Creating Opportunity: Technology's Influence on Contemporary Higher Education

LeRoy Butler, PhD, PgMP, PMP, CIO, Lewis University
LeRoy Butler, PhD, PgMP, PMP, CIO, Lewis University

LeRoy Butler, PhD, PgMP, PMP, CIO, Lewis University

Technology has transformed contemporary higher education. As in many sector of the modern economy, higher education has developed a dependency on technology to provide quality opportunities to its primary consumers (students).

Two recent trends in higher education served as a catalyst for institutions’ greater dependences on technology. The first is growing scrutiny related to the “value proposition” of higher education, which question the returns on investments of a college degree(s).As the rising cost of a collegiate education continues to outpace broader economic inflation, students are becoming more critical of the outcomes they are receiving from colleges and universities. Moreover, the post academic issues (such as the student loan debt crisis in the United States) have furthered critical analyses of the value of a post-secondary education.

The second trend that has promoted a technological shift in higher education are changing student demographics. The modern student population has become much more diverse than in past years. The student population is rapidly shifting from traditional 18 to 22-year-olds to more non-traditional students. Within the last generation, the college student population has seen a growth in numerous areas, including more working adults, growing ethnic populations, more delayed entry students, and more students seeking more advanced degrees.

Examination of the value proposition and the changing student demographics has forced higher education to rethink how it delivers (and supports) students’ educational goals. Gone are the days of institutions developing homogenous models for providing a quality education. Today’s students require higher education to be more agile in its approach in meeting the needs of a more diverse student population.

The good news is that technology can be (and has been) an invaluable asset in meeting this need. Several technological trends help illustrate the importance of technology to creating appropriately modernize learning environments in higher education. They are automation/integration, analytics, and technology commoditization. These trends are integral part of developing the modern, agile institution.

 Commoditizing technology has many benefits for higher education, and they are all based on the idea of technology is a service (and not a capital investment)  

Automation and Integration

Automation and integrations refer to the pursuit of synchronous system interoperability between enterprise technology resources and associated information systems. Traditionally, higher education has trailed other economic sectors in promoting automation and integration in these systems. This is primarily a result of the organic nature of how systems were often introduced and evolve don campuses. Many higher education institutions were built on juxtaposed structural philosophies that invited shared collaboration and governance while promoting autonomy and independence. Hence, many traditional technology systems found in higher education were built and sustained to support this model.

With the growingly cost-conscious student population, institutions are forced to cut cost in providing and supporting education endeavors on their campuses. This has led to a surge in using technology automation and integrations to both cut cost and improve operational efficiencies. Today, higher education leaders are moving towards building technology systems that provide a high level of interoperability and scalability. Hence, giving colleges and universities more resources to invest in innovative teaching, learning, and research opportunities for its students and faculty while limiting cost increases.

Data and Analytics

Some of the most valuable resources that many college and universities possess are its data. Higher education, which is one of the traditional stewards of the knowledge economy, possess a wealth of data. These data can help the industry become more effect, efficient, and consistent in providing quality educational opportunities. Moreover, leaders need to use these valuable resources to provide a more appropriate educational experience for a student population growing in diversity. The key to this pursuit is “analytics,” which is the systematic analysis of data to discover meaning, insights and understanding.

Use of analytics brings several inherent benefits to higher education and the students it serves. First, analytics can assist in developing a culture of informed operational and administrative decision-making. Given the growing diversity in the student population, it is critical to have accurate information on which to make decisions on the educational opportunities an institution chooses to offer to students. Second, analytics allow education leaders to develop beneficial co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities for students. Although the academic experiences are important, many students’ collegiate successes (or lack thereof) is partially defined by their experiences outside of the classroom. Analytics can assist education leaders in ensuring that the extra-curricular and co-curricular opportunities offered to students are based (in part) on objective, data-based decision-making.

Technology Commoditization

Commoditization of technology, which is the idea of treating technology as a good or service that can be obtained via a simple transaction, is a relatively new concept in higher education. However, it has allowed a growing number of institutions to offer more educational opportunities to students that were not available just a few years ago. One of the most prevalent example of technology commoditization in contemporary higher education (and society) is growth in cloud computing services.

Traditional approaches to providing technology services on campuses required large capital investments. Institutions invested millions of dollars building technology data centers and information systems, along with the associated infrastructure needed to deliver these resources to the end users. This model for providing technology services has several inherent limitations. These included the following:

• An institutions academic reach was partly determined by its ability to build technology capacity,
• Technology cost help create competitive advantages for schools with more wealth, and
• Limited opportunities for non-traditional student populations.

Commoditizing technology has many benefits for higher education, and they are all based on the idea of technology is a service (and not a capital investment).Today, colleges and universities of varying size and scope can provide an array of on-premise and remote educational opportunities to students without the stringent fiscal limitations experienced by some organizations in the past.

Automation/integration, analytics, and technology commoditization are recent technological trends that have fundamentally changed the how colleges and universities provide education and support to students. These trends have established new opportunities in the industry to an ever-diversifying student population. And, as these trends mature in the sector, they will provide additional future opportunities.

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