Are #HigherEd IT Departments Forced to Just Keeping the Lights On ?

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Featured on the Education Blog site at UNIT4. UNIT4 draws upon over 20 years’ experience of working with education institutions (including more than 400 currently, worldwide) to offer an integrated portfolio of highly adaptable solutions.

There are one hundred seventy million (170,000,000) Higher Ed students on earth.

One hundred seventy million opportunities to delight, enlighten, broaden horizons, educate, collaborate, inspire, spark innovation, teach/learn a trade, travel abroad, and otherwise experience fully, the journey from full-time student to full-time economic and/or civic contributor; dependent teen to independent adult.  In the United States alone enrollment at accredited institutions at the beginning of the fall 2011 semester was just shy of twenty one million (20,994,113) students attending approximately 4,500 institutions (57% female – but that’s a topic for another day).

In the midst of substantial enrollment growth, ‘the business of Higher Ed’ has experienced change to its model that has disrupted post-secondary education forever.  Online courseware, MOOCs and other forms of course distribution have upended the ‘traditional’ education experience.  Skyrocketing costs associated with never before seen levels of student loan debt have students questioning the true value of an advanced education.  In Europe, policy makers struggling with financial crisis facing their economies lean heavily on students, having had to increase tuition and reduce financial incentives to balance budgets; in the United States, recognizing the financial consequences about to hit the proverbial fan the government has asked institutions to reduce significantly costs associated delivering and administering a ‘quality education’ while providing greater service to students. Institutions will be measured by increased retention and graduation rates, the ability of graduates to repay loans, job placement statistics and other variables; the availability of federal financial assistance being the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Bottom line, schools have to provide more and better service with fewer resources.  So what else is new?

Ironically, the most effective means by which institutions can increase service while reducing costs are the same [or similar] consumer technologies that have set in motion the disruption Higher Ed is experiencing.  Students, probably the most adept consumers of technology; are, for the most part, the largest group of disenfranchised users on campus.  Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, and other devices are among the standard equipment students bring with them to school.  However, when a student wants to track their academics, financials, purchase content or otherwise transact business with the university using the tools/systems provided, its abundantly clear systems and infrastructure have not kept up to date with the student user.  Institutions are attempting to communicate/service its largest and most important constituency in what seems like – another language.

Among common complaints students site while using systems provided by their institutions for day-to-day academic, financial and administrative activities are:

In addition to the problems students have navigating these systems, schools are ‘locked into’ outdated software service arrangements that add cost while limit service.  Not the place you want to be when resources have diminished and service requirements/expectations of improvement are the challenges Higher Ed faces.

Far too many institutions’ Higher Ed IT departments are still keeping the lights on rather than innovating.  This, in an era when, “today’s college students are deliberate in their approach to managing time and actively use technology to acquire their degrees and study more effectively”.  It seems apparent that institutions need to communicate with the student in the student’s language.  The student owns her education and wants to [rather, will] manage it herself.

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