10 Things to Improve the College Student Experience
In my experience, exceptional hospitality can apply to most industries. While my career started out specifically in food service, I think the idea of treating people like revered guests in your own home can go a long way in many situations. Take the college experience for instance. For most, this is the first experience away from the comforts and stability of an adult supervised home. Students deserve the same, if not a better, experience with the services at the university than what they may receive at home or in a restaurant. I wanted to take what’s important to students and propose a new way to think about the food service options at a university.
Do college students know who provides all their food on campus? Do they care? You can guarantee that if the service isn’t meeting their needs, they do. But what’s important to college students in today’s environment? Convenience and mobility? Sure, but can we push beyond that and create a better quality of life through the food options on campuses? Universities see a large cost savings by partnering with vending companies for exclusive rights to all food service on campus. This is great for the university but means the students rely on said company to provide everything from breakfast in the dorm to the hot dog at the basketball game.
Here are my ideas:
- Meal Options – While it may seem like the world opens up for first time college students when they move away from home and don’t have to eat what their parents make for them, they still may feel there is a lack of options available on campus. College is not known for establishing a healthy life style either. You could point to the on-campus food options or mere self-control but healthy food options are not synonymous with college. Why not mirror the real world and provide a multitude of options from self-prepared to fine dining, all available through college meal packages.
- Eating Environment – The eating environment matters more to students today. Restaurants take great care in establishing an aesthetic conducive to spending time and money with them. Universities should take note. Students may want to get in-and-out some of the time but other times, they want to visit with friends over a meal as if they were having a nice dinner out. Flexible dining spaces could create an environment where a student could cram for a test during lunch in a quiet space, or utilize movable tables to have a family style meal or study group with 10 of your closest pals.
- On-Campus Service Environment – Convenience is important for busy students. Schedules vary and some students may not have access to a vehicle for off-campus options. Providing services where students can order groceries to their dorm room, cook in a communal kitchen or grill, quench their 3:00 AM munchies through deliveries, or just have a meal without putting on pants is the epitome of a convenient experience. Campus services should mirror if not surpass those in the real world.
- Snacks/Coffee – Quick Fuel. There are days where meals may not even be an option. Packed schedules or finals week require small, fast and convenient places to grab something and go. Simply providing vending machines with healthy options in high traffic areas with the ability to pay through mobile phones is a simple solution. Using scheduling and student data to predict the need and locations for these services should become the norm. You could even envision mobile services that mirror the patterns of the campus traffic.
- External Food Delivery – Partnering with external suppliers like UberEats or GrubHub to allow meal plan purchases, offers greater convenience and options to the students, and improves their overall experience.
- Knowledge of Services – Universities offer all kinds of services that students may not even be aware of. Why not make all food services easy to find in one place? Whether it’s an app or a website, creating a catalog of offerings and locations helps students get the most out of their dining experience. Campus apps are becoming commonplace but they have yet to become the one stop shop for services, food, information, or even commerce.
- Convenience of Payment – Speaking of commerce, college is expensive. Students want to get the most out of their money, and paying for meal plans they don’t always use, is not cost efficient. Creating the ability to use mobile devices as their meal card, either at campus locations or through delivery apps is more convenient and expands the options and uses for a basic meal plan. There is also the option to load more money through a parental interface.
- Supporting the Team – Missing the game to stand in line for food is not ideal for students supporting their team. Why not make it more automated and mobile friendly? Before the game, students can plan with their friends and buy seats together. At the game, they could use an app to order and pay, and get notified when it’s available to pick up.
- Calendar of Events – Universities hold many important events throughout the year that affect food service, inventory levels, and student accessibility. By creating an easily accessible calendar to notify students of upcoming events, and predict attendance, students and vendors can plan ahead. The calendar can also notify students of the all important, National Ice Cream Day and where to get some free cones!
- Reporting Problems – Serving a large population on a regular basis comes down to a science but it’s not without problems. Providing a central location through an app or website where students can report issues, allows problems to be solved quickly and efficiently. Allowing students to see how and when their problems are being solved gives them sense of being valued.
While education may be the most important part of the college experience, these 10 things are ways that technology and services can make the whole college experience exceptional. Connecting and simplifying all of the elements of the college experience are what students today expect and can help universities stand apart for their students’ quality of life.