MOORHEAD – If Jeremy Johnson attended Minnesota State University Moorhead today instead of 15 years ago, he “absolutely” would want to download a mobile application the school is developing.

“As people are using their phones more and more, and using their mobile devices more and more, we’re seeing mobile devices actually taking the place, a lot of times, of computers,” said Johnson, now national sales director at Fargo-based developer Myriad Mobile.

Myriad Mobile is working with MSUM to develop an app that could include functions such as an event calendar and campus directory, as well as a log-in to view individual student information.

The project represents a shift that other local colleges have made, as well.

Concordia College launched a student app almost one year ago that allows students to register for classes, check financial accounts and look up professors’ phone numbers – all on their cellphones.

North Dakota State University hasn’t created a student mobile app, but did make almost all of its Web pages mobile-friendly in 2011, which some say serves the same purpose.

Although they’ve made different choices, all three schools have laid the groundwork for a new era of higher education, one that meets students at their fingertips. 

MSUM: Student-driven

At MSUM, the desire to create an app came from the ground up. Members of the student senate brought it up about a year ago, said Chief Information Officer Dan Heckaman.

The university then began working with Myriad Mobile. About 20-25 students participated in three meetings this past semester to brainstorm features.

Students named which functions would be most useful to them: a campus map, dining hall menus, the academic calendar. They also wanted personal features: grades, class schedules and a list of courses they still need to take.

Not all of the student suggestions will make it into the final version, Heckaman said, but they will be considered. Some might be added in later versions.

“This is a long-term initiative,” he said. “It’s not something that we’ll be able to create overnight and then we’ll just be done.”

Case in point: a digital student identification card that Myriad Mobile is building into the app.

Johnson said that at first, the app will include just a representation of the student’s ID card. But as technology evolves, the app could replace the physical card as a way to pay for items on campus.

Heckaman said the app doesn’t have a set launch date, but that Myriad Mobile will be working on development and testing this semester.

Concordia: Paper to app

Concordia, meanwhile, has undergone a rapid modernization.

The college’s first online registration was in March 2009. Before that, registration was done by hand.

“There were long lines,” said Chief Information Officer Bruce Vieweg.

Five years later, in January 2014, the college released a mobile app that allows students to register from their cellphones.

“Literally, they take this device out of their pocket and off they go,” Vieweg said. “That’s incredibly empowering.”

In addition to registration, the app’s features include many of the MSUM student suggestions: maps, directories, calendars and information specific to the student who’s logged in.

“(Our students) love to be able to do what they need to do wherever they are, and this really permits them to do pretty much that,” Vieweg said.

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NDSU: Cost too high

NDSU hasn’t “taken the plunge yet” when it comes to mobile apps, said Marc Wallman, the university’s vice president for information technology.

Wallman hasn’t heard any requests from students to build an app, perhaps because NDSU made many Web pages mobile-friendly in 2011. The sites load in the correct size for a cellphone and are “intuitive for people to touch.”

Professionals fall into two camps on whether mobile-friendly sites are a substitute for native apps.

Vieweg, for example, agreed with Wallman.

“As our websites become more mobile-friendly, the need for, quite honestly, these kind of standalone applications is likely going to diminish pretty substantially,” he said.

But Johnson said mobile websites don’t offer as good of a user experience and can’t hone in on features that are best suited to cellphones.

Cost is another barrier that kept NDSU from diving in to apps, Wallman said. “Right now, for us, they aren’t worth the cost, and that may change in the future.”

But for MSUM, which plans to spend $45,000 on its initiative, the result is worth the price, Heckaman said.

When you consider that this is a new service that will benefit thousands of students, “that’s not a big chunk of money,” he said. “(Apps) meet the students at their place, in their devices that they have in their hand, and there’s a significant benefit to that.”