With 2018 right around the corner, it’s time to reflect on the last year — which included many technological advancements both in the classroom and on campus as higher ed institutions explored new ways to engage with students to create a fulfilling (and, ultimately successful) college experience. Throughout 2017, technology played (and continues to play) an important role in the growth of our industry, with virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and blended learning, in particular, making a splash.

So, I wanted to put pen to paper and share what similar technological advancements I think 2018 has in store for higher education. Taking into consideration 2017’s momentum and my experiences working with hundreds of higher ed institutions to improve student engagement, retention, and persistence through technology, I’ve identified three trends to look out for in the approaching new year:

1. Student Engagement Will Take A New Shape

The way higher ed institutions engage with students is ever-changing as student preferences evolve and technology continues to advance. There is a downward trend in student engagement on social channels, as many students prefer to not mix social and academic realms. Because of this, there will be a spike in higher ed institutions’ use of text messaging to engage with students in 2018. This method of communication enables heightened human interaction to foster growth of one-to-one relationships.

While artificial intelligence and chatbots will continue to advance in 2018, they will never be able to reach the same level of communication that students receive with human interaction. This is why you will see more blended messaging to incorporate both machine and human engagement in the coming year.

That said, higher ed staff should not be concerned with these advancements taking over existing responsibilities. Instead, these advancements should be seen as an asset to higher ed employees. Think of student engagement technology as the Iron Man suit: it makes the job easier, but does not work without Tony Stark. With blended messaging™, both automated and personalized messages can be sent to students, with higher ed staff jumping in to help with responses pertaining to their departmental expertise, whether that be about meeting with an advisor, scheduling classes, or answering questions on renewing the FAFSA.

2. We Will See An Increased Need for Financial Aid Reminders

Federal Student Aid announced earlier this year that it was making a permanent change to allow early submissions for student financial aid. While the federal deadline has not changed, some state and school deadlines are now earlier. At first glance, it might seem that this longer timeline will encourage more students to submit applications, but there could also be a downside. Students may think that they have more flexibility with the multiple submission dates, procrastinate, and miss the opportunity to file on time.

Procrastination tendencies can be countered by reminding students of due dates and providing more direction on how to apply for the FAFSA. It can be a confusing application process for new students, and by using technology like a text messaging platform to communicate and share FAFSA information and tips, schools can encourage students to complete their applications and help them claim federal student aid.  

3. Communication Will Move From SMS to RCS

When students have questions on topics such as FAFSA, class registration, campus events, and more, they want to be able to directly communicate with their institutions on an as-needed basis, which is why text messaging has become a popular tool in higher ed. Mobile providers and telephone carriers are looking at supporting Rich Communication Services or RCS in the U.S., which is essentially enhanced SMS or MMS. RCS supports text, images, and video up to 10MB, making it easier to share files and images without size restrictions. To put this increase in capacity in context, the maximum size for MMS is typically 300KB.

It’s important to note that it will be some time before RCS will be fully implemented in the U.S. as new smartphones don’t include RCS as a standard feature. Today, users need to download a messaging application to send and receive RCS. Although still on the horizon, I will be keeping a close eye on the steady advancement of RCS as a new method of bettering communication with students – I have no doubts we’ll all be talking about RCS as the norm soon enough.

As technology in the higher ed space continues to advance in 2018, it’s important to keep an eye on how these advancements impact student engagement, financial aid, and student communication. From increased use of SMS communication to early FAFSA submissions, 2018 is shaping up to be an impactful year for higher ed.

Are there trends we missed? Let us know!