Prioritizing Student Convenience

What happens when our students value convenience more than anything else?

Bob Ubell, Vice Dean Emeritus of Online Learning at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss what happens when our students value convenience more than anything else.

What are the Motivations of our Online Students?

“When I was dean of online learning at Stevens Institute of Technology,” Bob said, “a small ed tech and STEM school in New Jersey with a smashing view of lower Manhattan, the online students rarely, if ever, settled on our campus.”

If they weren’t interested in the campus experience at all, why did they enroll at Stevens when there were hundreds of other places for them to go? 

A careful survey revealed the answer: convenience

Convenience far outstripped faculty, curriculum, or anything else the students named. In fact, when Bob prepared the survey results in a chart, convenience looked like the Empire State Building and all the other options resembled hometown banks.

Students’ Expectations for Convenience in Higher Ed

That was 20 years ago, though, and those students were pioneers in online higher education. What about student expectations today? Do they still prioritize convenience over all?

Basically, yes.

Like all consumers, life for students as well as their parents and friends has changed dramatically. Amazon, for example, ships mounds of boxes, making the lobbies of many buildings look like Christmas every day. That’s a total transformation. 

Then, there’s the pharmacy. If you go into your pharmacy now, they’ll take your prescription and fill it. If you choose to wait, they’ll alert you. If you decide to come back, they’ll call you or even deliver it to your house. 

And of course, there’s Uber and all it did to the taxi industry. Plus, you can get your pizza delivered to your home with a simple request to Alexa. 

Students participate in this digital economy just like everyone else, and it’s changing their expectations of how life is supposed to work.

How to Design Convenient Educational Experiences

Students expect their academic experiences to be similar to their other life experiences. So, academic leaders have to think about what that means for both on-campus and online students. 

Of course universities are thinking seriously about the decline in applications and enrollments over the last several years due to falling high school graduation and other reasons, too. Over 1,250 universities have fallen off the cliff in the last dozen years, so university leaders have to pay attention to what will keep students glued to their campus or to their online program.

One of the key questions should be: how can universities successfully recruit and retain students using the techniques that Amazon and others have been successful with? 

Some universities are doing those already, of course. Arizona State University, for example, has an app to show prospective students what’s on the campus. The app can give you access to the university’s learning management system and the library. You can see your academic calendar, join clubs, watch campus events, and even get your tickets for the football game.

It’s an extraordinary one-stop shop for the whole campus, something like what you would see on Amazon. It’s popular, too. In six months, it was used 130,000 times with the average student going on the app 3.4 times per day. 

“I recommend listeners who are interested in convenience and how to provide convenience to your students, go look at (Arizona State’s app). It’s free and visitors are welcome,” Bob said. “Obviously these actions that students are taking proves that it’s valuable.”

Making Online Education Even More Convenient

How convenient is your campus experience? Try making a phone call to find out.

“I called a local campus to find the telephone number of a faculty member to interview them,” Bob said. “It took me 15 minutes to get to that faculty member. All the numbers on the website were wrong. When I finally got to a local place on the phone that had options, there was no option to find members of the faculty.”

That’s not the experience students expect in the age of Amazon. So start by using the phone, using the applications that are already in place, and if you find yourself mystified and in a hole with inappropriate, improper delaying dysfunctional applications, that’s the place to start. 

Don’t add new things until what you have is improved and up to standard.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Bob Ubell from New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.