What model should we be chasing?

It is inevitable. Regardless of where you work, terms like 'Google', 'Amazon.com', and 'Mapquest' have worked their way into our work conversations. In many cases we use these terms as a means of illustration, talking about how a piece of system functionality does or should work. This usage is especially true when we talk about students because that is the world that they live in and where many of their online expectations are driven from. Which model does your institution have today?  And when you talk about the next generation of online student services, which of these models should we be chasing? I'm primarily talking about matriculation here, i.e. class schedules, registration, and degree requirements, and graduation.

I would submit that many of our current online services are more like 'Google'. Type in what you want and we'll show all of the possibilities in some particular ranking. It is then up to the student to figure out which ones are useful to them and of course, which ones are they interested in. In looking forward, I've heard many suggest that we should be more like 'Amazon.com'. Students choosing 'X' course are likely to also select 'Y' course. People like the shopping cart look and feel and this process helps steer people into the path more likely traveled. These two models may provide the broadest selection and help students see the whole picture. But, are either of these models the right one going forward?  Are they effective in helping students graduate and doing so while acquiring the least amount of debt or utilizing the least amount of financial aid? Are they efficient models?  If you start looking at improving graduation rates and minimizing the cost of attending college, the better model may be 'Mapquest'. Matriculation is more like a trip.  We talk about college as a journey, so why shouldn't our online services support that model?  If I am a student and want to get a degree in the most direct (and therefore cheapest) manner possible, I need to know the shortest, quickest path to get there.  I believe we are now talking 'Mapquest'.  From a institutional viewpoint, this model can also be attractive because it might produce the best graduation rates. Yes, I can stick in waypoints and recalculate my path, but the first path shown is shortest distance between the beginning and end of the matriculation process.

What do you think?  What should the next model of online student services be?


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