Technology Will Make Higher Education Institutions More In-Tune With Students in a DecadeLinda Thor | Chancellor, Foothill-De Anza Community College District
The following email Q&A is with Linda Thor, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. Thor is an industry leader when it comes to integrating technology into the management of the higher education institutions under her leadership, and has been recognized for her innovation by multiple bodies. In this interview, Thor discusses the challenges higher education institutions face in adequately integrating technology into institutional management and shares her vision of what the future holds for technology in higher education.
1. Is technology being utilized to its fullest potential in the management of higher education institutions today?
Absolutely not! Higher education is very far behind the private sector in fully utilizing technology for management of our organizations. Our processes are still too manual. While lack of resources can be partially to blame, a lot of this is our own fault. We often are unwilling or unable to re-think our policies and procedures. For example, do we really need original signatures on all those documents? Industry has addressed these challenges and we need to look outside of academe for ideas and solutions. It also appears that we have a long way to go in the adoption of analytics for decision making and system improvements. The problem is not a lack of data, but the lack of skills to analyze the data combined with a commitment to data-informed decision making.
2. What is the biggest barrier standing in the way of fully integrating technology into the operations of a higher education institution?
There are several big barriers. The first is reduced budgets. Even if we are able to identify and address process improvement, we don’t have the funds to acquire the software or provide the necessary training. We are unable to spend a dollar now even if we know that it will save $15 later. Second, we don’t have enough staff or, perhaps, not the right staff. We have truly archaic classification systems that have not been updated to reflect the natural evolution of work from paper based to electronic. There are few incentives to do things differently and, in some cases, disincentives exist.
3. Looking 10 years into the future, how do you think technology will be deployed in the management of colleges and universities? What about across systems?
Location-based services via mobile devices will be huge for faculty, staff and students. We will no longer differentiate between mobile and non-mobile. And we won’t be carrying multiple devices. We will have inter-operability across systems without a struggle, both within our institutions and across the educational system. We will have better transportability of data and, hopefully, a national education identifier. Self-service will rule the day. Manual administrative processes such as those in human resources and purchasing will be replaced with at-your-fingertips apps. And students will be better informed and better served by sophisticated social media approaches that push information and actions to their mobile devices.
The data that will be captured about student journeys throughout institutions will allow us to improve our systems and our outcomes. We will be more cost-effective while at the same time providing a more personalized and customized experience for our students.
Author Perspective: Administrator, Community College
Reading this article, I get the sense that the issue isn’t so much that we don’t have the appropriate technology or that we lack the know-how to use it, but that there’s an unwillingness to adapt to these changes. It’s an attitudinal shift we need, and quickly.
It’s interesting that Linda Thor predicts that “self-service will rule” in the near future. I wonder which institutions have accepted this, and have begun developing the apps she writes about, or are they behind the curve in this respect?
I am also intrigued by what the author wrote about self-service apps of the future. I wonder if perhaps this signals the rise of private operators or “edupreneurs” to develop, implement and manage these apps. In this scenario, what would the role of the university shift to? Some might say it would be diminished or that universities would become obsolete, but I don’t buy this argument. However, I do recognize their roles would change.