Beyond the Chasm

The critical nature of IT in transforming higher education and research.

GUEST COLUMN | by Cole Clark

CREDIT Oracle Education and ResearchFrom advances in online learning platforms to the use of predictive analytics to measurably improve student outcomes and foster data-driven decision making in higher education and research, it is clear that IT has “crossed the chasm” from an auxiliary service that keeps the trains running (i.e. wireless networks operational, payroll processed, IP telephones working, etc.) to a strategic enabler of transformation in higher education. But where is the higher education IT function headed and what areas of education and research still need to be addressed?

We convened a small panel of undergraduate students and the discussion clearly demonstrated just how clear they are about the need for this “frictionless” interaction with their institution.

While the main focus of heightened technology has been the shift from on-premise applications to all things cloud, there is a decided real shift in the dynamics facing the higher education system. While higher education has already experienced considerable change, it is apparent that there is still much to do to truly transform. There are three key areas in which this transformation is absolutely necessary: delivering education and research at scale (increased access); differentiating between institutions (and to expose those key differentiators through technology); and reducing “friction” in the student experience.

Underscoring this, Andy Clark, Vice President of Enrollment, Marketing and Communications from Valdosta State University; Mario Barry from Lone Star College; and outgoing Oracle Higher Education User Group president Steve Hahn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently echoed these sentiments at the Alliance Executive Forum. The group discussed how important the development of an enterprise-wide approach to the use of data is to enhance student success and how it has become one of the most critical drivers for the executive teams in their respective institutions.

Increased Access to Education and Research

Many institutions are currently struggling to shoulder significant budget shortages while also balancing the growing demand for IT services from students, faculty, and staff. To address these challenges, institutions should consider adopting cloud computing strategies to meet the needs of their diverse, mobile, and demanding constituents. With shared services in the cloud, institutions are able to share applications rather than each department investing in the technology and support individually. Furthermore, the cloud provides a uniquely flexible way for institutions to improve access to services while enabling them to scale the level of access according to their business needs. While there are several highly successful early adopters of cloud, there is still significant opportunity for more institutions to take advantage of its benefits.

Differentiation Between Institutions 

Technology in the education and research industry is permeating every market. For example, certain parts of Europe are moving towards the U.S. model of funding based on outcomes, and the need for the “consumers” of education to bear more of the cost. This kind of shift will cause “consumers” to become much more conscious of value, and demand a more personal, effortless, and modern “experience” that they may have become accustomed to from their interactions with entities that have made much greater strides in leveraging technology – such as customer relationship management tools. For institutions to attract the best and brightest, and further retain the relationship through the donor level, they will need to focus on providing a unique and progressive experience, and investing in technology transformation will be key to achieving this. 

Reducing Friction 

Another key to transformation is to reduce the amount of friction students experience when interfacing with higher education institutions. These interactions are shifting from purely in-person and on campus, to becoming more technological and involving many different devices at many different times. To support this shift and maintain these interactions throughout the student lifecycle (from prospect to donor and all stages in between), institutions will need to differentiate themselves through technology.

At Oracle Industry Connect 2015, we convened a small panel of undergraduate students and the discussion clearly demonstrated just how clear they are about the need for this “frictionless” interaction with their institution, and the role they expect that institution to play (much more of an advisor, coach, and mentor than of “parent”). Students expect their institutions to meet certain boundaries in their use of social media and data, but those boundaries are dissimilar from the expectations they have from their interactions with commercial entities on the internet, for example. This discrepancy makes our job of creating a frictionless environment that much more difficult! But it was also evident from these discussions that we have a long way to go in our efforts to focus investments on student experience and engagement and that basic concepts like one-time authentication into the many systems with which students interact is still elusive.

The higher education and research industry is continually changing and it is critical for institutions to keep pace with this change and maintain progress. By investing in innovative technologies, institutions will be able to assess strategic approaches to managing data, increase service access, differentiate from competing institutions, and focus on the student experience – things that are absolutely imperative to the next generation of higher education and research.

Cole Clark is Global Vice President of Education and Research at Oracle.

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