularly mention all the resources your campus offers to students during orientation. Maximizing the potential of these resources is important and institutions need to consider the delivery to students.

Creating digital ecosystems which are personalized, streamlined and easily searched helps students get the help they require efficiently. It’s also essential to maintain a convenient mobile app offering a consistent experience to students wherever they are.

Every dollar recouped by staff, in terms of time and budget, can go towards better supporting students. Inversely, every hour a student doesn’t have to waste on inefficient, confusing systems equals more time they can focus on their studies as well as their other obligations. Utilizing digital tools to optimize time is critical for the success of today’s learners, who don’t have any time to waste. We owe it to them to create simplified, user-friendly platforms that work for their busy lives.