Self-Service Solutions for Tomorrow’s Students

Joe Salowitz
C2 Team Member Alumni

Recently, at the High Ed Web 2014 Conference, I gave a talk about how to create better self-service solutions for new students. I got a lot of great feedback from folks about the talk and decided to post a summary of it here. You can access the slide deck here, and read the summary of what I discussed below.

Joe Salowitz speaking at High Ed Web 2014 Conference

Tomorrow’s new students expect 24/7 self-service. They get it every day on the apps and websites they use. When was the last time you wondered the answer to something for more than 5 minutes? With Google and a smartphone, you don’t have to not know the answer for something… ever. See, students expect to be able to capture information at any time without having to make a phone call or write an email. Higher Ed websites that don’t have self-service functionality built-in will struggle to maintain student loyalty.

What is a self-service solution?

So how do we know what a self-service solution should look like? You may be familiar with classic website self-service functionality like a “knowledge base” or a “chat” feature. True, those features are definitely valuable self-service attributes for Higher Ed websites – but I believe we need to go further than just throwing something on the website and hoping it meets our audience. I think we need to serve up self-service solutions that are meaningful to our public website’s primary audience, prospective students. (Yes, I just made a claim that your public website’s primary audience is prospective students. This claim isn’t unfounded. 100% of Higher Ed websites we’ve built have shown that prospective students are the primary audience on their public websites, with parents, donors, and local community being secondary audiences of the public website, and current students, faculty, staff, and alumni being audiences of the private portal websites.)

Higher Ed must build self-service solutions that meet the needs of prospective students

So how can we build self-service solutions that meet the needs of prospective students, when prospective students needs are all over the map? Who’s to say a prospective student isn’t 40 years old? Who’s to say they aren’t an international student with no transcript or “traditional education” as expected here in the States.

To build effective self-service solutions, we need to take variables such as this into account. We need to meet each new student where they are in life and enable them to engage with us in a way that is meaningful to their path.

Prospective students are facing obstacles in their path to success because they can’t self-serve

Students are yearning for Higher Ed websites to provide them with information that helps them clarify a vision and ultimately achieve their goals. Research from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation shows that students have a hard time envisioning their path before starting. One student from the research quips: “It would be good to understand the roadmap to get to graduation. Also, it would be good to know this roadmap ahead of time.” Another says: “If the school could somehow link your remedial classes to your career…”

Furthermore, Fred Longenecker from Noel-Levitz highlighted some scenarios in his research on how certain obstacles impact new students. Two of these scenarios and their impacts are highlighted below:

  • Scenario: A new student begins classes without a written course by course academic plan or path. Impact: His motivation wanes.
  • Scenario: A prospective student is confused by a specific section of the online admissions application. Impact: She leaves the application incomplete.

You see, today’s students are having a really hard time finding their path. They’re often times not using the resources that are available to them. They simply don’t want to deal with having to talk with an advisor or counselor. They want to attempt to find information themselves.

Overcoming these obstacles has powerful potential

These are all obstacles we can solve by creating self-service solutions on our websites.

Think for a second about the potential impact of doing this:

  • What if our websites could cut an advisor’s workload in half by enabling students to find answers to questions that they would otherwise be asking their advisors? I mean seriously – advisors spend so much time answering questions that could be “self-served” by students online in a designated FAQ section.
  • What if our websites could tell students before they’ve even applied what classes they should be taking their senior year?
  • What if our online application was easy to complete? Even on mobile?
  • What if our websites could help someone who doesn’t even know what they want, by understanding their passions and based on that, recommend a career and college roadmap to achieve that career? What if this recommendation was relative to what careers are available within a 30 miles radius?
  • What if our websites could do all this and still give students a feeling of personal touch?

How The C2 Group is building meaningful self-service solutions that meet prospective students where they are in life

We’re currently building a self-service solution for a large school in Texas – they annually enroll 90,000+ students. They identified a key issue with their students that much aligns with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Fred Longenecker research I highlighted above.

They identified that their students’ completion rates are directly correlated with how well students can envision their course and career path before applying. This information was so enlightening! From there, it was a no brainer justto do something about it.

This is where The C2 Group came in. We recommended that they build an online tool to help potential students align their passions to a career – once users did this we would present them with a list of the necessary courses needed to achieve that degree for that career. We call it “Pathfinder”.

Pathfinder is great because it combines a number of powerful features.

  1. First, it works for any kind of prospective student, whether they are 75 or 18, international or local, certificate-pursuing or doctorate-candidates. We’re meeting prospective students where they’re at in life.

  2. Second, Pathfinder has a powerful search feature, allowing students to search for careers based on their passions. Interested in “Health and Wellness”? We’ll present you with careers like “Nurse”, “Lab Technician”, “Physical Therapist”. And it doesn’t stop there – using a third party tool called CareerFinder we pull in data about each career, how many jobs are available in the local area at that time, what the average expected salary is, and more.

  3. Third, Pathfinder integrates the school’s course catalog – aligning majors to selected careers and letting students know what classes they need to take each semester all the way up to their senior year in order to graduate. Furthermore, Pathfinder presents potential students with alumni success stories detailing exactly what it took for others to accomplish this same path.

  4. And finally of course, we provide students with a method to take the next step, to contact an advisor or start the application for enrollment.

Do you see the power of this tool? It’s not only relevant to students on an individual basis, but it is completely public access with no overhead. Students can find their path in less than 5 minutes and don’t even have to register, login, apply, or give up any of their personal information to do so. This tool gives students the ability to envision their course and career path before applying. And I for one, am really excited to launch the site in a few months.

So start building meaningful self-service solutions on your website

The fact of the matter is – prospective students are digital natives who expect answers immediately without having to go through the red tape of a phone call or an email. Help them help themselves online and you’ll build more student loyalty, you’ll increase retention rates, and you’ll get students started on the right path to success earlier. Ultimately, we’re in this Higher Ed game to help students succeed. So let’s start building online self-service solutions that help students help themselves, so that students can get on the right path quicker and with less obstacles.

Here’s a quick checklist to see how your own website measures up

So how do you measure up? How are you providing students with self-service on your own website? Here’s a free self-service checklist that can help you get started to creating self-service solutions online.

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