After recently posting “What’s Most Important? – The Student Experience,” in which I discussed High Point University’s unique approach to building student engagement, I’ve received intriguing questions from folks curious about what I see in the different sectors of higher ed: How does the importance of impacting student engagement vary from public schools to private schools, and from two-year–focused institutions to terminal degree institutions?
Pondering these questions, two campuses immediately came to mind to cite as examples of very different approaches higher ed institutions are taking to achieve similar outcomes in the provision of great student experiences: Harvard University and Sinclair Community College.
Last semester I had an opportunity to spend part of a day with Jeff Cuppet at Harvard University. Jeff guided me on a tour of Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, MA, and did his best to walk my legs off. Simply walking Harvard’s beautiful campus is truly an experience in feeling history. The university was founded in 1636, and amongst its graduates are thousands of some of the most successful people in the world.
As we walked, Jeff told me stories of the people and buildings that grace Harvard’s campus. We discussed the university’s implementation of the Blackboard Transaction System and the many uses it serves in delivering services. We also discussed student engagement and the importance of the student experience from the first day on campus. As we toured a variety of service locations, I was impressed by the breadth of service styles and choices Harvard offers its students.
Then, to really experience the university, Jeff took me to lunch in one of the historic “Houses” where all first-year students dine. These facilities create a sense of community within the larger university by hosting student activities, and providing residential and dining operations—all to help create the feeling of a small community. Jeff and I ate a delicious meal (cafeteria-style) in a grand hall chock full of both first-year students and university history.
The sense of history and community felt overwhelming to me. At one end of the great hall was a raised platform—officially designated for “High Table” guests to sit during special events. I’ve never attended a High Table event, but have heard and read about them for years. (View a pictorial history of last year’s High Table events at Harvard’s Lowell House.)
Facilities like Harvard’s Houses help maintain a student experience absolutely in sync with the university’s overall educational mission.
In Ohio, I recently visited one of the top 12 two-year institutions in the country: Sinclair Community College.
Given the distinction of being a Vanguard institution (by the League for Innovation in Community Colleges), Sinclair understands the importance of the student experience and how to blend its urban campus into the surrounding life of Dayton, Ohio.
Getting around on an urban campus can become a challenge of crossing streets, finding parking and jostling with hectic city sidewalks. But not at Sinclair. I parked in a large, convenient parking garage with multiple access bridges to the main campus. Once on campus, a series of bridges and underground tunnels connected me to everywhere.
Open and inviting entrances bring the public into the Sinclair campus for meals, special events, shopping at the school store or to use the library. It is common to see local judges, jury members and lawyers dining with students, faculty and Sinclair staff because of the campus’ close proximity to the court house and its offices—not to mention the ambiance and selection available in the campus food court: sushi and other Asian dishes, pasta, wraps, grilled foods, salads and specials of the day contribute to the success of this central gathering point.
I was impressed by all the facilities I visited at Sinclair, but two facilities stood out as having real appeal to today’s “Millennial Students”: First, Sinclair’s technology center is simply amazing. The Center for Interactive Learning (CIL) is fully equipped with dozens of PCs, and the facility was built to reflect technology benchmarks. The design is modern and very high-tech.
The second facility I’d like to discuss, which impressed me as being, well, simply perfect, was Sinclair’s library. Those of us working with college-age students know Millennial Students like to work in groups, enjoy multi-tasking, need technology around them and seem to thrive on caffeine beverages. Gone are the days of quiet libraries that insist food be left at the door.
On the day I visited, a steamy summer day, Sinclair’s library was packed with students. The central focus of the building’s design is a café with tables that accommodate one to several people working on laptops, discussing projects, reading from the collection and generally enjoying their learning community.
All across the campus, I found the administrative service contact points for Sinclair students—such as the bursar, financial aid office and recreation facilities—are conveniently located and easily accessible, and have a feeling of openness. Public access PCs and kiosks are scattered throughout the campus to help students find information and take care of administrative details.
The amenities at Sinclair are second to none. The school may not have a football team, but its focus on the student experience has clearly established the campus as a leading institution in the higher ed community.
We at Blackboard are thrilled to be partnering with such a wide variety of campuses committed to providing the best in student services. These two examples—Sinclair and Harvard—illustrate how the actual sector being served by a campus is irrelevant when it comes to excellence in the provision of a great student experience.