The Top 10 Higher Education IT Issues of 2018

Here we are, half way through 2018 and preparing for the next academic year set to begin in a few weeks. Time flies. And it is through time that we can demarcate our goals and objectives, measure how we are doing and look forward to the promise of the future. Along the way we read and learn how others perceive progress, or for that matter, the challenges to progress. We then adjust by orienting priorities, budgeting and leveraging our assets and competencies as the means to an end. The end being how to best serve the ever-evolving Academy and their constituents.

Looking back to the beginning of the year, EDUCAUSE published their annual CIO Summary and Survey of Top IT related issues and strategies Technology and the Remaking of Higher Education: A Longer View. It’s a good start, welcoming conclusions gathered from a diverse group of CIOs representing different types of institutions.

Not all institutions are created equal, funded the same or have the same market or mission. Therefore abstracting a common perspective may be useful to some, but not all. Depending upon the institutional type, some would feel this list is under representative of their circumstances. Many institutions fall within a governance structure, such as a statewide system. They are obliged to follow guidelines and priorities established by the group, rather than their own perspective. And even within these groups, the variations of assets, capacity and capability tenders difficulties to assume they are all the same.

How institutions fit into the overall ecosystem and governance plays a big part of how they are perceived today, how they are funded and how they are empowered. We can't change that. So, we need to be realistic about managing expectations, change and capacity. Given the variations of institutions, one common theme crosses all types - how they can share and work together, leveraging insights, mindsets and common assets. This challenge, such as working with external governance, is lacking in the list. The list seems more focused on standing apart, rather than finding partners and developing communities in practice.

EDUCAUSE Remaking Higher Ed, Top Ten CIO Issues 2018

With #1, we all can agree there is a need to maintain a secure environment and protect the foundation of IT services. This, by itself, is a daunting challenge. Even with massive bandwidth and capacity, neither the Federal Government nor major companies can protect all of their assets against threats. There is nothing ill-conceived about focusing on Student Success at #2 and enabling automated, digital services to make everyone's lives better by focusing on outcomes. #3 calls out the desire to position IT and the strategic value it could deliver to the enterprise. This rounds out the top three issues. And, to be honest in our reflection, we must recognize it will take more than a year to address them

Higher Ed IT wrestles with a legacy of practices, levels of acceptability and past decisions. They are mostly led by internal views and shielded from externalities, which directly limits scope in an ever-widening ecosystem. Most institutions have very limited IT bandwidth to adjust. So, we live in a world of incremental change and small steps. In some circumstances, that can be an advantage. However, we often see institutions locked out by the sheer number of steps necessary to serve present IT demands, not to mention those the future might bring.

Trying to figure out how to evolve beyond the status quo suggests we should all share more, define how we can work together, divest what is depleting and operate as a business being driven to serve values measured in outcomes.

Timothy Renick, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success at Georgia State University, recently reflected in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s commentary How to Best Harness Student-Success Technology “I have seen many universities delay to act on the promise that ‘we will figure it out for ourselves.’ Too often, the home-grown solution never materializes or is outdated soon after deployment.”

Working with education agencies across the United States, we have seen the benefits of collaboration and sharing. The removal of redundancy offers cost savings and improved outcomes when institutions are led and funded to work together.

  • In Florida, through Florida Shines, over 25% of all courses originate from their online, distance learning catalog which is shared among the state's institutions. They could all try to do it themselves. Instead, the state has led with a collective system-wide solution.
  • In Tennessee, through TNReconnect and Reverse Transfer, thousands of successful transfer students have been awarded associate degrees as they aspire to finish their baccalaureate. They could send transcripts between themselves and make manual credit assessments. Instead, they have implemented a centralized, predictive degree audit process to reduce the processing load and time with automated workflows.
  • In Ohio, through FastPathOhio, institutions are sharing a common platform for prior learning assessment. They could go it alone and handle the PLA process manually. Instead, they have compromised to follow a shared governance process and adopt common practices, while maintaining a differentiation of services that link back to their domains.

In all three cases, the cost savings and improved capacity to serve more expectations are directly related to how institutions work through shared governance and support of IT rather than relying on their own resources to serve their objectives. And while state agencies and consortiums realize the benefit of cost savings, they still must justify the investment and payback to their stakeholders.

Working across the globe with institutions of all shapes and sizes has led us to analyze and rethink failed traditional approaches, focus more on sustainability, talk less about blazing trails and use business analysis to prioritize shared systems and benefits over those that are standalone