Please note as you read this that I approach this topic as a BPM professional and I am not, and make no claims to be, an expert in higher education.

This post is simply a collation of my notes based upon my examination of the topic, conversations with education professionals and my thoughts on student engagement, as it relates to the higher education sector.

Based on my discussions with administrators and managers within higher education, it is patently clear that student engagement, and retention, is of increasing importance to these educational institutions. Universities and HE colleges alike are seeking to improve retention, increase graduation rates and hence decrease the loss of tuition revenue from students that either drop out or transfer to another institution.

At the heart of the retention challenge is the concept of student engagement.

Student engagement refers to the student’s willingness to participate in routine activities such as attending lectures and seminars, submitting required work, attending the library, following staff directions in class and ultimately progressing, as expected, through their course. Increasingly the term is also being used to describe meaningful student involvement in non-academic/extra-curricular activities in the campus life of a college/university.

Why has this become so much of an issue now?

During the last 15-20 years, higher education has undergone radical and unprecedented change, including amongst other things:

  • Increased student numbers have placed exceptional strain on the system.
  • The introduction of fees has produced an interesting dynamic for institutions that have seen their students become more demanding.
  • Today’s learners, as compared to their older counterparts, now enter the HE system with very different expectations and priorities.
  • The student body has become more heterogeneous with HE institutions needing to adapt quickly to ensure inclusive provision.

As a result, universities and HE colleges have had to become more strategic in their approach to managing student engagement.

In general terms, many higher education institutions have come a very long way in recent years in deploying and utilising analytical tools. These solutions allow them to maintain and run often sophisticated algorithms to help them to identify students that are ‘at risk’ of disengaging and leaving their course and indeed leaving the university/college all together.

When identified, however, the process for managing these at risk students appears to be a highly manual and somewhat haphazard process, which, not unsurprisingly involves multiple individuals such as, student support staff, lecturers, tutors. These individuals have little if any visibility on the overall strategy for each student, the historic actions taken, as well as the actions planned by each of their colleagues.

In short, student engagement monitoring/management (SEM) activity can be inefficient and hence wasteful of valuable resources, as well as possibly being ineffective. It may not always lead to an appreciable and measurable increase in student engagement/retention.

Discussions with a number of university staff also highlight the fact that even if these ad hoc processes are working, there is no way of knowing, because, by definition, they lack process visibility and auditability.

It is, I believe, relatively easy to make a case for the application of business process management (BPM) and/or adaptive case management (ACM) principles as a means of deploying a solution to this problem of student engagement.

In tandem with a business intelligence / analytical tool for identifying at risk students, digitising the SEM process would allow higher education institutions to:

  • deploy an efficient and effective solution for all individuals; staff and students alike
  • drastically improve student engagement and retention and therefore reduce revenue leakage
  • allow organisations to manage change more effectively, such as amendments to current legislation.


You can read other higher education blog posts here.

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