Pathify Customer Story

The Beauty of a Centralized Digital Experience

Concordia University Irvine logo

About CUI
Concordia University Irvine prepares students for their vocations—their various callings in life. CUI offers undergraduate, graduate, and online bachelor’s degrees in a beautiful Southern California location, with online and regional cohort options. Concordia’s undergraduate program is distinctive among universities in California because of its nationally recognized Enduring Questions & Ideas (Q&I) Core program, and its Lutheran heritage that provides a thoughtful and caring Christian community that lives out the theology of “Grace Alone. Faith Alone.”

Looking for a better student portal

All the information you need in one centralized place. That’s the dream of any technology user who’s tired of bouncing between websites and apps while trying to remember their passwords. That’s also the dream that Concordia University Irvine (CUI) had when re-assessing its approach to sharing information through a mobile app or student portal. Why update those systems separately? Why not combine them into one unified experience questioned Deborah Lee, Sr. Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at CUI.

“Last academic year, student affairs started talking about the possibility of a mobile application to enhance the student experience, but why stop there? Instead of just an app, instead of just traditional undergraduates, why not all students, faculty and staff,” Lee commented. “How can we integrate our current systems and create one access point that elevates information that matters, making it simpler for users to discover and engage with the opportunities our campus provides today?”

The desire for a unified experience became more pressing as Lee and her team explored how other institutions tackled the digital ecosystem. They realized they needed an approach more in line with consumer preferences.

“A few of our peer institutions with mobile applications didn’t have just one but multiple apps for students to download. Each one did something different. That didn’t seem efficient. We all agreed that we wanted to avoid that at all costs,” she explained. “I don’t think anybody wants a folder dedicated to CUI apps on their phone. I wouldn’t.”

“We’re not asking them to go through a million different websites anymore. It’s all unified,” added Jessica James, Assistant Director of Orientation and Student Activities at CUI.

A few of our peer institutions with mobile applications didn’t have just one but multiple apps for students to download. That didn’t seem efficient. I don’t think anybody wants a folder dedicated to CUI apps on their phone. I wouldn’t.”

Deborah Lee - Concordia University Irvine

Deborah Lee

Sr. Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness

Everything Users Need in One Place

CUI began researching solutions that fit their new vision and settled on Pathify — a comprehensive student engagement hub that combines a student portal, digital community, optimized communications, and personalized experiences. CUI was drawn to Pathify because it spans both academics and students’ social lives. Their new MyCUI app (powered by Pathify) became a digital representation of their entire institutional experience and a way to stay engaged.

“One of my favorite parts about our app is that it combines all of our academic resources with our student involvement and engagement activities. So from the palm of their hand students can access all of these features,” James said. “They can find a club, event, or activity by simply searching for some keywords or phrases of things that are interesting to them. They can pay their student bill, they can review their academic profile and grad plan. They can check in for events. They can check their Eagle’s email, which is a great feature so we can be sure our students are reading their emails. There’s no excuse anymore. They can access our learning management system and receive push notifications to their phone — all through this one portal.”

Instead of just moving existing features to Pathify, CUI also focused on innovative use cases that students would find particularly useful. This led to the creation of a digital ID within the engagement hub that mimics a student’s physical ID. Adding platform-exclusive features drives higher engagement.

“The digital ID is our most used feature of the app. About 90% of our usage is mobile, and that is probably because we have a digital ID,” James said. “It solves a lot of problems, like students forgetting their ID card when they’re going to the cafeteria. Now they don’t have to run back to their room because they typically don’t forget their phone. With the digital ID, students can easily scan in on the app at our campus coffee shop and cafeteria. This is a great feature that I use almost every day and it gets students to open the app too.”

Beyond helpful tools, CUI took extra steps to include important information students might need. Now, instead of hopping between systems and websites, users can do a simple search within the Pathify hub that returns results customized to their personal user persona.

“With the feedback from multiple departments around campus, we preloaded the portal with frequently asked questions. The goal was to reduce the traffic that departments’ received,” James said. “They can just type in the search bar and get their question answered.”

CUI found an additional unexpected benefit to streamlining their digital experience — the ability to evaluate new software without confusing students. Since students go to MyCUI for everything they need, they don’t notice the underlying systems. This allowed CUI to pilot two learning management systems without causing student confusion.

“We are currently evaluating two learning management systems (LMS), Blackboard and Canvas. There are some students who have courses in more than one LMS. If a student is piloting an LMS system, he or she will have access to that link while others do not. The ability to put everything behind single-sign-on has allowed students to pass through systems with ease,” Lee said.

A major goal of creating a centralized experience for the CUI community included offering students and faculty a similar user experience while surfacing information that matters to them. Both cohorts use the MyCUI app, but see different information based on their unique user roles. 

“Similar to students, employees have access to their emails and find events on campus,” James said of the faculty experience. “Faculty members can view their schedule. They can download an up-to-date class roster so they can see if anybody has dropped the class. They can also email their rosters directly in case class has been canceled or has moved online.”

Lee experienced first-hand the effectiveness of the app and its ability to surface timely information that might otherwise be missed.

“I was leaving the office one day and I saw that Bella Amore, one of our living learning communities, was giving out succulents. I was passing by that building anyways on the way home, so I grabbed some for my son. If it wasn’t on the app, I would not have known,” she said.

The digital ID is our most used feature of the app. About 90% of our usage is mobile, and that is probably because we have a digital ID. It solves a lot of problems, like students forgetting their ID card when they’re going to the cafeteria. Now they don’t have to run back to their room because they typically don’t forget their phone. With the digital ID, students can easily scan in on the app at our campus coffee shop and cafeteria. This is a great feature that I use almost every day and it gets students to open the app too.

Jessica James

Assistant Director of Orientation and Student Activities

If You Build It, Will They Come?

While the simplicity and ease of having everything in one place should entice users, “change is still difficult,” Lee said. There are a few things institutions can do to drive adoption, from making it easy to use the app to over-communicating about its existence and benefits.

Beyond that, making the experience fun keeps users coming back for more than just the basics. This includes app-exclusive content, contests, and giveaways.

“You can drive engagement with giveaways, free food — college students love free things, getting gift cards,” James explained of CUI’s app-exclusive content. “We have our weekly newsletter, the Eagle Insider, which kind of summarizes everything that’s happening on campus that week. We have an athletics widget, which has been really helpful for our campus spirit initiative where students can get points for attending any of our sporting events. With the athletics widget they can see that calendar. Now faculty and staff have access to this information as well.”

To spread the word about the new MyCUI, the school trained its student leaders to talk about the app, introduced it as a key tool during new student orientation, and hosted tables at on-campus events where students could download the app and ask questions. They also made videos promoting MyCUI and how-to tutorials in addition to continuously talking about the platform so it stays top-of-mind.

“Mention it at every single event, include a link or QR code on posters or in emails,” Lee recommended. “Print QR code stickers that students can put on their water bottles.”

Making Feedback a Two-Way Conversation

Another key to driving adoption and engagement is ensuring the platform matches real user needs. Centralizing existing resources and even introducing engaging app-exclusive content helps, but not as much as including features end users request.

“It’s really important to allow end users to provide feedback,” Lee noted. 

Soliciting user feedback creates user buy-in and makes them feel responsible for the platform. Feedback shouldn’t be a black box though. Letting users know you heard them and value their input is critical. CUI found a way to accomplish this all within Pathify.

“We have a page in the hub called MyCUI Update that features known issues that others have brought up previously. This helps eliminate duplicate helpdesk tickets. People are actually checking this page to make sure it’s not user error,” Lee said. “It describes what the issue is, where it’s located on the platform, and what the current status is. It also includes a list of resolved issues and when that issue was resolved. This is where we show users we have heard them.”

CUI also shares a list of planned features with estimated release dates, keeping users coming back as the app continuously improves.

The Digital Experience IS the School Experience

The digital world is the real world for many of today’s students. Offering an immersive digital experience that reflects your institutional culture aligns with the way students engage with the world. Schools put a lot of time and effort into providing critical resources for students and staff, but as the world shifts, getting users to engage with those resources is increasingly difficult. Creating a streamlined user experience with Pathify solves this problem. It’s a new and exciting path forward for higher ed institutions, but one that students, faculty, and staff are hungry for.

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