Four things higher education leaders are worried about—and how IT can support them

Expert Insight

Four things higher education leaders are worried about—and how IT can support them

As part of this year’s National Meeting research, IT Forum analysts have compiled work from different EAB research forums to offer “views across the quad.” These conversations with different higher education leaders give IT staff insight to understand and prepare for upcoming challenges across the industry.

Each EAB research forum is organized around the challenges and needs of different campus executives. For IT, sitting at the nexus of these competing consumer bases can make prioritizing campus needs and promoting cross-silo solutions a challenge. But with insight into the top-of-mind issues for Provosts, Chief Business Officers, Enrollment Managers, and Heads of Online Education, IT staff can better prepare to serve their communities effectively in 2018 and beyond.

Provosts are turning to new metrics to measure academic vital signs

In the Academic Affairs Forum, researchers leveraged their extensive network of academic Deans and Provosts to understand nationwide top-level concerns. Across institutions, academic strategic plans emphasized similar goals: enrollment growth, cost efficiency, student outcomes, scholarship, and faculty diversity and inclusion. While aspirations were high, the Forum found that few institutions established measurable objectives for their academic units to meet these strategic imperatives. To help Provosts and Deans turn empty metrics into meaningful information, researchers encouraged leadership to reorient their analysis.

In measuring cost efficiency, for instance, the Forum advocated that Provosts ditch traditional metrics such as student-faculty ratio and faculty workload. Instead, institutions should measure more nuanced metrics such as instructional gap capacity, student credit hour per FTE, and unfunded course releases.

What this means for IT: Expect academic units to rely more on data-driven decision making, along with a greater emphasis on nuanced metrics and real-time reporting for ongoing capacity issues. As academic needs flex across the year, Provosts will look for reliable data to inform term-by-term decisions.

Business and finance leaders are looking to scale process improvement to drive organizational change

Negative prior experiences with “shared services” was the driver behind the Business Affairs Forum’s research into process improvement and scalable organizational services. As different institutions attempt to use automation to capture cost efficiencies, the Forum focused its attention on how business leaders could reap greater rewards from their initiatives by scaling the services offered.

To help ensure success in consolidation and simplification efforts, the Forum tackled barriers across cost, complexity, and culture domains, focusing on how to right-size aspirations, and leverage early successes to promote change across campus.

higher education college and university IT information technology priorities provost CBO

The Forum advocated for a multimodal approach to consolidation, calibrating scale to campus opportunities, as well as leveraging technology platforms (such as ERPs) to enable distributed work across multiple domains.

As with Provosts, metrics took center stage, with shared service quality (e.g. error rates; rework frequency; turnaround times), productivity (e.g. processes/FTE; time per process; cost savings), and customer satisfaction (e.g. speed, ease of use, and service quality satisfaction; complaint ratios) paramount to tracking efficacy.

What this means for IT: Similarly to the IT organization, business and finance officers are looking to achieve service scale—making CIO/CBO collaboration more important than ever. Emphasis on scaled and technology-enabled business processes will demand close alliance to ensure technical and business priorities build scalable capabilities rather than siloed innovations.

Enrollment managers are relying on predictive modeling to optimize aid strategies

Over in the Enrollment Management Forum, researchers compiled advice for executives looking to build campus consensus around institutional aid strategies. Tuition discount rates are growing across private universities, with the NACUBO-reported discount rate for first-time full-time (FTFT) freshmen in 2016-17 rising to 49.1%, up from 38.6% in 2006-07. For public universities, despite broad unwillingness to identify “discounting” models, the percentage of FTFT students receiving institutional grant aid has leapt from 32% to 48% from 2004 to 2014, while the “discount rate” for the same population doubled from 16% to 32% in that decade. For Enrollment Managers, this means complicated discussions of net tuition revenue in the President’s Cabinet.

To help Enrollment Managers find the line between too much aid and not enough, EAB’s researchers outlined three components to optimize aid allocation: defined enrollment goals, specified aid policies, and statistical models to analyze the efficacy of any given policy.

What this means for IT: Aid optimization modeling will rely on complex metrics and data visualization, enriching new policy possibilities with historical data. While many Enrollment Managers may seek external partnerships to build yield models, IT will be on call to provide steady access and careful integration for longitudinal institutional data and inputs from other sources.

Online education leaders are hoping to revitalize slow-growth programs

Researchers in EAB’s Continuing and Online Education Forum have worked with more than 300 heads of online programming to address their marketplace concerns. As educational institutions battle against the growing noise of the digital world, three needs emerged as pressing issues for online program sustainability:

higher education college and university IT information technology priorities provost CBO

To differentiate campus offerings from the swathes of internet advertising, researchers advocated for program ads that trigger emotional drivers of change, connect initial interest to useful information, and offer low-commitment next steps to would-be enrollers. Ads that focus on the student experience, encourage engagement with useful content, and promote program-agnostic events with nominal fees allow online programmers to build a pipeline of potential applicants for undersubscribed online offerings.

What to Expect in IT: As more institutions invest in online programming, expect an increased focus on digital marketing. Forward-thinking COE programs will be leveraging not only social media platforms, but emerging technologies in artificial intelligence and unstructured data mining to more carefully target outreach. To have hopes of contributing, IT capabilities need to keep up.

5 foundational roles to support institutional objectives

For CIOs, the mandate is clear: foundational capabilities in enterprise-wide digital platforms are crucial to campus successes.

IT leaders and their staff must partner proactively with campus constituents to get ahead of business needs, and most fully meet the emerging needs of their business partners. For many, this means transforming the IT organization to support campus-wide technology services and investing in updated infrastructure to support advancing digital capabilities.