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Context is King: Opinions on the Top 10 IT Issues in Higher Ed

Viewpoints – March IT Series – Part 1 of 5

EDUCAUSE’s graphic is addictive. Both newbies and experts who deal with IT issues and strategic technologies in higher ed should check it out. Experts will have an advantage though: they’ll have history with the backstory of what drove the trends over time. It’s easy to see that ‘Student success technologies’ showed up in 2013, ‘IT funding models’ dipped in 2011 but never dropped out of the top 10, and ‘E-learning and online education’ is widely sporadic over the years. But why? We asked our network of higher ed and edtech experts to weigh in.

Context is king: meet our experts

Read on for opinions, insights and suggestions from Deborah Ludford, District Director, Information Services at North Orange Community College DistrictJason Pistillo, President & CEO at University of Advancing Technology; Catherine Riedstra, Dean of Student Services at Cuesta College; and Chris Chumley, COO at CampusLogic.

In this, the first of a five-part series, we asked: what did you find most surprising about the infographic? 

Deborah Ludford NOCCCDDeborah Ludford: A few things are surprising. ‘Demonstrating IT’s value’ dropped off the radar, but I think that’s an important issue today. From 2004 to 2011 it was low on the list, and was a blip in 2015. This line corresponds with the money schools had available to them. When there was no money, every dollar we spent had to be justified. Now, this just feels like a normal part of business. We bring in a lot of new products and justify them daily. That’s become my job – to make sure everyone has the resources they need, and understands why we invest in them.

‘BI and analytics’ has a weird path/line that makes it seem like it only showed up in 2011 and then disappeared in 2015 to resurface in 2016.  I think it’s more likely that ‘BI and analytics’ became the name for the issue in 2012, but it was on here in previous years integrated into other issues. We’ve always done it, it’s just being called out separately now. I’m not sure why ‘Institutional Data Management’ and ‘BI and analytics’ are individual issues – you can’t have one without the other.

PistilloJason Pistillo: That there are other things that are more important than what’s in here, to be honest. The glaring one missing from the report: The fastest growing new jobs are in tech. But there’s no way that schools have the number of faculty needed to teach students the skills to get these jobs and to be successful in them. Schools should be working with their IT departments and CIOs to solve for “how do we leverage our technical faculty/IT group to improve the technical rigor of our curriculum?” On-site internships, boot camps, etc. It’s a big blind spot. Higher ed isn’t doing this right now because they don’t have the talent—but they shouldn’t just ignore it.

I’m also surprised ‘Student success technologies’ is so high on the list. This one became a big deal in 2013 because the U.S. administration came out and made it a big issue. Everyone wants a silver bullet for retention, but there isn’t one. Focusing on failure in this space rather than incremental success won’t help. Parents get it—if you encourage success rather than yell at failure, kids will do better. Institutions are currently responding to failures, but not to success.

RiedstraCatherine Riedstra: I’m surprised how recently the issue of ‘Student success technology’ was introduced—it first appeared as a top 10 IT issue in 2013. At my institution, we started thinking about how to harness technology to improve student success a decade ago.  As early as 2000, when distance education became more mainstream, we started thinking about how to make student services accessible to our online students.

Around that same time, accreditation standards were updated to include this concept.  To me, it completely made sense.  How could we expect students to be successful in an online environment if they didn’t have access to Student Services in that same modality? More recently, the California Community College system has been very focused on determining what activities or services best support student success. 2010 legislation required the California Community Colleges state-level governing body to begin a comprehensive plan for improving student success, which led to a Student Success Task Force and 22 recommendations. The implementation of the recommendations has included an emphasis on utilizing student success technologies to strengthen support services for entering students and creating stronger incentives for positive student behaviors.


Chris.ChumleyChris Chumley: 
Historically, that ‘BI and analytics’ didn’t really show up until the last five years. BI only cracked the top five once, and even in 2016 it’s the seventh priority. It’s surprising to me that this wasn’t more of a priority all along, because higher education is sitting on data that everyone would kill for. They all store income, ethnicity, education, zip code… the types of analysis that can be done with the existing data points is astounding.  Schools are the original Big Data folks, but they don’t use it—schools are still not really data driven. You can maybe say BI started to make it onto the radar in 2013 under ‘Improving student outcomes’ as the number two priority and in 2012 ‘Analytics to support institution outcomes’ appeared. The importance of measuring outcomes drove the need for data. But again, I’m just surprised it took so long for it to become a priority. The rest of the world has been focused on data science for years. Higher ed has to focus on a strategy for pulling it all together.

About the infographic and rankings

EDUCAUSE, a non-profit organization, has been tracking rankings of the Top 10 IT Issues in higher ed since 2000. The interactive graphic highlights yearly trends and also maps those trends across the 16-year timeframe. The issues were selected by EDUCAUSE, “with help from the IT Issues Panel and a representative sample of IT leaders in the community.”

Watch for part two of this series next week, when our experts answer: What did you find least surprising about the inforgraphic/trends?