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How to Use Student Journey Mapping for Student Success

Can you use student journey mapping to strengthen your student success process even if you don’t have any user research experience? Yvonne and her team did just that! We sat down to talk to Yvonne about her experience with student journey mapping and how she made it work for her team. Yvonne is the Founding Dean for College of Innovation and Design at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Her college specializes in supporting working adult learners pursue their degrees completely online and asynchronously. One of the things they discovered early on in assessing their programs and students was that not all adult learners are in the same place when they enter their programs. They all have very unique needs, and needed a robust and unique student success program to support that. This realization led Yvonne to student journey mapping as a way to better understand and visualize the unique student journeys they were seeing from their students.

“I jotted it out literally with stick figures on a napkin”

Take it from Yvonne’s experiences: your student journey map doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect to be useful. For Yvonne, it started with student interviews and stick figures on a napkin.

Initially, their team got started with interviewing support staff who were working with students to figure out what was working and what wasn’t. They also did empathy interviews with students to get more insight into their experiences: what was going smoothly and what wasn’t, what was confusing or intimidating, and what they could do to structure their services to better ensure success.

From there, Yvonne shared, they had pages and pages of interviews, but it wasn’t in a format that was actionable. That’s where the real work comes in.

“I jotted it out literally with stick figures on a napkin, and I gave it to my colleague and they helped flesh it out a little bit. It wasn’t until we literally sat down in a room with three people from our marketing communication department. They were graphic artists, and they were able to actually start to put pictures to the words… and ultimately, the 12th version of the student’s journey map was the one that we’ve actually published.”

They started with two student personas, and began mapping out the student journey from there, including key touchpoints, experiences, emotions the students would be experiencing, involved student success staff and more.

Within “literally with 90 minutes, with three people in a room, we were able with a whiteboard and multicolored pens to map out what this looks like for two different…adult learners taking our programs,” Yvonne shared. “We did not have a large budget, we’ve spent less than $1,000 to create our student journey map.”

But the payoff has been huge.

The Student Journey Map has been integral to our program

Yvonne shared three major results their student journey mapping exercise has had for their team: providing increased insight into student experiences, increasing qualitative data, and creating clarity on individual roles and coordination between teams.

Increased insight into student experiences

Student journey mapping gives teams a closer look into your student’s day-to-day lives and experiences, both inside and outside of your program.

“It’s very important for you every once in a while incrementally to view your work through the perspective of a student,” Yvonne shared. “That way you’re able to spot barriers. Things that are commonplace to you may be completely foreign and intimidating to your students. [Being able to] understand what the students are going through also helps to…provide the depth and compassion as you’re working with these students day in and day out.”

Strong qualitative data

Obviously, Yvonne’s program had plenty of quantitative data about graduation rates, retention rates, enrollment and so on, but the student journey map provided a qualitative piece to round out their data.

The mapping exercise offered a “visual depiction of the people involved and how they’re serving our students,” as well as student quotes showcasing the importance of student success staff. This is key for Yvonne to show higher administrative the impact and value of her program and team, as well as be able to better quantify the student experience.

Creating clarity on team roles

One of the biggest hidden wins of student journey mapping is creating more internal clarity, which in turn allows you to provide stronger, more targeted and more seamless support for your students.

“One of the major findings [for us] was that it’s not enough to just have a recruiter and advisor,” Yvonne said. “Our advisor role was actually split into three different roles, and then [student journey mapping helped to] coordinate where one role ends and another picks up so we’re not duplicating or…competing for the essential tasks that students need to get done. I think it’s good for you to have that conversation [among your team] and… as we add new people to the team, it’s important for them to see this.”

How to Launch Your Own Student Journey Mapping Exercise

Running a student journey mapping exercise doesn’t have to be complicated—so we made a playbook for your team to make it a whole lot easier. This guide will help your team get started with—and get results from—student journey mapping, no experience needed.


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