The Realities of Competing For Student Time in the 21st Century

Now, more than ever, residence life professionals are competing for students’ time. Technological change has brought about a revolution of choice for self directing one’s learning and a multitude options for one’s use of free time. This is not a new phenomenon, but the competition has changed.

Residence life and student activities have always had competition. In the past it was televisions, VHS and DVD movies, and video games. Now, however, with multiple online video streaming services, smartphones with apps and games that can be used on the go, a more mature internet and the rise of social media, the competition is reaching a point where colleges and universities need to rethink how they engage with students.

In short, the competition for student time requires higher education to adapt. So what can we do?

Program smarter.

There should be fewer and higher quality programs on campus. Many campuses have struggled with the feeling that their students are “over programmed,” and with the increase in competition brought by technology, this is even more acute. Colleges and universities need to start and continue efforts to look at programs as campus-wide experiences. How are departments collaborating rather than competing and duplicating? How can resources be marshaled and focused for higher impact outcomes? To tackle the issue of competing for student time, programs need to be more focused and intentional.

Make it relevant.

Since campus programs and activities are now competing more with options outside the university, programming bodies must increasingly be responsive to students and provide options that are relevant to their lives. This requires that opportunities be timely and attuned to student culture and what is actually going on in the lives of students. It also means that educational activities need to borrow from trends in “edutainment,” providing educational material with an entertainment-style delivery. Campuses that are able to develop the right mix can successfully compete and win when it comes to student time.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

Many campuses are slowly ramping up their digital presence and their deployment of technology. With so many options and few guides to help students navigate them, educators can play an important role in helping students make choices about how to use their time. Providing engaging content online and extending the university into the virtual space can help engage students and “meet them where they are.” Rather than see technology as a competitor, it’s possible it could be higher education’s greatest collaborator.

Key Questions

  • How can you ensure a well-planned programming calendar campus-wide?
  • How can you collaborate with other offices to enhance your programming and make it “bigger and better?”
  • How are you keeping the pulse on student culture and current events?
  • What steps are you taking to engage with students digitally?

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