CEO, Universities East,
Sodexo North America
Technology has had a dramatic and undeniable impact on almost every facet of modern life, and higher education is no exception. From how lectures and course materials are delivered to the immense wealth of learning resources that are available from anywhere at any time, technology has enabled greater access to education than ever before.
I have spent more than 30 years working with higher education partners to meet the ever-evolving needs and expectations of students, parents, faculty, and staff, witnessing firsthand how technology has become a driving force in the field that shapes how students experience everything from completing coursework and pursuing academic goals to making new friends and maintaining personal relationships.
However, despite the innumerable changes brought about by technology over the last few decades, students still want many of the traditional experiences that have marked campus life for generations. Despite how technologically connected – and dependent – today’s students appear to be, many still prefer direct interaction with others on campus. For example, students overwhelmingly prefer hybrid classes over fully online classes, with 79% of students saying hybrid is their course structure of choice (only 6% prefer online-only classes).
In the most recent chapter of President to President, Elon University President Leo M. Lambert explains that in addition to the advanced technology and other innovations his campus has introduced, Elon has also significantly invested in traditional campus services and facilities, such as dining and residence life. Lambert believes that these areas are still key to recruitment and retention and recognizes the important role they play in the success of students, faculty, staff, and the University itself.
Elon University’s commitment to strengthening traditional campus services underscores the value of offering the personal attention and direct human interaction that technology will never be able to replace. Even as technology grows ever more ubiquitous, three basic principles are still at the foundation of creating exceptional experiences for students and enhancing quality of life for everyone on campus.
Creating Positive Experiences on Campus
For many students, higher education is just as much about the campus experience as it is about learning. Creating positive experiences for students, faculty, and staff must be at the core of every campus service or program. Students can find the transition to college stressful as they move away from family and friends, and they want programs and events that can help them overcome the challenges of creating social connections. A recent survey revealed that 59% of college freshmen want to meet new people during informal social gatherings.
Making Life Easier
College can be a hectic and stressful time for students, many of whom must juggle full class loads with work, family obligations, and extracurricular activities. Services that enhance convenience and make life easier for students will always add value to the campus experience. Dining halls that offer a wide variety of menu options, meal plans that provide flexibility, and student housing services that simplify the moving process are just a few examples of how traditional campus services can – and should – make life easier for students.
Contributing to Learning and Personal Growth
In addition to the academic learning that takes place in the classroom, colleges must offer opportunities for students to learn in their everyday lives, as well as programs and resources that support students’ personal growth. Students place great value on learning and growth opportunities outside the classroom. According to one survey, 65% of students consider a college’s reputation for social and extracurricular activities a very important decision factor in selecting a university, and 50% say there is a very good chance they would participate in student clubs/groups. Students have always sought avenues for personal development on campus, and Sodexo provides many opportunities for them to do just that, from cooking classes and educational wellness materials in dining halls to residence life and community outreach events that help students explore their interests.
Traditional campus services can offer the greatest value by focusing on these core areas. At partner campuses all around the world, Sodexo provides ample opportunities for students to get involved and engage with the campus community. This is especially true in campus dining, where food can be a comfort, an ice breaker, and a shared experience that bridges gaps and helps form bonds.
As useful as technology can be, it is still vital to provide programs and services that create a campus environment that welcomes students and fosters the personal interaction that they will always need. Technology is wonderful, and its ongoing development will continue to change our lives, but there is no substitute for the daily experiences of life on a robust campus and all of the opportunities it provides.
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.