Partner Article: The Modernization of Higher Education: Navigating New Challenges in a Digital World

NOTE: As part of our sponsor agreements with Annual Conference sponsors, we occasionally post information provided by our sponsor-partners on their behalf. This is one such article. Thank you and enjoy!

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered the way that colleges and universities approached academics, campus life, and internal operations.

While some experts claimed that the global pandemic simply highlighted the common struggles that were already brewing beneath the surface in higher education, others have alluded to the ways in which modern education has begun to reinvent itself in order to meet today’s challenges and digital requirements.

With this shift in mind, how can colleges and universities adapt to meet the unique expectations, goals, and needs of incoming students in a digital-first world? This article explores answers to these questions and more.

Common challenges in the post-COVID era

Higher education has several figurative mountains to climb in the post-pandemic era. These challenges are present at both small and large institutions, including those with significant endowments and those that rely solely on state and federal funding. Common post-COVID struggles for many higher education institutions include:

  • Lower admissions and enrollment numbers
  • Potential budgetary shortfalls (before government or philanthropic funding kicks in)
  • Declining revenue sources due to limited or canceled in-person activities
  • Disjointed campus leadership mentalities
  • Lack of access to reliable data sources at the campus level
  • Ability to provide flexible, safe, and remote learning options

However, according to McKinsey and Company, colleges and universities should not lose heart at the first sign of these new challenges. While it is possible to come out on the other side of the pandemic more resilient than ever, two things must be present in order for higher education institutions to remain strong long-term in the post-COVID world — accountability and digital transformation.

Key facts and figures

Higher ed statistics showcase an opportunity for both change and action, even without the COVID pandemic. However, there’s no denying the hardship that many colleges and universities faced throughout the past academic year specifically.

What these statistics show us is that the demand for a reliable, reputable, and flexible education continues to be strong even if higher education isn’t quite the same as it used to be. Despite declining on-campus enrollment numbers, the benefits of modernizing higher education through a positive e-learning experience are rewarding and beneficial. This type of flexibility allows students to retain a greater amount of information by taking a more active role in their own educational experience, and it gives schools the opportunity to pursue new paths to success.

What is the modernization of higher education?

Over the course of the past 18 months, institutions of all sizes and specialties have been forced to create new policies and procedures (often without much notice). The modernization of higher education involves several common themes, many of which have emerged directly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the key characteristics of a modernized higher education institution:

  • Modern institutions are digitally focused. Schools must now embrace technological advancement and make digital investments in and out of the classroom in order to stay relevant.
  • Flexibility and remote learning are current trends that are likely here to stay. While in-person instruction is ideal, it is no longer exclusive or expected.
  • Modern institutions are those that adapt to quickly changing guidelines, federal regulations, safety requirements, and financial aid opportunities. Additionally, there may be mounting pressure to both accept and handle increased institutional liability.
  • For modern colleges and universities, longevity and endurance are possible when good data is readily accessible to all who need or depend on it. This means removing data silos and building a transparent, productive environment for students, staff, faculty, alumni, and families.

What’s next for colleges and universities?

Although proactive adaptation is crucial, it’s never too late for higher education institutions to pivot in their strategic planning. Campus leaders must pave the way toward a safer and better future. They can accomplish this by having a modern mindset when it comes to the following areas.

Recruitment and outreach

COVID-19 forever changed the way that schools recruit and attract new students. With the cancellation of many in-person events, recruitment has become one more avenue for digital transformation.

The modern college must be savvy in regards to media and marketing efforts that are specifically directed to the right target audience. Outreach efforts must be personable and highly flexible across digital channels where students are most active.

Safety protocols and campus decision-making

Leaders in higher education must prioritize safety and health protocols more than ever before. Most college communities are micro-economies in their own right, which makes safety and wellness top priorities. With close physical proximity and living quarters, it’s time for campus leaders to address potential safety issues before they affect the broader local community.

Creative digital resources

As e-learning becomes the standard for curriculum delivery, colleges and universities must find creative ways to stand out from the pack. Video class formats and online discussion boards are useful, but students may start to have higher expectations when it comes to their holistic online experience.

Curriculum design should be engaging, and communication should be as interactive as possible to yield results that are similar to an in-class experience.

Bridging the career gap

According to eCampusNews, “Tomorrow’s universities will not be rewarded financially unless they place their students into jobs.” A modernized college or university is one that understands the intrinsic value of finding meaningful work post-graduation. Costly tuition without any tangible occupation promises will lose its value in the long term.

Career counselors, academic advisors, and professional mentors should be readily available via online communication. They should also be equipped with digital tools that allow them to access student data so they can deliver timely advice and guidance for students seeking employment opportunities.

Personalization for students and learners

Student personalization includes hybrid options and customizable learning environments that help learners excel. In an age where school admissions may become increasingly competitive, having attendance options will improve a school’s appeal and have a positive impact on retention rates.

Transparency in light of changing regulations

School leaders should be open-minded and accessible. Transparent communication is also crucial since students, parents, and community members have a mounting desire to understand new policies. This is especially true in the current climate where the emphasis is placed on vaccination status, government guidance, and other regulatory requirements.

How better data collection can help

Higher ed staff can leverage enhanced data collection processes to improve campus life and to make better business decisions. By collecting data efficiently, colleges and universities can gain more visibility and insights into all school functions and deliver a modern experience for everyone. These improvements can lead to higher enrollment, improved retention, better user experiences, and resilience in the face of challenges.

Flexible data collection when it matters most

With a data collection platform like FormAssembly, higher education professionals can create secure, simple online forms for nearly any use. With powerful integrations to other apps and systems (like Salesforce), collected data doesn’t get stuck in data silos — a common problem among higher ed institutions.

In the case of the University of Florida, FormAssembly served as the ideal platform for collecting data from students and community members who were eligible for COVID relief funding. Staff from the university’s Enterprise Salesforce Team pioneered Aid-A-Gator, an intuitive relief platform that relied on FormAssembly to collect relevant information from students.

With Aid-A-Gator, the university collected and processed over 12,000 applications for student financial relief. These applications resulted in the distribution of $10 million in available funding during a time of crisis.

In addition to providing financial relief, the UFL team also used FormAssembly to process last-minute grading and registration changes that were necessary due to shifting COVID-19 policies. A new digital form placed behind a user-friendly single sign-on (SSO) completely replaced a tedious paper form process that could no longer be completed due to in-person restrictions on campus.

The University of Florida’s use case illustrates that secure, digital data collection can enable colleges and universities to offer beneficial, safe, and helpful options to students in need.

Modernize your higher ed processes today

All higher ed institutions must collect important data for a variety of crucial campus functions. With this in mind, a secure online form builder and data collection platform can serve as a way for colleges and universities to modernize processes. With endless use cases and state-of-the-art privacy and compliance, FormAssembly is the ideal choice for schools that want to modernize processes in the post-COVID era and beyond.

Learn more on the FormAssembly website, or by visiting their virtual booth during the HighEd Web 2021 Annual Conference on October 4-5, 2021.