When you’re a school system leader, you strive to best serve your communities. However, it’s difficult to meet and exceed your communities’ expectations if you don’t have an accurate understanding of what they want.
If you work in a suburban school system, you need to know what your constituents expect and prefer when it comes to paper versus digital administrative processes. Otherwise, you’re operating with blind spots—which leads to pain points for both your administration and your community.
We recently conducted a survey to shine a spotlight on what current suburban families expect from districts and schools. Let's explore our locale-based insights to help you make better administrative decisions.
All claims not directly cited in this article are derived from our national study conducted in 2022 called Communications with Education Systems.
How do we define a suburban community?
A suburb is a residential area located on the outskirts of a city or urban area. Suburbs provide a balance between urban amenities and a more spacious, quieter, and family-friendly atmosphere.
Suburbs are typically part of or within commuting distance of a larger city and their populations tend to have a higher socioeconomic status, better health outcomes, and proper access to resources for education, transportation, and more.
The suburbs are growing more rapidly than in rural or urban areas. The population growth is attributed to increases in domestic migration and an influx of immigrants. Suburban neighborhoods are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, and poverty has increased more sharply in suburban areas than in urban or rural counties. Even though it’s rising faster in suburban areas, the overall poverty rate is still “higher in rural (18 percent) and urban (17 percent) areas than in suburban (14 percent) counties.”
We asked 1,000 respondents, from 18 to 65 years old, questions about their locale. Of those participants, 39 percent of respondents identified themselves as living in a suburban community.
Here’s what our suburban survey respondents said about their perceptions and expectations of technology in their school systems.
Suburban communities have more access to technology at home
Suburban survey respondents are more likely to have access to a variety of technologies at home.
This technology includes not only digital tools like computers, laptops, and cell phones, but also paper-based tools like printers, fax machines, copy machines, and scanners, as well as envelopes, checks, and stamps.
While suburban families may have more access to paper-based tools than respondents in rural or urban areas, that doesn’t mean they want to use them. In fact, suburban respondents reported annoyance and lower levels of satisfaction when they have to print materials, write a check, or fax a document.
This fact highlights the importance of convenient and modern processes. Relying on cumbersome, paper-based methods negatively impacts satisfaction levels, even if people are more likely to have the necessary resources at their disposal.
Suburbanites appreciate the efficiency of digital automation
Despite having more access to paper-based technology than in rural communities, suburban respondents express a preference for utilizing digital technologies.
For instance, our research indicates they value the convenience and efficiency of receiving automated alerts and being able to submit documents virtually. It makes them feel like their time is respected.
Even if they have the means to print, scan, or mail—it's not ideal. Paper processes simply aren't as efficient, cost-effective, or convenient. Offering digital options demonstrates the school's concern for the time and user experience of families.
People in the suburbs have high expectations for school interactions
Suburban residents hold high expectations for the way their tax dollars are used at their local school system(s).
With this in mind, suburbanites are dissatisfied with the shortcomings related to outdated processes such as mailing paper transcripts or filling out paper forms and applications. When suburban residents encounter these manual tasks, they perceive them as a waste of their tax dollars, leading to frustration and disappointment.
People expect school districts to provide greater convenience and access, improved customer service, and better mediums of communication than what is available with paper processes.
Suburbanites are more confident with digital devices
Comparing suburban responses to rural responses, suburban residents demonstrate a higher inclination to use modern technologies in their daily lives.
This is evident in their frequent use of computers and greater confidence in mobile device security. Suburban individuals are also more likely to rely on their computers as a routine part of their daily activities than those in rural areas.
This reliance signifies the trust and reliability placed on digital tools within suburban communities, hence their advanced integration into various aspects of suburban life.
People in suburban communities want a seamless experience
Outdated paper-based processes used by education and government institutions negatively influence the perception of suburban stakeholders.
When suburban respondents deal with education and government institutions insisting on paper-based processes like printing an application, faxing a form, or mailing a paper check—they see this as a sign that leadership isn’t willing to invest in their schools.
These outdated processes lead to dissatisfaction and a perception the system doesn’t care about maximizing the convenience and efficiency of families.
School leaders must prioritize the development of digital processes that provide seamless integration into their busy lives and enhance suburban community satisfaction.
What should your suburban school district consider?
Even though suburban students and families typically have more access to paper-based tools than those in rural or urban communities, they still appreciate the ease, efficiency, and convenience of digital technologies.
Online communications and payments are strongly preferred by suburban, urban, and rural areas alike. Our study found 76 percent of Americans expect more efficient access, service, and communication from school administrative systems than they currently get.
Increasing diversification has led to more lower-income and non-English speakers in suburban communities. Paper-based processes aren’t just a hassle; they are also barriers for lower-income families and English language learners.
To meet the expectations of all suburban residents, institutions must modernize their processes, embrace digital solutions, and streamline communication channels. It enhances efficiency, responsiveness, and overall satisfaction among suburbanites.
What can suburban school system leaders do now?
Consider these research findings as a jumping-off point for your education system. How can your suburban school district reach all students and families equally and without roadblocks?
Streamlining your software is simple with Scribbles, a cloud-based K-12 records, and student enrollment software. We support district leaders in providing families with convenient and equitable access to resources. Explore our collection of solutions for going digital in schools, including paperless records management and online student enrollment.
Are you curious to learn more about what students and families honestly expect from their school districts? Download the full report to uncover more impactful findings from the study, including how age, income, and language impact perceptions of paper-based and digital technology.