Mobile Apps in Education: Past the Tipping Point

“There’s an app for that.”

We’ve all heard the phrase at one point or another, and for good reason. Today there’s an app for nearly everything (ok, literally…everything). The on-the-go applications have permeated every industry imaginable in one way or another, and higher education is no exception.

The Mobile Tipping Point

In 2014, the number of mobile internet users surpassed the number of desktop internet users worldwide.

That same year, a survey conducted by Campus Computing found that 84% of colleges had activated mobile apps by the beginning of the Fall semester, or planned to do so in the twelve months following. In 2013, that number was only 78%. The year before that? Only 60%.

The number of colleges with their own mobile apps has been rising year-over -year since 2010, when only 23% reported having one active.

“Colleges and universities are clearly playing catch-up with the consumer experience. Students come to campus with their smartphones and tablets expecting to use mobile apps to navigate campus resources and use campus services,” said Kenneth C. Green, founder of The Campus Computing Project.

Mobile apps are no longer a good-to-have, college-aged students expect a personalized mobile experience more than any other group. According to Statista, in June of 2015, the age group among which mobile apps proved most popular was with young adults between 18 and 24.


Yes, you read that graph correctly. In June of 2015, young adults ages 18-24 spent 125 hours – a total of over five days out of the month – using mobile apps.

Today, more and more universities are jumping at the opportunity to offer the personalized experience their students crave. Let’s look at how one institution in particular, Cal State LA, uses a mobile app to engage the student body.

Cal State LA

With their own mobile app, Cal State LA has made campus life infinitely easier for all its students. Here’s what you can do with their easy-to-use system:

  • Find local transportation
    With Cal State La’s “Transport Center” feature, students no longer have to carry a campus map with them wherever they go, or Google “public transportation LA” to find out how to get from place to place. Information about where to catch the nearest bus or train is already sitting in their pocket.
    Additionally, they can find available parking areas with an interactive campus map, or get general information about bus routes, transportation costs, and emergency rides.
  • Get a live feed to the campus Starbucks
    The caffeine junkies who can’t make it to class without their morning java will love this one. Cal State LA students can now actually see, via a live feed from their mobile phone, what the wait at Starbucks looks like.
  • Quick link directory
    This mobile directory allows students to contact different departments like admissions, career development, enrollment services, and more, all from their mobile phone.
  • Be social
    Here students can do exactly what it sounds like: be social. The campus app’s wall is filled with comments like “Excited but nervous to start summer classes!” and questions like “Who else is excited about tomorrow’s convention?!”
    Students can also sort by comments made near them, as well as view others’ & post their own photos.
  • Events
    What’s that big gathering in the quad outside your dorm? Now all students have to do is head to the “Events” section of the app to see past, present, and future happenings on campus.
  • Campus Map
    This interactive map not only identifies every campus building, but uses icons to pinpoint ATMs, dining halls, phones, and handicap entrances.
  • Other great features
    Students can also buy parking permits directly from their mobile phones; check leaderboards to find the most active students on the app; take photos of themselves with Cal State filters; and even connect with Cal State on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Other ways apps can be used in higher education

While Cal State’s is a great model of what a mobile application can be, there are still so many other ways they can be used in higher ed. Here are a few:

  • Dining
    Have multiple dining halls? Let students know what’s on the menu, and show them live feeds to help them determine which cafeteria to chow down at.
  • Computer labs
    Not every student has a printer. Computer labs are often highly trafficked destinations for those needing to print large quantities of documents. Help students find available spaces in your on-campus labs.
  • Meeting rooms
    If your campus offers bookable conference rooms, allow students to reserve them for group projects or meetings with faculty.
  • Laundry
    Live feeds to laundry rooms are nothing new. Now, instead of simply showing students which washers and dryers are open, why not allow them to connect a credit or debit card with which they can pay for wash/dry cycles right from their mobile phone?
  • Registrar
    Requiring students to be at a computer exactly when they’re slated to pick classes is an inconvenience at best. At worst, it can pressure them to skip class to do so. So why not let students for classes via their mobile phones?

Your turn

In a mobile world it is crucial to have your own application to give your customers a personalized experienced and engage them on their home turf  (especially when those customers use their mobile devices for 125 hours out of the month).

What would you use mobile for in higher ed? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!