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The Study Hall

Unified Campus Mobile Apps: Powerful Tools to Engage Students

Nearly 1 in 3 new students will drop out during their first year of college, so the stakes are high for higher ed administrators to engage new students by providing all the information and resources they need to succeed.

To improve retention rates, colleges and universities are turning to campus mobile apps— because that’s where the students already are:

  • 77 percent check their phone first thing in the morning.
  • 92 percent use their phones during downtime.

A well-designed campus mobile app can simplify the college experience for new and returning students, helping them manage both academics and student life with focused, relevant, and personally useful information.

But today’s students are discerning users. They don’t want to deal with a page from a website on their small screen. They don’t want to download and open multiple apps just because your school has the information they need spread across different systems. And what they don’t like, they simply don’t use; abandonment rates for mobile apps are at an all-time high.

In response, schools are creating unified campus mobile apps, a single app integrated with all of a school’s important backend systems (SIS, LMS, CRM, retention, bookstore, emergency alerts, and more) provided via a streamlined, one-touch interface. With a unified campus mobile app, students can easily:

  • Check their course schedules (typically from an SIS), review assignments and grades (from Canvas), and even participate in course-related discussions.
  • Review billing and financial information, including notifications about any holds.
  • Browse and register for classes and get all the books they need from the campus bookstore—automatically listed in their shopping carts.
  • And, yes, they can even find the time of the volleyball team’s next home game and get a preview of tonight’s dining hall menu.  

Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts debuted a unified campus mobile app in 2014, starting with core capabilities that included a robust courses module. The app’s usage stats for the two years since its introduction tell the story:

  • Users have spent 21,859 hours using the app, completing almost 12 million activities.
  • 98 percent of those users are return visitors.
  • 46 percent of students use the app several times per day.
  • The most used feature is Courses, which provides combined access to content from the SIS and LMS in once place.

Bridgewater isn’t alone. At both traditional and community college campuses throughout the U.S., unified campus mobile apps have earned four- and five-star reviews and thousands of hours of use.

In a recent roundtable discussion, administrators from several schools shared these tips for launching a successful unified campus mobile app:

  1. Build your app based on what students want, not what IT staff or administrators think will succeed.
  2. Start with a small group of core capabilities—the ones students are clamoring for—and build on their success.
  3. Introduce the app with a strong marketing program. Promote it at campus events and in social media and via posters, and encourage faculty to spread the word. Consider making it mandatory for freshmen.
  4. Make sure your most-used capabilities are working as advertised (for most apps, it’s the courses module). Assign staff and student volunteers to monitor and test them.
  5. Keep your app vital and responsive to student interests and use patterns, even removing modules that aren’t used.  

Interested in engaging your students with a unified campus mobile app? Join our free webinar on Thursday, September 8, 2016 with participants from Xavier University.

Keep learning,
Chris Hopkinson
VP of Strategy, DubLabs