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4 Digital Transformation Trends in Higher Education

By: Matt Walton

These digital trends illustrate how institutions of higher education are beginning to effectively adapt to the digital age.

Digital transformation, defined as a series of coordinated shifts in workforce, culture, and technology that transform an institution’s operations and strategy, is an increasing area of focus in many industries — but not necessarily at equal rates. Higher education, in particular, has been inconsistent in its adoption of digital tools and technology. 

Research by the EDUCAUSE Review reveals that 13% of colleges and universities are actively engaging in digital transformation efforts, compared to an average of 31% across all industries. In addition, 32% are working to develop a digital transformation strategy, and 38% are “exploring” digital transformation. The positive news from this research is that the majority of higher education institutions are somewhere in the process of defining or executing their digital transformation plans, while only 17% have yet to invest any time or resources.

But as technology becomes increasingly integral to the modern workforce, more and more institutions of higher education are mobilizing to ensure they keep up with the changing world. Here are the key technology shifts that are already taking hold in higher education:

1. More Effective Information Security Strategies 

As data privacy becomes a more pressing concern across sectors, higher education institutions are turning their attention to their own information security strategies. Two major trends are contributing to a pressing need for increased information security on college campuses: remote schooling, and the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) on campus. 

Remote schooling means that more and more students are accessing their schools’ learning management systems, tuition payment portals, and more from their home networks, which can open schools to vulnerabilities that didn’t previously exist. Similarly, connected heating and cooling systems, lighting, security systems, and more are creating more touch points through which bad actors could gain access to a school network.

Demand for experienced cybersecurity professionals has long outpaced supply across industries, and education is no exception. Accordingly, higher education institutions must invest in recruiting and retaining qualified cybersecurity talent or partnering with trusted outside contractors to tighten their data security practices.

But a single expert — or even a team of experts — is not sufficient for a full transformation. Culture plays a major role in the effectiveness of any data security program; institutions must ensure that all faculty and staff are up-to-speed on best practices and actively dedicated to preventing data breaches.

2. Increased Accessibility Through Digital Tools

The novel coronavirus crisis has acted as an emergency proof-of-concept for digital teaching and learning tools, and while the last-minute nature of the transformation has presented many challenges, most professors and students have been able to effectively adapt to digital learning. Of course, the current online-learning landscape is less than ideal, and many students and professors have expressed their strong preference for on-campus learning.

However, not all students — or all higher education institutions — are traditional. Part-time students, students with children, and students with chronic health conditions can benefit from an increased digitization of resources, classes, and communication — and colleges and universities that make an effort to offer flexible learning options can attract and retain more of those students. 

Accessibility takes many forms, and institutions are increasingly aware of the need to make education more attainable for a wide variety of students with a spectrum of different needs. For example, over a third of schools are focused on creating online teaching platforms that meet accessibility requirements, and another third are trying to create more accessible audio and video services. 

3. Stronger Networks

70% of higher education leaders anticipate needing to increase bandwidth over the next 12 to 24 months, particularly in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the increasing reliance on school networks for a higher proportion of the school day. 

What’s more, with every new class of students comes a new generation of technology. One 2015 study found that each student, on average, brings seven connected devices with them to campus. However, that study is now more than five years old, and the number of connected devices on the market has likely grown substantially since then. 

Unfortunately, most school networks haven’t grown proportionally — or, if they have, they’re struggling to maintain that necessary pace of growth. Wi-Fi upgrades are now among the most ambitious and expensive projects that a university can take on, but they’re also one of the most vital.

4. Improved Data Analytics

Increased use of digital tools does not only create a more streamlined experience for students; it also enables colleges and universities to collect more valuable data, and to use that data to inform decision-making. Information related to course enrollment, instructor reviews, or even campus dining can provide higher education institutions with key insights into how they can adjust to serve their students, faculty, and staff more effectively.

For example, understanding and tracking the factors that influence student retention can be used for predictive analytics. Keeping students happy and improving graduation rates is not only beneficial to a school’s reputation but improves the institution’s bottom line as well. 

Unfortunately, many institutions of higher education have an outsized “technical debt,” meaning that they’re still relying on outdated legacy systems. As a result, the transition to better, more usable data analytics will require a heavy lift upfront — but the end result is worth the initial investment.

Streamline Your Digital Transformation Efforts

Colleges and universities looking to initiate a digital transformation — or to take better advantage of the digital tools already at their disposal — should consider partnering with an expert consultancy like SEI. SEI consultants come to the table with deep technical and functional expertise, provide 360-degree support from day one, and have an intimate understanding of the unique challenges of the higher education sector. 

To learn more about SEI — and to take your university to the next level of digital capability — get in touch with us today.

Matt Walton

Consultant

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