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New Year, New Changes in Higher Education

Significant change in higher education is on the horizon this year as determined by current demographic changes, decreased funding, government regulation and a focus on learning outcomes. Similarly, there are many opinions about how higher education should change and equally as many vendors providing technology to “fix” or “improve” it. This is an exciting time for organizations that want to embrace change by focusing on the right changes, the right way.

DI Higher Education (1)

The amount and speed of change in technology solutions, old and new, is increasing dramatically, not only in academic technology but also in administrative systems. Some of the trends I am seeing are:

  • Interest in competency based learning (CBL), adaptive learning, and predictive advising.
  • The need for data and analytics has gone beyond the need for historical reports. Analytics is the core of change in higher education.
  • The movement to student focused organizations is driving the need to rethink higher education processes and is increasing the interest and demand for full life cycle CRM or, as some call it, Enterprise CRM.
  • The cloud, and all of the vendor’s versions of the cloud, has arrived in higher education. Now is the time to figure out how best to use it.

A Word of Advice: Regardless of the speed of change, the right solutions depend on the challenges you are trying to address and, most importantly, your ability to implement change. Focusing purely on technology is more likely to increase your pain than provide you with true solutions.

Trend #1: CBL, Adaptive Learning, and Predictive Advising It seems that every article about changing higher education includes some or all of these terms. Recently, an Inside Higher Ed article identified a group of institutions that favor CBL:

Have offered examples of the sorts of approaches they would try in a program the U.S. Education Department is contemplating to encourage such experimentation.

The article goes on to explain:

In their submission, the institutions … proposed ‘testing new or alternative federal definitions of attendance and satisfactory academic progress,’ ‘decoupling federal financial aid from time-based measures,’ and allowing federal aid to flow to a degree program that mixes competency- and credit-hour-based learning, among other approaches.

These elements will cause a ripple of change through both academic and administrative technology. As financial aid is decoupled from time-based measures, current financial aid systems will be challenged to meet the needs of the institution. In the mean time, institutions will need to figure out how to make the financial aid systems work to support the experimentation with non-time based alternatives. For example, most CBL programs seem to be based on the concept of a student taking as many competencies they would like within a given timeframe. Is an all you can eat plan for competencies the only way to provide the programs? Or is this a reasonable way to make the financial systems work with competencies? As the financial aid rules change, the systems will need significant updating and vendors will be challenged to keep up.

Trend #2: Data and Analytics
Currently, there is an explosion in data. The pressure to improve students’ outcomes has institutions increasing their retention efforts and there are numerous vendors providing solutions. The early warning systems are gathering information from a variety of systems, including the student system and the LMS. Over the last two years, LMS vendors have increased the analytics efforts and messaging with major vendors like Blackboard, D2L, and Instructure all releasing new or improved capabilities. Ex-textbook vendors are also getting in the data game by integrating student engagement data into LMS.

As initially identified in a blog post by Mike Caufield, the key challenge with retention data is determining correlation vs. causation. Mike has identified the issue as:

… it’s possible the causality is reversed: students are taking more Course Signals courses because they persist, rather than persisting because they are taking more Signals courses.

The issue is not the quality of the Course Signals product; the issue is interpretation of the data. As institutions look at various retention solutions, it will be important to understand what the solution is and what results can be attached directly to the solution.

Trend #3: Student Centric
As I identified in a blog post last year, I believe the move to student centric approaches will result in continued interest in CRM systems. The vendor activity will build on a very busy 2013, as CRM and enterprise CRM have become common topics. The CRM solutions are changing the ERP and SIS selection process and expectations for adaptable systems. In 2013, there were numerous vendor student centric/CRM solutions, including announcements from three big vendors:

Trend #4: Cloud
In 2012, I highlighted how SaaS and cloud solutions will impact higher education. Cloud adoption has been cautious with the security and privacy concerns, though today it seems every vendor is highlighting their solutions. (Unfortunately, vendors continue to confuse institutions with their marketing and the use of terms SaaS and cloud.)

I think the adoption and use of SaaS or cloud technology will expand in 2014 as more institutions look to rationalize the technology portfolios for adaptability and flexibility. And the result? Most likely changes in IT staffs as parts of their portfolio is moved from onsite management to vendor management and from application development to integration development will occur.

When evaluating SaaS and cloud solutions, it is important to understand that there may not actually be a cost savings. Rather, the real benefits are captured through increased capabilities, flexibility, adaptability and speed of implementation. 

If 2014 turns out to be anything like 2013, then we are in for another busy and exciting year. I will keep you posted throughout the year on how these trends and new developments continue to shape the higher education landscape.

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