December 6, 2021 - Today’s students are accustomed to doing almost everything on their smartphone, and they come to campus expecting that technology will support them inside and outside the classroom as well. Meeting these expectations improves the student experience — a key contributor to enrollment, retention, classroom success, and alumni satisfaction — and provides significant benefits to college and university staff as well.
Through mobile solutions, students have the ability to make payments, access buildings and rooms, dine on campus, pay and gain access to events, check in to class, make reservations for goods and services, and more. On the back end, the solutions offer administrators the time and cost savings of modernized operating systems that streamline processes, reduce manual work, and integrate campus systems, as well as improve campus communications and security.
A Mobile Generation
TouchNet’s annual Student Financial Experience Report surveys higher ed students on their use of and attitudes toward digital and mobile applications and their related financial habits. The results show how heavily students rely on their smartphones and how they want to use them to manage finances and more.
Smartphones in hand, 92% of students use at least one app to interact with their college or university and 85% use their college’s or university’s app two to three times per week. The most common uses are to make payments and manage their student account, use a declining balance to purchase items, access buildings and rooms, check in to classes and events, and orient themselves with scheduling and wayfinding functions.
Students’ financial habits are decidedly digital, with 80% using websites to make purchases and doing so with credit cards, debit cards, and newer payment methods such as ApplePay, PayPal, and Venmo. Similarly, 78% of students use mobile banking to pay bills or transfer money, and these habits have bred expectations for their higher ed experience. When asked to rate the most important features in a college and university app, the top three answers were financial: make and manage payments, get refunds, and manage declining balances and meal plans.
Though the Student Financial Experience Report surveys students in the US, the findings are relevant to Canadian colleges and universities as comparable results are found in a survey of the digital habits and expectations of Canadian young adults. According to the most recent research by Statistics Canada, the national statistical office of Canada, 96% of 15-24 year old Canadians have a smartphone and 70% check their phone at least once every 30 minutes. Not only are Canadian students heavy users of smartphones like their American counterparts, they too regularly make purchases and access services online, with 88% of 15-24 year old Canadians shopping online and 63% using government services online. Canadian students, similar to their peers to the south, live through their smartphones.
Payments, Credentials, and More
A mobile solution can facilitate payments across campus, from purchasing at a vending machine to paying a semester’s tuition and fees. They can also include a closed-loop declining balance account that can be used like a credit card but avoids merchant processing fees. Parents and students can conveniently add funds to that account through an online, self-service portal. For administrators, the solution offers real-time updates on transactions, reconciliation, PCI compliance and payment data security, integration with campus systems, and management centralization to break down the information and operational silos that beset many campuses.
Mobile solutions can also make smartphones function as campus credentials, replacing physical cards with virtual IDs with an impressive array of uses. Tap and go means students can enter dorms and campus buildings in a safe, contactless manner. The same technology can be used to allow students to digitally check in to a class, a ticketed event, or a recreation center, as well as check out books from a library and equipment from a club or department. For administrators, the virtual credential streamlines campus identity management, allowing them to quickly understand who’s on campus and if needed, easily activate, suspend, resume, or remove credentials. Gone are the problems of lost and stolen physical cards and keys and the costs of printing and issuing them.
Mobile app functions can extend to support class schedule updates, monitoring campus transportation schedules, and maps to help students find their way across campus. Administrators can send notifications, from routine reminders to alerts regarding low balance, and if classes are cancelled for inclement weather or if a campus bus is delayed. Students receive messages on their phone in real-time.
In addition, these credential solutions provide data to help institutions make informed decisions. With dashboard visibility, administrators can monitor activity and generate reports on trends in payments, purchases, access, and service usage. Insights can lead to better services for students and improved resource management and employee productivity for the college or university.
A Canadian Example
Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario prioritizes student experience and the services that create and support the experience. Their analysis of services found that outdated technology, manual processing by staff, and a general lack of e-commerce had negative effects on students. To address these issues, and other business and operations goals, Redeemer implemented a platform solution with extensive mobile-based functionality and deep integration with other campus systems.
Redeemer students’ smartphones were transformed into digital payment devices and, in turn, their campus experience was transformed. Purchases in the dining hall, at vending machines, and elsewhere on campus became quick, easy, and convenient, and by using a declining balance students could manage their finances through a self-service portal on their phone. On the back end, Redeemer staff reaped the benefits of increased automation, efficiency, accuracy, scalability, and reliability, as well as dashboards to improve management, record-keeping, and reporting.
Moving to mobile has been a success at Redeemer. The smartphone solution has a 96% adoption rate by their students and, consequently, Redeemer is exploring how to expand the solution to facilitate more services and payments on campus.
To the Future and Beyond
Smartphones are frequently described as miniature computers in our pockets, with more computing power than the technology that put humans on the moon in the 1960s and the most cutting edge supercomputers of the 1980s. The capabilities of mobile technology for higher education are numerous, continuously expanding, and improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and capacity of campus operations while enhancing the student experience.
Review TouchNet’s annual Student Financial Experience Report