Executive Commentary
Technology Versus Tradition: How to strike the right balance on campus
Jim Jenkins
Jim Jenkins
CEO, Universities East, Sodexo North America

The world is increasingly driven by technology. Certainly, university and college campuses are no exception. A whopping one billion more digital-native millennial students will emerge worldwide over the next 20 years, predicts IBIS Capital/Ed Tech Global 2016. Our 2018 Sodexo University Trends Report takes an in-depth look at how academic institutions are evolving to survive in a digital economy. Many are rolling out high-tech tools, from mobile apps that pinpoint class locations to gaming facilities where students can bond over winning scores.

Technology is also changing the way students learn. Just ask Guillaume Laurie, Senior Instructional Designer at the Kedge Business School. Laurie says the messaging around teaching used to be, “Trust me, we are going for a long journey. When you leave, you’ll understand everything. You’ll be different.” But that’s changing as tech-savvy students demand fast and easy access to campus information and educational resources.

But while technology can enrich the student experience, and its ongoing development will continue to change our lives, my work with universities across North America has shown that there is no substitute for the daily experiences of life on a robust campus and all of the opportunities it provides.

The trick is building a campus experience that blends the innovation and efficiency of technology with the comfort and reliability of traditional campus services and events. Here’s how I recommend going about it:

Create positive experiences

Campus experiences can be just as important as learning, especially among new students. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 59% of college freshmen want to meet new people during informal social gatherings. Cooking classes where students can learn how to make healthy, affordable meals, workshops where students can make their own dorm room décor, on-campus yoga classes—they’re all ways to encourage social gathering. The best part: academic institutions can add a technology twist to these traditional meet-ups by encouraging students to share pictures of an event via Instagram or using an online fundraising platform to sell tickets to an event.

Simplify day-to-day life

Navigating a university campus and its student services can be stressful. Luckily, universities can ease day-to-day life with meal plans that offer flexibility and student housing services that simplify the moving process. But while these traditional campus services can make life easier for students, so too can technology. A prime example: the University of Michigan has a mobile app that lists the number of seats available in its dining halls to avoid overcrowding.

Engage with the community

Today’s students want to learn and expand their horizons both on- and off-campus. But while student clubs, community outreach events and specialty classes can help them explore their interests, these initiatives are best supported by technology. Case in point: a Colgate University app has dedicated modules for current events and special programs like Spring Party Weekend and Orientation—a sure-fire way to encourage participation.

Students are becoming increasingly tech-savvy. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to do away with time-tested traditions. Rather, by finding ways for technology and tradition to co-exist on campus, academic institutions can build a unique campus experience.

To learn more about how technology is shaping the campus experience and other trends facing universities today, read our 2018 Sodexo University Trends Report.


Jim Jenkins is CEO of Universities East for Sodexo North America where he oversees more than 400 college and university partnerships. With $9.3 billion in annual revenues in the U.S. and Canada, Sodexo’s 133,000 employees provide more than 100 unique services that increase performance at 9,000 client sites and improve Quality of Life for 15 million consumers every day.


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