September 26, 2019

How To Get Aligned and Take Action Improving Student Experience

Designing Experiences

By Elliot Felix

Colleges and universities are trying to better analyze, improve, and compete on student experience. They want to fix the pain points that are decreasing applications, lowering graduation rates, or lessening alumni engagement. They want to capitalize on what is special about their campus, curriculum, and community. As institutions think about their academic programs, student services, technology, campus, and community, they need tools to assess, align, and act.

The first step is to agree on what student experience means and evaluate today’s experience and the second step is to make the changes to act on what you’ve discovered. For this evaluation, we created the Student Experience Canvas, a tool for institutions to understand the student experience from applicant to alum as they interact with academic programs, student services, technology, facilities, and community. (If you haven’t heard of this, I’d recommend checking it out first, then coming back here.)

What Is the Student Experience Roadmap?

In this post, we provide a companion tool called the Student Experience Roadmap to translate the results from the Student Experience Canvas into action. Students, staff, and administrators use the Roadmap to reflect on and synthesize their priorities and then describe their overall vision and metrics, identify goals to achieve that vision, and assign actions to achieve those goals.

The Student Experience Roadmap is a tool for institutions to reflect on and synthesize their priorities and then describe their overall vision and metrics, identify goals to achieve that vision, and assign actions to accomplish those goals.

Getting Started Using the Student Experience Roadmap

As we work with colleges and universities trying to improve their student experience, we’ve observed that the stumbling blocks are often a lack of alignment across groups and the need for a common plan for action. So, download the Roadmap by clicking the link above and let’s walk through how you can get started creating a Student Experience Roadmap to address these challenges:

  1. Identify pain points and opportunities: To use the Roadmap, colleges and universities will complete a Student Experience Canvas for each segment of their student population – which could be as coarse as the Lumina Foundation’s four types: Traditional, First Generation, Adult, and Independent Learner – or it could be more detailed and include a dozen or more student types.
  2. Convene a group to prioritize: You’ll then bring together a small group of stakeholders with multiple perspectives to reflect on the priorities on each Student Experience Canvas, and use the Roadmap as a prompt to bring folks together across departments.
  3. Map out your plan: Together you’ll then create the vision and metrics, identify the goals, and plot the actions. You can create the vision, metrics, goals, and actions all at once, in draft form in a retreat, and then presenting the draft, getting feedback, and refining it. Or, each can be a separate step that’s reviewed with campus leaders and refined prior to going into the next level of detail, from vision to metrics to goals to actions.
  4. Implement and adapt: The Roadmap should provide you with an overall plan for the major initiatives you’ll implement to act on the insights from the Canvas and achieve your vision. Keep in mind the goal isn’t to create a detailed, prescriptive plan. It’s to provide just enough direction to coordinate different initiatives so that you can learn and adapt as you implement them.
Example of a filled out Student Experience Roadmap

What Are the Components of the Student Experience Roadmap?

The Roadmap is designed to complement and build on the Student Experience Canvas. The Canvas describes the interactions each type of student has with academic programs, student services, technology, facilities, and community on their journeys from applicant to alum as well as the priority issues/opportunities along this journey and the outstanding questions about them. So, the Roadmap helps you think through how to act on all this by establishing your vision, metrics, goals, and actions:

  • Vision: A vision statement is a description of the ideal future state. One of our favorites is Bill Gates’s vision for Microsoft in the 90s: “A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software.” It should be broad enough to serve as the “north star” to provide direction and specific enough to help you make decisions. An example might be “All students belong, are supported and challenged, and find their purpose and career path.”
  • Metrics: Metrics are how you’ll measure your progress toward that vision. They can be qualitative and/or quantitative, but should probably be something you already track (or can easily track) and something you can influence. For instance, if your vision is about equity, then a metric would include comparing different segments of your student population on their satisfaction with student services.
  • Goals: Goals are the key things you need to do to close the gap between the current state and the future vision. So, a great way to come up with goals (at least as a starting point) is to complete the Mad Lib “From ____ to ____ so that ____.” and then ask yourself if by accomplishing your goals you’ll have achieved your vision. If your vision is about belonging, then a goal might be to increase the diversity and cultural competency of faculty and staff.
  • Actions: Actions are the steps you’ll take to accomplish your goals, for which a person, group, or department will be held accountable. These should be the concrete steps you take to improve your student experience, likely including changes to your policies, programs, services, technology, spaces, processes, partnerships, and people. If your goal is to increase cultural competency, then an action might be to implement onboarding, training, and mentoring programs in this area.
Student journey mapping workshop, Portland State University

How Can You Get Started?

So, let’s say you’ve convened a group of staff, faculty, and students; they completed a bunch of Student Experience Canvases; they agreed on a set of issues and opportunities; you are all ready to create your roadmap. Congrats! Now, here are some tips to make the process as effective as possible:

  1. Recognize this is a mini-strategic plan: Institutions take months, semesters, years even to create strategic plans. This is not that but rather it’s intended as a quick way to organize you for action. However, understanding strategic planning is a good background, and you should read up on the pitfalls of strategic planning.
  2. Bake-in accountability and feasibility: The actions on your Roadmap are arranged to force you to identify who’s responsible for what since each group is a row. For example, if you’re just using it within IT, then the rows might be administration, instruction, research, infrastructure, and communications. If you’re working at the institutional scale, they might be administration, academic affairs, student affairs, technology, and facilities. Once you know who’s responsible, you can then tie a budget to each action to ensure feasibility and prevent unfunded mandates – and use budgeting to incent change.
  3. Plan on partnering:  Many student experience problems occur when coordination, collaboration, or co-location is lacking across different parts of the institution. A participatory design thinking process, can be particularly helpful to encourage collaboration and build community across departments.
  4. Think Phygitally: The student experience isn’t on campus or online, it’s both. Even online learning takes space. So, much of what you’ll do to improve the student experience will be both physical and digital; for instance, perhaps the most common student experience initiatives we see are creating physical and digital student service hubs – one-stop-shop student services centers and new student portals. Start with simple stuff like using the same terminology on campus and online, and then move on to be strategic about how they complement each other.
  5. Adopt a lean approach: While it’s tempting to change everything at once, you likely won’t have the funding or approvals in place and doing so means you miss out on the opportunity to learn as you go. Instead, test your ideas through prototypes and pilots that will help you make the case, build momentum, and mitigate risk. These are also a great way to change your fundraising conversations from “Please support this unproven idea” to “This pilot program has already made a difference. Imagine what we could do with your support…”

Good luck using the Student Experience Roadmap to accelerate and align your efforts in improving your student experience – on campus and online.

It’s a simple but powerful tool to reflect on and synthesize your priorities and then describe your overall vision and metrics, identify goals to achieve that vision, and assign actions to achieve those goals.