Colleges and universities are learning that to keep more of today's students involved and connected, they better have an app for that.
Harper College officials worked to get in front of the trend, launching free smartphone apps over the last several months for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.
Harper's Chief Information Officer Patrick Bauer said more than 8,000 students at the Palatine campus have downloaded the app and are accessing it about 1,000 times daily. Harper is the only local community college to offer an app.
"This is keeping students involved in a style that a majority are accustomed to," Bauer said.
Students -- at anytime and from anyplace -- have real-time access to course catalogs and schedules, the availability of library books, athletic schedules and stories, the latest news and the always popular cafeteria menu.
Students can point a phone's camera to a spot on campus and calculate the distance and a route. They can sync events with their calendars. They even get parking tips as part of a feature that provides campus construction updates.
According to dozens of user reviews, the app seems to be well-received and operating smoothly.
"This was designed with input from more than a dozen student groups," Bauer said. "Some classes are even evaluating it as part of their course work, and we've made major modifications because of it."
Bauer said the app will play a key role in Harper's completion agenda, which aims to graduate an additional 10,604 students by 2020 as part of a nationwide effort to increase U.S. global competitiveness.
A recent partnership with Blackboard Inc. in Washington, D.C., allows students to do course work just as they would online from any computer.
Between launching its iPhone app last summer and the BlackBerry app in January, Harper has upgraded the app three times, Bauer said. He said new versions could allow students to register for classes, access grades and receive more communications from the college.
Though many larger universities already have their own, Harper has been contacted by officials at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with questions about developing a smartphone app.
It's on the radar of a few community colleges, as well.
Elgin Community College spokesman Jeff Julian said the school hopes to launch an app sometime this year. And though Oakton Community College in Des Plaines and College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn aren't yet creating an app, officials at both schools said they're working to increase accessibility by beginning work on a mobile version of the colleges' websites. COD's version will launch this spring, Director of Marketing Laurie Jorgensen said.