What do Student Affairs and a Microsoft Excel Sheet have in common?

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Right now, armies of analysts across the U.S. are currently investigating a group of Americans that might not be able to drink, vote, or even drive. Gen Z — those born after 1995 — has begun to arrive on college campuses in force. It goes without saying that these young adults differ significantly from Millennials and others who came before them. Experts across industries have already begun to compile data on how these young people shop, eat, watch Netflix, use social media, read, and more.

But while many continue to turn their microscope on this generation, few are looking at how the companies, organizations, and institutions serving this slice of society have changed themselves.

Take, for example, college campuses. These spaces often hold buildings that are centuries old. They host events, offer mental and physical health services, hold student clubs and activities, and generally facilitate the undergraduate experience like they have in the past.

But the way campuses do this today looks very different from even a decade ago. Duke University’s Dean of Student Affairs Sue Wasiolek and Rah Rah CEO Cooper Jones discussed this topic on a recent episode of MarketScale’s EdTech podcast.

The Struggle of Offering Options without Paralyzing Students with Choice

According to Wasiolek, Duke Student Affairs has found that their diverse student population tends to need fairly diverse offerings and services. Duke has been more than happy to answer that need, but something has been lost in the process.

“What we’re finding is that the [campus] choices are great, the options are great,” Wasiolek said. “Students want to see all the possibilities. But once those possibilities are presented to them, their ability to choose, navigate, and not be paralyzed by all the choices becomes a really important thing for us to help them with.”

Jones responded, saying, “I was having a conversation with a student a couple of weeks ago about this exactly. He compared all of the resources on campus to a blank Microsoft Excel sheet. He knows that there are so many functions available to make solving a problem that much easier. But he’s chosen to learn only what he has to or needs to, rather than discovering everything that would be available to him.”

In best-case scenarios, just a few much-needed services get lost to students in the confusion and interference on campus. In worst cases, the student-facing networks, tools, and services operate in discrete silos. They might waste resources on overlap, fail to communicate with one another, or drown one another out. Students, in turn, are unable to sift through this kaleidoscope of offices and clubs.

Gen Z Relies on Apps. Student Affairs Offices Aren’t Meeting that Need.

One thing that’s fairly well-known and established about Gen Z is that they’re not only digital natives, they’re digital reliants. They don’t sit down to balance their checking account. They don’t use the Dewey Decimal System to find books in the library. There are apps for that.

To participate in student life, Gen Z undergrads rely on Google search, online resources, and social media. They’ll reference their university’s site. They’ll follow various Twitter accounts. They’ll read threads on Reddit.

Unfortunately, RahRah’s analysis has found that the blank Excel sheet metaphor also applies to campus’ online presence. We’ve found that Student Affairs offices may have around 40 different systems serving students in one way or another. In some cases, we’ve seen 80.

Gen Z and its changing habits have continued to fascinate us at Rah Rah. In fact, we’ve built a part of our business model — our design partner approach — around conferring with current students as we continue to build and update our services.

But we know that, to affect change and bring about a better student experience, we can’t focus on just one side of the equation. That is why we want to consolidate student affairs systems and put campus in the palm of students’ hands. We call it a Student Life System (SLS). Our SLS will do for student affairs what the LMS did for college courses and what the SIS did for student records. In short, we want students to be able to navigate campus life in a way that is familiar to them. That’s what our SLS is all about.

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