by Darcy Van Patten, EDUCAUSE

Most of us working in higher education these days understand that many incoming students have never known a world without technology that is centered around them as individuals. They are accustomed to using technology in all aspects of their lives and expect an intuitive, easy, and efficient consumer-grade experience. For some institutions, including the University of Arizona, the student digital experience leaves something to be desired—or at least it did five years ago. In 2018, after being at the university for just six months, I was asked to participate in the University of Arizona's strategic planning process and partnered with leaders in Academic and Student Affairs to craft a proposal I called Personal, Digital U. This proposal included the collective ideas of these leaders (with their permission) and expanded on those ideas to envision a holistic, unified digital experience that would make it easier for students to navigate a large, complex, highly decentralized R1 university. The proposal grew into a larger enterprise constituent relationship management (CRM) initiative, focused on the student experience, that received buy-in from university leaders and kicked-off in January 2019. In the four and a half years since, the university has transformed and unified the student digital experience. Six key strategies supported this work, and our teams learned many lessons along the way.

  • Strategy #1: Establish visible leadership to enable technology for the academic mission.
  • Strategy #2: Find the gaps by bringing the student voice to the center.
  • Strategy #3: Address the needs of the whole student.
  • Strategy #4: Buy platforms and leverage their core functionality.
  • Strategy #5: Build products for the long term.
  • Strategy #6: Unify the user experience with a common design system.

I would like to acknowledge the following contributors to the work and artifacts associated with this article:
  • Meredith Aronson, Director of CRM and Digital Experience Services, University of Arizona
  • Eileen Seegmiller, Principal Business Analyst and Campus Solutions Student Center Product Owner, University of Arizona
  • Janet McIllece, Principal Advisor, Higher Education and Digital Strategy, World Wide Technology
  • Tim Frank, Senior User Experience Consultant, World Wide Technology
  • Patrick Shannon, Senior User Experience Designer, World Wide Technology


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