Universities
Innovation, Specialization and Preparation: The Axioms of Success
Barry Telford
Barry Telford
CEO, Universities West,
Sodexo North America
President, Sodexo Canada

Quality of Life is foundational to human well-being, affecting every aspect of life at every stage of life.

Starting college is a milestone for students, beset with excitement, anticipation—and anxiety. Savvy administrators address this through innovative programs that meet students where they are, guiding their choices and providing resources that support engagement, growth and achievement.

A recent study by the Wall Street Journal revealed that the major factor that determines colleges’ and universities’ survival or failure is how well they prepare their students for life after graduation.1 While significant disruption has roiled the education market, small colleges and universities in particular encountered myriad challenges. Traditional quality of student life criteria—a highly personalized education and small classes taught by full-time faculty—are no longer enough to attract, retain and ensure students are prepared for success; these criteria have proven inadequate to securing the institution’s success.

Mary B. Marcy, President of Dominican University of California, outlines her university’s innovative approach to promoting student achievement in “The Dominican Experience for All: A Distinctive Program Approach to Innovation,” the latest chapter in Sodexo’s President to President thought leadership series. While Dominican experienced a significant increase in enrollment from just under 1,200 students in the late 90s to more than 2,000 students in 2010, the new decade saw a troublesome decline. Clearly, the status quo no longer sufficed; disruptive differentiation was the solution, and the University embraced the challenge.

While Dominican’s new strategic plan was predicated on continued growth, the University realized that their underlying structure and budget were insufficient to achieve these ends. Dominican’s bold solution was to standardize four central aspects of student education in the Dominican Experience For All. This personalized approach encompasses integrated coaching, community engagement, signature work and digital portfolios, comprising the heart of the student experience and building the confidence so fundamental to success following graduation. The program has achieved significant results. For six consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Dominican as one of the top universities in the West.

Sodexo is deeply committed to the student experience with the objective of ensuring students acclimate quickly and ultimately graduate, supporting our clients’ recruitment and retention efforts. As new service solutions are developed through the lens of Quality of Life, we have been mindful that 20% of campus revenue is driven by housing, so retaining students on campus is a priority. According to Sodexo’s International Student Lifestyle Survey, 40% of prospective students rank living accommodations as a major selection factor in choosing a school. For many students, college is the first time they have lived on their own, and that’s a significant adjustment to overcome at a time when they are coping with so much change and so many new demands.

Student Living, Sodexo’s integrated approach housing and residence life, considers all aspects of campus life, from marketing, leasing and roommate compatibility services to building maintenance, resident events, retail dining and on-site amenities. For more than 20 years we have been helping universities ease the transition for students, enabling students to learn to live independently and focus on learning, but never have we seen the need to that type of integration of services more than we do now – for just the reasons that President Marcy talks about in her chapter.

Ultimately, success is predicated on the student experience, starting with where students live and with whom, so room and roommate assignments can be fraught for administrators. StarRez offers us a creative solution, a powerful online tool with many features that comprise a fully integrated approach to student housing. Available via any iOS device, the technology manages applications, room and roommate self-selection—an outstanding amenity to offer students—and group reservations, as well as core administrative functions including billing, reporting, email, mail merge and integration with student information systems. The tools and platforms used to access StarRez utilize the same database, so information can be created, tracked, changed or removed in a variety of ways. In addition, clients can use StarRez to manage room and maintenance requests with a customized resident detail view. The app’s sophisticated facilities management capabilities, such as heat mapping, enable campus teams to manage environments more efficiently, reducing costs.

Our commitment to students’ success goes far beyond technology; Sodexo provides career development resources to guide them to the future, further supporting retention and graduation rates. Our internship program complements our clients’ Career Services departments’ efforts, promoting student success through practical experience and exposure to the corporate environment. And the work we began in 2017 continues with Design for America (DFA) as several of the initial ideas are developed to fruition.  Focused broadly on design and innovation for the social good, DFA’s approach encompasses proven measures that build students’ resilience and confidence through participation in projects that create value and societal change. Sodexo’s partnership with DFA is vital, allowing us to work directly with our university clients and their students to build the confidence fundamental to their future and inspire innovation.

Each generation faces—and can learn from—their own unique set of challenges. Being prepared for life after college is one area we think we can improve for Gen Z through innovation and creative partnerships while simultaneously strengthening our clients’ market positions.

1 Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2018. “Colleges Split into Winners, Losers.” Douglas Belkin

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