Jun 18 2010   1:47PM GMT

Self-service technology transforms universities into ‘schools of one’

4Laura Laura Smith Profile: 4Laura

IT executives who are grappling with social media and self-service technology will sympathize with their counterparts in higher education. The technology sophistication of current university students, known as millennials, is beyond expectation, according to an expert panel at the recent Capstone Partners EdTech ’10 event in Cambridge, Mass.

Ten years ago, students expected there to be a good computer room. “Now, it’s like technology is air,” said John Gallaugher, associate professor of information systems at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. They need it to breathe. As a result, higher education has become high tech as well as high touch — for personal quests like keeping track of credits and searching for a job. Certain things are set, such as how students can pay their bills, but everything else needs to be customized, Gallaugher said, or the students will customize things themselves.

Funny how just 10 years ago, schools were dumping grounds for computer castoffs as businesses upgraded from one chip to the next. Now, with so much technology available in the cloud, higher education rivals business in providing self-service technology.

Some educators are even talking about a “school of one” concept, where institutions of higher learning inevitably become on-demand service providers of education, to compete with other brick-and-mortar schools as well as 100% online providers such as the University of Phoenix.

The self-service technology experience is not only part of a good education, but necessary for retention, given the 47% dropout rate among first-year students, according to Craig Powell, CEO of ConnectEDU in Boston. Millenials are frustrated if technology doesn’t work on the first experience, Gallaugher said. If the college doesn’t get it right, “they’re going to walk away and go someplace else where it’s easier to use.”

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