As higher ed looks to move into the post-coronavirus world, the sector has found itself to be adaptable. Leaders hope to drive up graduation rates and to lure more students through their gates, especially given the threats like the enrollment crisis.
Under these considerations, the impact of technology on teaching and learning has been lost on university leaders, say researchers. And as a result there has been a surge in investments, especially as institutions modernize the move to digital operations and as they pour money into student success systems that link all digital tools used to help learners progress through recruitment through commencement.
The Tambellini Group, a higher-education advisory firm, noted this year that many institutions have restarted their long-term investments that may have been put on hold for the coronavirus and that others were encouraged to update their old systems. It’s not just pandemic recovery, the firm says, but a structural update.
So far, they estimate that only about 5 percent of institutes have been able to pull the trigger on these structural transformations, but they say that many are more carefully mapping out such moves. These sorts of investments are expensive — a new cloud-based administration system, for example, can run a large research university tens of millions of dollars — and they take time to put in place. They also rely on IT staff, who like teachers and other faculty are stressed out and burned out of the pandemic but who will need to perform much of the work.
Nonetheless, Tambellini says they see the uptick in investments as a tantalizing sign that the higher-ed market will continue to grow.
“We are seeing an increase in spending and investment in student systems from all sizes and types of higher education systems,” says Vicki Tambellini, founding CEO, who predicts that investments will not taper off or dip.
It is not the only report that predicts a stream of expensive updates to higher ed systems. Last year, Educause, an edtech association, noted that higher ed institutions were making room for their budgets for student success technologies, especially in customer-relationship management systems. They’ve also noticed plans for higher ed spending on IT.
“I think it’s encouraging to see that institutions are aware of — sensitive to — and working to address students’ needs,” says Mark McCormack, senior director of analytics and research at Educause.
Institutional leadership has realized that it needs to make more data-informed decisions and automate some processes, he says. They’re exploring ways to connect data and applications across different units at the institution.
Yet even at colleges where leaders are interested in investing in new tech tools, barriers remain, including the cost and effort, as well as concerns about student privacy, a dearth of solutions for the largest and most complex institutions — and maybe even a lack. clear vision.
One of the things the student systems do is make collecting information about students easier. To universities, this allows them to give real-time feedback to students. It shows how students’ decisions they are making affect their graduation and eliminates inefficiencies that are expensive to universities and potentially derailing students.
But collecting data on students has historically been a charged issue that can raise concerns over privacy and sometimes even elongating inequities. Attempts to introduce some data analytics programs — like one earlier this year at George Washington University, a private research university in Washington, DC — run the risk of kicking up controversy.
But Tambellini argues that students are struggling right now, in part, because they don’t have enough support.
“Students need better systems and more support than they can get in real-time, especially post-pandemic. Not everyone is available in a way that makes it easier for students to get what they need from administrators and faculty, “says Tambellini,” and so modernizing has become critically important. “
If you ask the vendors, they are not sure the investment level is really taken off as yet.
“I don’t know if I’m necessarily seeing lots and lots of real investments flowing through,” says Nicole Engelbert, vice president of higher ed development at Oracle, one of the largest software companies in the world.
Tambellini’s study tracks the upswing in student system purchases, Engelbert says, but it is not the explosive growth of kind economists call “hockey stick growth” yet, in part because “switching out your student system is like [a] major organ replacement for an institution. “
And there is also the question of size and complexity. A lot of explosive growth has occurred in relatively small, private, nonprofit colleges for which existing solutions are ready to be deployed, Tambellini reports. For large institutions with many degree programs and even multiple schools, the challenge is different than for smaller or mid-level institutions. Basically, the tech solutions are just not there yet.
“Boston University has suffered from [the lack of scalable solutions like student information systems] In that we have needed a new student information system for many years, but couldn’t really identify a next-generation cloud-based one that we could go to for an institution of our scale and complexity, “said Tracy Schroeder, vice president. says Boston University, president of information services and technology and chief data officer. “And unfortunately for us, that is still the case.”
Tambellini predicts that the solution for large institutions will be ready by 2026.
Universities cannot pin all of their student-success challenges on limited technology.
These institutions should spend less time on “shiny tech toys” and put more resources into shaping the bold vision and reengineering the business processes that will truly transform higher education, says Engelbert of Oracle.
Using the institutions of migration that Engelbert considers to be massively outdated tech is going to happen, she says, but whether it brings in “a new golden age in higher education or seams of some sectors of the market will make the market larger, Not on the technology — but on the business-process reengineering that precedes it. ”
The goal for higher education should be moving past vague talk about “digital transformation” and figuring out how to actually measure student success and improve the student experience, Engelbert argues. Otherwise, she adds, colleges are just letting companies like Salesforce, Workday — or Oracle — define that for them.