Higher ed CIOs want to improve student digital experiences, but hit roadblocks

A new higher education CIO trends report found that student digital experiences are integral, but challenges abound.
(Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action)
(Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action)

A higher education chief information officer trends report released on Thursday found that while student digital experiences are integral, there are many challenges campus technology leaders must overcome to achieve those goals.

The report from Ocelot, an artificial intelligence-powered software platform, consists of survey responses from more than 100 higher education CIOs from both two-year and four-year campuses, as well as private and public institutions. It found that higher education CIOs are most concerned with securing student data, facilitating digital experiences for students, implementing cohesive communication strategies and ensuring compliance with federal and state policies. 

“Higher ed CIOs are at the forefront of navigating a sea of changes across both cybersecurity and digital transformation, while supporting the critical mission of enhancing student success,” the report reads. “As schools look to solve for declining enrollment and retention, finding ways to improve the day-to-day lives of students is critical.” 

Of the higher education CIOs surveyed, 85% agreed that enrollment and retention are dependent upon student digital experiences. However, 85% indicated that creating that digital experience is a challenge at their institutions.


The survey blames “an explosion of [software as a service] applications” in higher education for creating a complicated web of systems that are difficult to manage. The “tech creep” at campuses has led to an inability to support and use applications effectively, stretched budgets and redundant systems, according to the report. 

One particular pain point CIOs run into when attempting to achieve seamless digital experiences for students is getting personalized messages to them at the right time across institution communication channels, the report said. Sixty-six percent of CIOs said communications at their campuses are so siloed it’s difficult to deliver a single brand experience to students. 

And while the emergence of applications powered by artificial intelligence offers promise to optimize resources, it’s also adding pressure to higher education CIOs as they wrestle with new challenges in protecting student data and compliance with state and federal policies, the report said.

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