Kentucky college gets far more than a communication platform in branded app

Lindsey Wilson College’s LWC Mobile helps administrators better understand and serve students

Lindsey Wilson College is a United Methodist-affiliated school in central Kentucky. It’s in a rural area, serving about 1,100 residential students and 1,500 more who commute. Christopher Schmidt, dean of students, said the institution has always struggled with retention. Students have many other options when it comes to higher education, and Lindsey Wilson College has long been aware of the competition.

Considering its size, retaining just a handful of extra students in any given year makes a tangible impact on its bottom line. So in addition to focusing on increasing retention to positively affect graduation rates, Schmidt said administrators are engaging in this work to “increase their viability in the marketplace.”

“As we know, there are less and less high school graduates every year in the United States, so we’re all competing for the same students,” Schmidt said.

Like a growing number of higher education institutions, Lindsey Wilson College has attempted to better serve students and streamline its own operations through the launch of a mobile app. LWC Mobile gives students all the information they need about the institution along with a way to stay organized. Though it has been one piece of the improvement puzzle since it debuted at the beginning of last year, Schmidt connects slight increases in retention with the app.

Through surveys, students are saying that they’re more prepared for college, they feel more acclimated to campus, and that the app helps them find answers to their questions.

The app has found a vast audience on the Lindsey Wilson campus. In one of Schmidt’s latest updates to his staff, in early February, he reported that more than 750 users log into the app every single day, and 2,000 log in at least once per month.

In a student population of 2,600, LWC Mobile had nearly 2,500 registered users this winter — though staff members and parents factored into that total.

“I just really initially thought we were getting a way to communicate,” Schmidt said. “I wanted to create a one-stop shop where people could come together and find all the different things that they need.”

LWC Mobile has become much more than that.

A calendar tool allows students to add personal, academic and work-related events and set their own preferences for reminders. If they are scrolling through a school activities calendar and like something, they can tap once and have it automatically populate into their calendar.

Students also have access to the “campus wall,” where they can post questions and comments. Schmidt expected it would be up to college staff members to answer these questions, but students have stepped in to help out their peers when they know the relevant information, reducing the burden on staff.

South Seattle College, a community college serving about 6,500 students in Washington, has found a similar benefit. Dean of Students Joe Barrientos said the college’s branded mobile app has cut down on his staff’s workload. In a video produced by app designer OOHLALA, Barrientos said his team has always tried to create opportunities for students, build a sense of community, provide information about campus events, and give students information they need. Now that work can be pushed through the app.

“As opposed to having to constantly send emails, do posters and do all of the things that we used to do that was labor-intensive,” Barrientos said. “Now we can easily do that with the app.”

At Lindsey Wilson College, data the app generates about students has proved an invaluable side benefit of the initiative. Thanks to such data, administrators know that the first-year student attrition rate for the Fall 2015 cohort was 15% among students who used the app and approximately 33% among students who did not. College staff members can use this information to tailor interventions.

User data identified the most-visited portions of the app — the student portal, dining center, campus recreation, events and public safety/security — giving Schmidt and his team a reason to redesign the home screen, bringing the most-viewed items closer to students seeking them.

Some of this data has even contributed to decision-making around the college’s website, which is set to launch this coming fall.

At a time when many small, private colleges are on the verge of closure, Schmidt sees LWC Mobile as one of the ways Lindsey Wilson College is making the right choices when serving students.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Schmidt said, “but it is certainly a significant tool that helps us stay connected to our students.”

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Filed Under: Higher Ed Technology
Top image credit: Pixabay