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Clarifying a Path to Academic Success

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Photo: Courtesy of Viktor Juric
Sponsored By:
Photo: Courtesy of Viktor Juric

For many, the college experience is overwhelming, but new tech tools have been designed to guide student to success.

A college degree remains an essential part of success in life — but it can come with great pressure, and many young people aren’t ready to decide the course of their entire life. A recent survey of 1,000 students conducted by Ellucian, a software company serving the higher education market, found that more than 50 percent of students change majors at some point in their college careers.

That confusion comes with real costs, says Kari Branjord, senior vice president of digital transformation at Ellucian.

“When students change majors somewhere in the middle, they end up taking additional courses, which can mean an extra year of tuition, plus your living costs and so forth. If you think about opportunity costs, that’s a year of starting salary that you lose. And then think about the misery of being in the wrong discipline,” Branjord adds. “There’s a real psychological cost.”

Career paths are unclear

The problem begins with a lack of career path. Ellucian’s survey found that 49 percent of undergraduate students enrolled in college without any idea of what they wanted their career to look like, and nearly two-thirds felt overwhelmed by the process of selecting a major.

Branjord thinks institutions can do more to help. “Some of it is just making sure that the career path is clear. Some of it is making sure that salary data is available and understood and connected back to the major or the field of study.”

New approaches to the process of choosing a major are having an impact as well.

“Many institutions have settled on a sort of ‛meta major’ construct where you can apply for admission to a broader field of study — the natural sciences, or engineering, or business — and then you can specialize later,” notes Branjord, “which means that you’re not seeing the wasted time and the wasted credits, and also helping students feel set up for success.” In the survey, 59 percent of students thought meta majors was a helpful strategy.

Marking a pathway

Ellucian’s survey also found students welcome technological assistance.

“One of the things students love is a ‛what if’ capability,” notes Branjord. “Essentially students say, these are the classes I’ve taken, what’s my fastest path to graduation? Which may or may not match to their current major.” 

Ellucian offers several tools that include “what if” capabilities or help to outline a clear path to graduation, including Degree Works and CRM Advise. Other technological tools enthusiastically endorsed by students in the survey include virtual one-stops which collect all necessary information in one place, proactive advising, and reminder “nudges.”

Technology can scale the advising relationship

Another space where technology is helping students figure out their pathway to graduation is proactive advising and targeted intervention. These tools can also benefit institutions by freeing-up advisors to provide more personalized support to students.

“For example,” Branjord explains, “one of the key predictors of academic success is whether or not a student eats breakfast in the dining hall in the morning. If we see that a student hasn’t been taking advantage of their meal plan, CRM Advise can aggregate all this data and then suggest a targeted intervention like, ‛Hey, are you okay? You’re not eating, is there something wrong?’”

Rather than finding these interventions and reminder nudges intrusive, most students find them to be welcome and helpful, according to the survey.

For Branjord, it’s also important to remember who these tools are ultimately for.

“Keeping the student perspective in mind is probably the No. 1 lesson here,” she says. “We talk about friction — difficult processes, procedures, or experiences; they’re the ones who are experiencing the friction. We need to keep that front and center.” To see the full results of Ellucian’s survey and suggestions for implementing its takeaways, click here.

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