It’s time to consolidate Higher Ed Student apps

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In college, students often learn that diversity, difference, and decentralization are good things. Finance professors urge students to diversify their assets. Education researchers know that racially and economically integrated school districts demonstrate higher academic achievement. Nutrition students learn that a balanced diet and exercise routine promotes health.

It goes without saying that college campuses, too, are often diverse places. Student groups bring everything from concrete canoes to squirrel enthusiasm to the table.

Student services also can benefit from this quality. UMASS Professor Louise Z. Smith advocated for spreading out campus writing centers to promote both independence and collaboration. Katie Dufault, the director of Purdue’s Academic Success Center, celebrated campuses for their ability to “provide students multiple academic support options, such as individual, small group, ‘study hall,’ ‘appointment only,’ and ‘walk-in.’”

Well, they tend to be diverse and decentralized themselves.

Without naming names, we’re aware of a few too many examples that highlight this point. One midwestern state university system has an entire office dedicated to campus mobile apps. That office supports a student affairs app, a campus safety app, an app supporting varsity sports, an app dedicated to campus research facilities, an app for student dining, an augmented reality app for alumni, and even an app dedicated to freshman move-in day.

Each is a standalone offering, and each supports one specific service or tool. Downloading them all takes up precious gigabytes of storage. We don’t even want to think about enabling notifications for each one.

This state university system is hardly alone. Another nearby public university has one app for student health, a separate app for surgery referral, and another app for providing ultrasounds.

Another southern state university offers one general app for their sports fans, another just for football, and two apps that provide a map and real-time capacity reports of facility parking garages.

These tools and services are siloed to such an extent that they create a complicated, confusing mobile experience. Purdue’s Katie Dufault (cited above) warns about this effect in her article, “Differences between programs, duplication of resources, and communication difficulties brought about by the decentralized model often highlight the need for increased coordination and collaboration among university partners. Inconsistencies between programs may make it difficult for students to navigate and enjoy a seamless experience.”

In other words, with dozens of campus offices and centers offering hundreds of tools, services, and supports, there might be some wires that get crossed. There might be some overlap. There might be some inconsistencies. There might be some gaps.

We at RahRah have a unique proposition. We think that college campuses should do everything in their power to preserve their diversity and decentralization — without allowing overlap, gaps, and inconsistencies in their students’ mobile experience. We want to do that with just one app.

A similar situation arose when college courses started extending their digital footprint. When professors started taking their classes online, they offered class resources, discussion forums, a calendar of events, and even online quizzes and exams. It was clearly beneficial and popular for students.

But each course site was hosted and accessed independently. That carried on until the advent of the learning management system (like Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard), which allowed students to access the online home of their courses all from one portal.

RahRah wants to do the same thing that learning management systems did for courses, but for student services. We want to take care of everything from study groups to campus activities to doctors appointments and more with one app. We call it a student life system (SLS).

With an SLS, we believe that students will be able to enjoy all the benefits of their diverse, decentralized campus, without the various services, tools and activities offered by them getting lost in the noise. Campuses should stay decentralized, but the time has come to consolidate student apps.

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