I recently came across a study by higher education tech heavyweight Ellucian, called “Students Expect Data to Transform College Experience—Can Colleges Deliver?” In the study, Ellucian surveyed 1,000 U.S. college students in October 2016. A whopping 82% of them said that personal information will transform the college experience within ten years.
Let’s face it; most universities are painfully behind when it comes to collecting and making the most of their students’ data. Good data collection has the potential to make university more accessible, more affordable, safer, and more enriching for students – so here are five takeaways from the buzz about student data collection.
1. Millennial students are more comfortable than any other generation with providing personal information
Millennials have grown up in a world where apps plead users to rate them, where pop-ups on websites request emails for subscription, where targeted ads seem to predict our every desire.
Not everyone’s happy about the trend of collecting more data from students – some worry about students’ privacy amidst data breaches, especially when schools go so far as to track students’ locations and quantify their sociability. But students, for the most part, don’t mind providing some data (within reason); 77% of students believe that their institutions should use their personal information to improve their university experience.
In contrast, 60% of millennials would be willing to provide details about their personal preferences and habits to marketers. Which means that students trust their universities more than they trust brands and retailers to use their data to improve their experiences.
2. Students expect to reap the benefits of sharing their data
With that ease of sharing comes the belief that providing data is associated with an outcome, a reward – a subscription to a newsletter, better product recommendations on Amazon, free music for three months from Spotify.
And why shouldn’t they expect this? If students can’t see the ways in which their data is being used to improve their university experience, why would they share their data at all?
I’ve previously written about the ways in which universities are partnering with big data companies and using predictive analytics software to help their students graduate. In this case, there’s a very tangible reward: fewer students dropping out, faster graduation times, more specialized attention from advisors, and potentially millions saved in tuition fees. If you can show (not just tell) your students that collecting their data can save them enormous amounts of time and money, you’re on track to a smarter university.
3. They might be willing to have their data used for non-academic purposes
Collecting data about grades, test scores, and class attendance is the (relatively uncontroversial) norm in higher ed. But students have shown more hesitation when it comes to more personal (some would say invasive) data collection.
The Open University toyed with the idea of collecting data about students’ posture, facial expressions, and eye positions to determine how engaged they were in a lecture – and when they surveyed their students about it, some said they were worried about being monitored so closely.
But the Ellucidan study shows that a surprisingly high percentage of students are willing to have their data used for non-academic purposes: 42% said they’d be ok having their data used to get offers from local retailers, and 34% said they’d be ok having it used to get tickets to campus events like sports games.
4. They expect you to ask for their personal information once, not repeatedly
According to the study, 93% of students think that they should only have to provide their personal information to their institution once.
Millennials expect their data to be stored and even shared. Millennials know that the internet is forever – and they’ve all had an embarrassing tweet or photo from 2009 resurface. They know that digital files are not as easily erased as physical copies; that the dust of data lingers in screenshots, hidden backlinks, and archived pages.
You should never be careless with the data you collect, but you should streamline your services and data collection. Make sure that you’re not collecting the same data over and over again from students – otherwise they’re going to stop being so willing to provide you with information.