How to better manage data to improve student wellbeing

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Universities have been collecting student data for decades, from age, address and religion, right through to attendance, grades and parental income. But with the rise of UK universities adopting chatbots to improve the student experience, universities are now beginning to collect even more data on their students, including information surrounding mental health.

More students than ever are reporting mental health conditions. The increased awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues among students, the increase of the student population to the point where half of young people attend university, and the year-on-year rise in students seeking support for their mental health, have all put pressure on universities’ support services and on their staff.

To add to this, today’s students expect support to be accessible around the clock.  Students going through university today have grown up with computers in their pockets and touch screens at their fingertips, and they’re used to looking for and finding information whenever they need or want it. So when a student experiences a mental health crisis in the middle of the night, they don’t want to wait for counsellors to call back during regular business hours.

To address this, universities are now turning to chatbot technology to provide instant responses and support. But it comes down to how quickly and intelligently a university can process this data to make decisions and take action that really matters to students.

Although many universities are now collecting this data, it is usually stored in siloes making it incredibly hard to make data-driven decisions and take swift action. However, there is a solution.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 has become the go-to CRM platform in Higher Education, largely due to its flexibility and native integrations with other Microsoft tools that are widely used throughout universities, such as Office 365 and SharePoint. Dynamics works by breaking down silos of data from across the university to provide a holistic view of each person, through application, enrolment, on course and post-graduation. By integrating with other business critical systems such as a student record system, Dynamics 365 provides an enhanced level of insight which can be used to produce more accurate reporting and enable universities to spot trends in their student journeys and this is becoming immensely valuable for vulnerable and ‘at risk’ students.

One university in the north of England is already taking advantage of this. An area they wanted to focus on was reducing the time it takes to allocate financial aid to vulnerable students. Processing financial aid requests used to be a manual process, taking on average 12 weeks. Since deploying Dynamics, the university has been able to issue financial advice and support much faster, report on the different types of support students are requiring, as well as providing staff with detailed up-to-date reports reducing the time from 12 weeks, down to just 4.

Students can now see their financial aid requests at every stage of the process, including when they need to upload more documents. This all takes place through the Student Portal rather than the old system where students could go weeks without an update.

Although it’s a massive benefit for students to be able to find out about the outcomes of financial aid decisions faster and with greater transparency, the real advantage of the solution is the access to immediate resources. University counsellors often work traditional hours from Monday to Friday, but students can experience a mental health crisis at any time. In the old system, the students would fill out a paper form and send it to a mailbox that would be evaluated during regular business hours. But now, the students can read articles about available support and complete the registration form on the student portal. This information is then routed into Dynamics 365, where the data is scanned for keywords, which sets in motion a series of immediate communications.

If the student uses certain words in the form that indicate a serious crisis, then Dynamics 365 instantaneously sends a message on how to access immediate support through the student portal. The portal will then produce a pop up on the student’s screen about how to access an emergency support system.

What makes this solution so powerful is that as a result of these engagements, the system (which has built-in AI services integrated) will get smarter over time. This means that the more the students use the student portal, and the more the staff use Dynamics 365, the more powerful the solution becomes at directing them to the correct resources.

To find out how Microsoft Dynamics can further support higher education, watch this video.