Higher education leaders expect several significant shifts in IT priorities heading into 2018, including a greater sense of academy-wide urgency to support student success, according to findings unveiled today by the nonprofit association EDUCAUSE.
The findings — highlighted in EDUCAUSE’s latest annual list of the “Top 10 IT Issues” confronting higher education institutions — also point to evolving concerns around information security, the need for IT leaders to play a larger role in institution-wide strategy and for institutions to move beyond data-driven decisions, according to Susan Grajek, EDUCAUSE vice president for communities and research.
The new list of IT issues reflects the continuing pressure colleges and universities face as leaders grapple with how to reengineer 20th century education models to meet the dynamic demands of the 21st century workforce and a far more diverse mix of students preparing for it.
“Technology and higher education are coming together to really, truly remake higher education,” Grajek told EdScoop in an interview Wednesday, prior to the release of the top 10 list. “Last year, the focus was all on student success. What we’re seeing this year is that transformative effort is being directed to all parts of the academy,” she said.
This year’s top 10 IT issues in higher education, based on in-depth interviews with two dozen higher education IT leaders and administrators over the past few months:
1. Information security: Developing a risk-based security strategy that keeps pace with security threats and challenges.
2. Student success: Managing the system implementations and integrations that support multiple student success initiatives.
3. Institution-wide IT strategy: Repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner of institutional leadership in achieving institutional missions.
4. Data-enabled institutional culture: Using BI and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions.
5. Student-centered institution: Understanding and advancing technology’s role in defining the student experience on campus (from applicants to alumni).
6. Higher education affordability: Balancing and rightsizing IT priorities and budget to support IT enabled institutional efficiencies and innovations in the context of institutional funding realities.
7. IT staffing and organizational models: Ensuring adequate staffing capacity and staff retention in the face of retirements, new sourcing models, growing external competition, rising salaries and the demands of technology initiatives on both IT and non-IT staff.
8. (tie) Data management and governance: Implementing effective institutional data governance practices.
8. (tie) Digital integrations: Ensuring system interoperability, scalability, and extensibility, as well as data integrity, standards and governance, across multiple applications and platforms.
10. Change leadership: Helping institutional constituents (including the IT staff) adapt to the increasing pace of technology change.
Information security continued to hold its place again this year as the top-ranking IT issue for higher ed leaders. Grajek, however, believes institutions are “getting better at recognizing that information security is a risk that we can and should actively manage.”
Grajek said four overall themes emerged from this year’s top 10 IT issues: institutional adaptiveness, IT adaptiveness, student outcomes and using data to improve decision-making.
“The big change this year, though,” she said, “is importance of putting the data that we have at our institutions to work.” While data-driven decisions emerged as an essential theme in last year’s list, the sentiment this year reflects a stronger desire to create a “data-enabled institutional culture” that focuses more fully on data management and governance and digital integrations, she said.
“It’s one thing to have analytics and BI, and to have clean data. But it’s another thing for the decision makers at the institution to know what to do with that data and to have points of view about the data that they need and to really apply that,” she said.
“Information security challenges are the shadow that’s cast by data,” she said. “The more we’re using data — putting it to work — the more data that we’re actually generating and the more consequential it is … and the bigger information security becomes as an issue.”
“I think the other twist that people are keenly aware of — that they weren’t so much last year — is that there’s protecting information and data from being breached, but there’s also protecting data integrity,” she said. “All of these things that have come up with fake news and the like [suggest a heightened need] to protect our institutional reputation from being hijacked and perverted. That I think is another facet that is entering the whole information security privacy arena.”
Grajek also highlighted how IT and data are crucial for institutions to keep adapting to changing needs of students and the job market that awaits them. She identified three underlying themes:
“The first theme is institution-wide IT strategy. What we’ve seen is that the IT leaders have come closer to institutional leadership in their ability to apply technology at a strategic level. And higher education leaders are coming closer to technology with their recognition that technology truly can do more than just pass transactions and provide a network for people to work on, but can also really directly improve student outcomes and improve research, improve alumni relationships and fundraising,” she said.
“The second theme is what we’re calling higher education affordability. That is this notion of understanding that we don’t have unlimited budgets and yet we do have unlimited ambitions. Both IT leadership and institutional leadership are getting better at having that conversation about what’s actually achievable. How can we have that conversation so that we know what we’re going to get?”
“The third issue, which is the first time it’s been on the top 10 list, is change leadership. It’s exciting that higher education and IT recognize that this change is happening to all of us at all of our institutions, and that if we’re going to accept that premise then we need to think about how we’re really going to be able to lead the change,” she said.
Grabek released the “Top IT Issues” list during a panel discussion at EDUCAUSE’s annual conference where CIOs from six colleges and universities elaborated on how their institutions are attempting to tackle security risks, data management and privacy and the how IT issues have become more central to the viability of institutions.