Rethinking How We Use Technology to Engage College Students

About the author : Brett Ladd

CEO, Sodexo Campus

Published on : 9/15/23
  • When schools all over the world made the difficult decision to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us wondered about the long-term effects on students’ learning and development. Although it was essential to prioritize health and safety during those uncertain days, it was hard to ignore the potential impacts of moving students from bustling schools where they constantly interacted with peers and teachers to kitchen tables and living room couches where their primary contact with other people was through a digital screen.

    Our research recently shed light on some of the lasting impacts of that shift. Sodexo’s 2022-2023 Student Lifestyle Survey revealed that many students feel an ongoing sense of loneliness and isolation. Only 55% of students surveyed in 2022 were satisfied with their current social lives — a significant drop since 2020.  Students are struggling to make social connections, which can lead to a host of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

    It’s easy to blame the prevalent sense of isolation on technology, assuming that the time young people spend looking at their devices is eroding their ability to connect with the world around them. But what if we could view this reliance on digital technology not as a hindrance to social connection, but as a useful tool to promote it?

    Technology that Enables Connection

    Recognizing the issues students and colleges are facing, Sodexo is re-examining how we engage and support students in every way. As we consider digital tools to enhance the campus experience, we’re trying to keep one important idea in mind: technology shouldn’t isolate students — it should help them connect.


    A similar idea is expressed in the first chapter of this year’s President to President series, which examines sustainability in higher education. In "Leading in a Digital World," University of Nevada, Las Vegas President Keith E. Whitfield, Ph.D., examines the far-reaching impacts digital technology continues to have on the long-term sustainability of higher education itself. He posits that using technology in a strategic way is a key element to being an innovative campus that is poised for success. He also shares ideas for leveraging technology to enhance students’ experiences and help them engage in campus life, become more well-rounded citizens and improve mental health.

    Going Beyond the Basics to Meet Students' Needs

    As President Whitfield illustrates, the mere presence of digital technology on campus is no longer enough to qualify a college as “innovative” and engage students in a meaningful way. Today’s students are accustomed to tech that’s integrated into nearly every part of their daily lives. While they may have been impressed by snappy features and a chic user interface before, they now place the greatest value on simpler, but much more essential, functions — time and access. Students are stressed, anxious and lonely; higher education must leverage technology to help students overcome these challenges by saving them time and improving their access to resources and information.


    One way we’re doing that is with Everyday, our digital commerce solution that enables mobile and kiosk ordering, digital wallet, personalization, scan-and-go capabilities and delivery. With Everyday, students can order and pay directly from their phone and then select a pick-up time that works for their schedule or opt to have food delivered to them on campus via solutions like Kiwibot. 

    Everyday also integrates with other technology solutions designed to optimize convenience and give students access to the meals and snacks they need to thrive. One example is Sodexo’s eat>NOW autonomous grocery store, which offers a fully frictionless shopping experience. Students can also use Everyday to order food from ghost kitchens on campus, expanding their access to delicious, convenient meal options.

    As anxiety and stress levels on campus continue increasing, digital experiences can remove barriers for students, giving them time and freeing up headspace to tackle academics, work and socialization. It’s a gratifying feeling to see eyes light up, heads nod and smiles spread when technology enables students to experience life in a relevant and impactful way that puts what matters most to them at the forefront. Sodexo is committed to curating dining-focused digital experiences that directly support students and deliver vibrant campus experiences.