Aug 22 2013
Data Center

What Cloud Computing Means to College Applicants

How cloud services affect students’ college choices.

In part one of our four-part series on how cloud computing is changing the admissions process in higher education, we took a look at why schools are deploying the cloud and what that means for admissions operations. Below, in part two, we look at the impact cloud computing technology has on the applicant and how tech-savvy students are driving significant changes in the way colleges and universities provide service.

Today's high school graduates live in the cloud-computing era. It’s typical for a high school student to use multiple web-communication tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Students’ music, news and videos are delivered via the cloud. They e-mail and text using software that monitors their preferences and adapts to their usage patterns. In short, students are at home in the cloud.

As these students make college choices, they have an expectation of web-based services in the admissions process. To many applicants, the thought of phoning to check on the status of an admissions application seems as antiquated as punch cards. Students are demanding more from colleges than ever before, and cloud-based solutions offer many opportunities for universities to demonstrate value to prospective students.

Most students are using cloud-based educational tools even before they begin their college search. Some high schools offer electronic transcripts, and many private schools use cloud-based applications for admission and financial aid. Colleges and universities looking to recruit the best and the brightest have rapidly become aware of this trend, and with good reason.

Meeting Student Demand for the Cloud

What will an aspiring software engineer think of calling to check the status of an application? Applicants live in a world that is rife with self-service, tagging and tracking. More than likely, these students have been drawn to the STEM field based on their firsthand knowledge of technology’s potential. It's inevitable that an understanding of technology will alter perceptions of a college — and not just those of prospective engineers.

It is important not to underestimate how often students are asked to rank, review or comment on the virtual services they use. High school seniors have the tools to make their opinions known to a wide audience. Therefore, it makes logical sense that any institutional solution should leverage the horsepower and security of world-class cloud-hosting services to provide tools that meet or exceed students’ expectations.

The notion that an institution’s digital presence is increasingly viewed as a differentiator by prospective students should be taken very seriously. Perception goes well beyond the glitz of fancy websites: students look for evidence that an institution “gets it” by presenting self-service and informational opportunities that compare favorably with other virtual experiences.

Helping Students Help Themselves

The yearlong application cycle can be nerve-racking for applicants and their families. Colleges and universities have developed several methods to help applicants cope, including access to dedicated staff trained to respond to inquiries and offer guidance.

Other institutions have developed robust web-based self-service options that make use of data from multiple sources. The most of successful methods clearly articulate what documents are required and, once submitted, which have been received. Simple tools like this can decrease call volume during peak periods and ensure that all students can access the information they are looking for. More importantly, these services free up human resources so they can manage exceptions. When staff can take all the time necessary to resolve problems or direct families to appropriate resources, it demonstrates an institution’s commitment to quality in ways no marketing strategy can ever hope to achieve.

There is another tech aspect to the admissions process that is rarely addressed in technology discussions: tuition. Proactive institutions are going beyond federal mandates to inform prospective students about the cost of education by providing financial calculators, sample budgets and links to loan and scholarship opportunities.

This becomes part of the decision-making process for students. Decisions are being made based on the quality (or lack thereof) of financial services as families shop for the right combination of location, affordability and educational offering. Successful institutions have seen the need for agile, adaptive systems to host the bio-demographic and financial information that personalize these offerings. As communication and service expand exponentially, a cloud-based system becomes even more crucial to success — for both students and institutions.

In part three of this series, we will focus on infrastructure, IT benefits and the bottom line.


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