Community College Blog

"New year, new you" technologies offer insights to help students achieve college success goals


The beginning of January marks the start of the “new year, new you” phenomenon—people everywhere see the calendar reset as an opportunity for life improvements. Here at EAB, the most common resolutions pertain to physical fitness, professional advancement, financial austerity, and more adventurous life experiences. To achieve these ends my colleagues and I seek out the latest self-improvement apps. Of the multitude of apps available for this purpose, only a fraction will beat the competition for our downloads, and an even smaller number will solicit regular, repeat visits throughout the year.

These apps offer key lessons about consumer engagement for higher education leaders: What do our favorite self-improvement apps teach us about engaging students in their own goals of college success and graduation? The answer to this question guided our development of the SSC-Navigate platform for community college students, and offers tremendous insights for college executives nationwide.

Language learning application demonstrates value of guided training

¿Quieres aprender Español? If you’re interested in learning a new languagethis year, you might have already visited Duolingo, a website and app whose enhanced user experience revolutionized the traditionally boring and arduous process of learning new languages. Users can select from 23 languages, find the right starting level based on skill, and set personalized learning goals. Push notifications to continue unfinished activities or progress to the next level keep users motivated. Over 100 million Duolingo users around the world interact with the application regularly because the app makes their language-learning goals easy to plan and manageable to attain.

In higher education, the complex onboarding process is ripe for redesign. At most community colleges, this period between application and the first day of class can be incredibly stressful for applicants—we’ve likened the process to a game of Chutes and Ladders and described the experience as a series of "fight or flight" responses. There is enormous potential in adopting Duolingo’s approach to language learning to optimize community college onboarding—segmenting the long process into shorter steps, sending reminders to continue to the next step, and making the whole process light, fun, and focused on the individual user’s goals.

Nutrition tracker builds customized plans based on individual goals

The number of people packed into gyms over the past two weeks is evidence that one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is losing weight. But ambitious plans to drop pounds often fall to the wayside without a concrete plan. MyFitnessPal is consistently rated a top fitness app because it builds custom weight loss plans based on a user’s current weight and long-term health goals. Rather than a generic exercise guide, each user receives a customized roadmap that includes a calorie consumption guide, recommended exercise routines, and more. If someone misses a milestone or changes their goals, the app provides them with an updated plan to get back on track or reach a new goal.

Community colleges are no strangers to the benefits of customized plans for their students—the challenge is providing this service at scale. Students participating in City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) are 2.25 times more likely to graduate in three years, but the program remains small due to full-time enrollment requirements and highly constrained program choice. Technology is crucial to provide the vast majority of two-year college students with access to customized, dynamic academic plans that set them on the path to graduation.

Travel reservation tool ensures best-fit schedules through individualized preferences

KAYAK is an online travel reservation tool that builds customized flight, hotel, and car rental itineraries for users based on stated preferences, which include everything from preferred airports, duration of layover, and even the specific type of aircraft. The application is consistently voted the best travel reservation tool in a crowded market because it solicits enough information to provide users with a best-fit schedule that accounts for both their time commitments and their preferences—a winning combination.

While developing SSC-Navigate, our team found that students are interested in similar scheduling features to build their term schedules. After we incorporated simple language, more preference options, and quick-scheduling functionality, students raved about the platform’s ease and simplicity. Travel apps such as KAYAK may have little overlap with the mission and focus of higher education, but their method of respecting users’ previous commitments and preferences to build schedules has clear value among an increasingly diverse and busy community college student population.

Personal finance application provides targeted service recommendations

To save more money in 2016, I rely on Mint, an online money management system that collects information about users’ wealth, spending patterns, and goals for the future. Based on this data, the application offers recommendations about monthly spending, bank accounts, investment services, and retirement plans. Mint users consider these service recommendations incredibly valuable because they are targeted and relevant to their financial needs.

Every college leader can rattle off a list of available student services available that go sorely underutilized. Mass marketing efforts tend to fall on deaf ears; we should instead take a page out of Mint’s playbook and leverage data to match campus services with individual students’ needs. Nudge first-generation students to college success resources, family caretakers to childcare, and minority students to affinity groups on campus—relevant messages are more likely to resonate, and the sender (the college) will become a trusted advisor rather than a bothersome mass advertiser.

SSC-Navigate, an app for college student success

Want to see how we incorporated best practices from the technology sector into SSC-Navigate, our onboarding platform for community colleges? Schedule a platform demonstration today, and check out our case studies to see how we've helped other institutions.


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