Adopting Mobile: Reasons for Urgency

But how urgent is it to move on mobile technologies?

Let's review the data.

Mobile Technologies in the Eyes of Students and Alumni

In June 2010, Ball State University released a study showing that of college students owning phones, 49% owned smartphones. An ECAR report released a few weeks ago documented that this number has since risen to 62% -- showing a rapid rise in adoption. A study by the Pearson Foundation found that a quarter of college students owned a tablet as of January 2012, a population that has been growing at 400% yearly.

Projections by technology researchers over the past year confirm the immediacy of this trend:

  • In a May 2011 survey, Gartner Inc. reported that the amount of time people currently spend reading on a digital screen is nearly equal to the amount of time spent reading print
  • IDC reported last year that by 2015 in the US, more people will access online content through mobile devices than through wired Internet connections
  • According to a 2012 survey released a few weeks ago from ECAR, 75% of students surveyed indicate they believe that technology is critical to their academic success; 45% cited tablets as important to helping them achieve academic outcomes, and 37% cited smartphones.
  • According to the same ECAR report, 66% of students say that accessing course websites and syllabi from smartphones is important, and 64% say that it is important to be able to access the course management system or learning management system from a mobile device.

We are rapidly approaching the point at which most applicants will first encounter your institution's website through a mobile device, most alumni will access university resources from their mobile device, and most college students will access syllabi or online course materials through their tablets, smartphones, or other mobile devices.

Bringing the point home, in an interview with Brett Pollak, director of the campus web office for the University of California, San Diego, Pollak reported that over the past two years, UCSD has seen an average increase of 0.5% each month in the number of website views from mobile devices. Now, nearly 20% of their web traffic is from a mobile device or tablet.

"With the proliferation of low-cost smartphones and tablets, and with students on two-year contracts on their phones and thus able to upgrade to a new device much faster than they can upgrade their computer, we are seeing a significant uptick in the number of students interacting with our institution through mobile devices. We need to be out in front of this."
Brett Pollak, UCSD

Mobile in the Eyes of Colleges and Universities


  • An informal May 2012 Academic Impressions survey of marketing professionals in higher education found that less than half have their website optimized or enabled for viewing on mobile devices.
  • In an informal October 2012 survey of annual fund and alumni relations professionals, Academic Impressions found that only one third of those surveyed have their giving site mobile-enabled, and only one in five have developed or are in the process of developing a mobile app for alumni; in fact, nearly one half of respondents indicated that mobile apps simply were “not on their radar at this time.”
  • According to CDW-G's July 2012 "Learn Now, Lecture Later" report, while 73% of faculty surveyed report using digital content in their classes, only 34% report using tablets in the classroom (a quick note: half of the faculty surveyed were from secondary and half from post-secondary schools).

Clearly, there is a disconnect. Students are increasingly accessing university websites and course materials from their mobile devices, while the readiness of institutions to integrate these technologies into the enrollment, classroom, or alumni experience lags behind.

To remain competitive, institutions of higher education will need to begin exploring this new technological environment more aggressively. Within a very few years, most students will be accessing your website through their mobile devices. Most students will be accustomed to capturing, downloading, and disseminating information through smartphones and tablets -- and will expect to access course content in the same way. And as alumni increasingly connect with each other and with their world through smart devices, those institutions that are slowest to engage alumni through mobile apps and streamed content will have missed crucial opportunities to engage young alumni in the campus experience during those early years as they move into the donor pipeline.

The rest of this edition will offer pointers on:

  • The unique capabilities of mobile devices that can be leveraged to the benefit of students, alumni, and the institution
  • Innovative examples of how several institutions have harnessed this new technology for recruitment, teaching and learning, and alumni relations
  • Measuring the impact of mobile initiatives and key questions you will need to ask to get started