Chances are you’ll hear a conversation (or several) this week lamenting the rising burnout, staff shortages and drawn-out procedures in higher ed. Increasingly, workers crave a sense of autonomy and flexibility — plus the right tools to meet job responsibilities without skimping on quality or customer service.
At a minimum, it’s time to equip higher ed workers with the same advancements that are pervasive in other industries: namely, mobile conveniences, remote access and automations. To make that possible, a growing number of institutions are leveraging a familiar tool — ID management technology — to enable a slew of digital conveniences, on and off campus.
Flexible work gains traction in higher ed
Like other industries, higher education has taken a hit when it comes to employee engagement and retention. More than half (57%) of surveyed higher ed employees say they’re at least somewhat likely to look for another job in the next several months, with many seeking remote work opportunities (43%) or flexible schedules (32%), according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. Those numbers are concerning.
Natalie McKnight, dean of the College of General Studies at Boston University, believes that lack of flexibility plays a big part in that trend: “It’s a quality of life issue …,” she told Inside Higher Ed: “We’re seeing very much that if you want to hire and retain, you’re going to have to [offer flexible work]. You won’t be a player if you don’t.”
It’s worth noting that flexibility comes in various forms: It doesn’t have to be all remote, all the time. Rather, research shows higher ed workers consider “flexibility” as something that can reduce stress, increase satisfaction, improve wellbeing and facilitate family responsibilities, reports EdSurge.
Any way you slice it, workers leaving higher education or coming into higher education from other industries share expectations for the tech-enabled conveniences they’ve experienced everywhere else. The same is true for students.
From payments to meals, higher ed embraces anytime/anywhere access
As is the case for other industries, there’s no question the future of higher education hinges on “Amazon-like” experiences characterized by instant access, personalization and data integrations. With that in mind, colleges and universities are turning to ID management integrations as a budget-friendly, low-risk path to adding a rich menu of mobile capabilities.
“We’re finally seeing higher ed leaders say: ‘Wow, the campus credential can do other things we didn’t expect it to do,’” says Dawn Thomas, CEO of the National Association of Campus Card Users (NACCU). “The student ID can help us manage, improve and automate business processes,” she adds.
But how, exactly? In March 2022, TouchNet and Industry Dive surveyed 150 higher education leaders on how they’re using ID management technology to alleviate staff workload, expedite and scale services.
Mobile capabilities at surveyed institutions include the following:
- Access to student/staff IDs (83%) and self-serve ID setup/updates (68%)
- Virtual class attendance/check-ins (80%)
- Grades and class communication (71%)
- Accessing account balance and making payments (69%)
- Contactless dining (68%)
- Order-ahead feature/service (66%)
- Virtual queuing (65%)
- Checking resource availability (64%)
“Years ago, I was handwriting payment plans and manually posting student payments,” notes Kala Mulder, who served in university finance roles for 17 years before joining TouchNet as director of client success. Things have changed since then, with ID management integrations reducing financial processes to just a tap or two on a mobile or computer screen.
Speaking of digital efficiencies, Mulder also contrasts what she’s observed in recent campus visits: “One school had a long line of students waiting for their turn to have their photo taken and ID processed. Another school had students simply upload a photo remotely. Huge difference in productivity, use of resources and student and staff experiences,” she shares.
Letting data reveal ‘just-right’ resource management
Aside from the ease of mobile automations, there’s much that institutions gain from real-time visibility into campus wide data. “The campus card touches every area of campus, whether it’s someone entering a dining area, attending an athletic event, swiping to access a building or making a payment,” Thomas explains. “All of that data can reveal patterns and those patterns can expose opportunities that would have remained hidden otherwise. You have the opportunity to really impact the bottom line.”
At a minimum, trend insights can help leaders forecast and manage resources more efficiently, such as how much food or staffing are needed in dining areas at certain hours, or how many machines or floors spaces are needed to match demand.
Leaders can also spot behavioral trends, both at individual and campus wide levels. “If a student stopped attending classes or using dining services, you can catch potential problems early,” Mulder says.
Data integration is another biggie: “One woman was telling me about having 20 spreadsheets across her desk. She had the data in her system and knew how to get it out, but had to produce all these spreadsheets to get answers and repeat that every month,” Thomas shares. “What if that was automated for her? That’s why it’s important to connect systems, so you’re not bogged down by manual steps,” she adds.
Shedding wasteful processes
More than engagement drivers, ID management integrations also benefit institutions financially — whether it’s reducing costs, scaling services amidst staff shortages or attracting students who also expect their school to mirror the digital conveniences they find everywhere else.
Institutions looking to accelerate change should be mindful of two things: One, they can evolve gradually, connecting technologies they own today and adding new capabilities over time. Two, data speaks to decision-makers, Dawn points out: “If you can show your leaders how ID management data can impact operations and revenue, the data will speak for itself.”
What’s possible at your institution? Learn how your peers are using ID management technology to enhance student experiences when you access the TouchNet Survey Report.