The Higher Education We Deserve
As we approach the midpoint of another pandemic school year, we all recognize that the higher education we knew won’t return. The past two years have been an inflection point, where the much-discussed and debated transformation of higher education has accelerated and grown more widespread. This transformation formed the backdrop for our work identifying the 2022 Top 10 IT Issues.
Each year, EDUCAUSE presents its Top 10 IT Issues list to identify and summarize the most strategic contributions technology is likely to make to higher education institutions in the coming year. To inform our report, we speak with college and university presidents and provosts, CIOs and other technology leaders focused on teaching and learning, security and risk, strategic procurement and other areas.
What we learned this year is that higher ed leaders are not reflexively reacting to the changes that have emerged during the pandemic. Instead, these leaders are redefining higher education’s value proposition by reshaping institutional business models and culture to serve and anticipate the current and emergent needs of learners, communities and employers.
In other words, they are creating not the higher education we had but the higher education we deserve.
There is a growing consensus that institutions can no longer dictate the terms and conditions of their educational experiences and outcomes. Instead, institutions must optimize their offerings to meet students’ needs. The pandemic has forced us all to focus on core needs and services to strengthen the solutions that work and reinvent the ones that don’t.
As we looked in greater detail at the 2022 Top 10 IT Issues, three themes stood out this year: (1) the rapid acceleration of digital transformation across higher ed, (2) the sharp light that the pandemic has cast on long standing student inequities and (3) the emergence of a new constellation of cyber-related risks.
COVID Jump-starts Digital Transformation
COVID sparked digital transformation at many institutions. Those already engaged in changes were pushed to change faster and venture in new directions. Institutional leaders learned that they could deliver remote teaching and learning to their current students, and many are now looking to serve students across regions, countries and the globe.
Technology has helped institutions realize these ambitions more quickly and potentially less expensively. Leaders who were ready to seize new opportunities are now challenging themselves to expand access even further and improve students’ outcomes by leveraging experience gained during the pandemic.
Digital transformation is thus helping retire old ways of thinking, so institutions can better harness technology to transform themselves. The institutions that can reassess their mission and strategies, embrace diverse thinking, create partnerships, accelerate their planning cycles, execute plans efficiently and accurately measure the impact of all these steps will thrive. Institutions that return to the status quo or slacken their pace will quickly fall behind.
Student Inequities Are Revealed
The pandemic made it painfully clear that digital voids in both rural and urban areas most adversely affect Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, as well as people with disabilities and those experiencing poverty. The digital divide is about more than access to reliable high-speed internet. Students also need equitable access to devices and software, as well as the skills required to complete coursework and later to thrive in the workplace.
In addition, students need more effective technology-mediated advising and support services. As institutional leaders better understand the many extra-academic factors that contribute to student success, they are introducing and expanding student services, including financial aid, mental health services, transportation, childcare and food services. Technology can offer students such conveniences as online service scheduling, online progress reports and updates, and virtual appointments and meetings.
Institutional leaders have a pivotal role to play in reimagining what equity means. They now recognize that the quick fixes used during the pandemic will need to give way to comprehensive efforts to ensure students have sufficient and equitable access to educational resources and opportunities. Leaders will need to make difficult choices; in some cases, return on investment may not be the measure of success.
The Cybersecurity Challenges of a Changing World
At the institutional level, cybersecurity threats and breaches are increasing rapidly and becoming more difficult for users to detect. One incident can cause the loss of educational opportunities for students, as well as financial and reputational issues for both the campus and people whose data are involved.
Today, cyber risk is everywhere—all the more since many institutional operations moved off campus during the pandemic. As pandemic-informed and post-pandemic higher education evolves, many leaders are planning for a blended experience that supports both digital and physical work and learning. And of course, the cloud continues to be a prominent part of many institutions’ enterprise architecture. As “anywhere IT” provides more of the foundation upon which higher education institutions conduct their core operations, it becomes business-critical to build processes, controls and training that ensure continued access to and ongoing integrity of the underlying IT products.
For institutions to thrive, cybersecurity professionals must become the linchpins of higher ed. In this scenario, end users are informed, proactive partners in protecting their devices and networks, and strategic and collaborative efforts across institutions serve to standardize our approaches to cybersecurity.
Notable IT Issues for 2022
The topics that came to the forefront in our discussion of the Top 10 IT Issues reflected higher ed leaders’ passionate commitment to prepare institutions for the wave of opportunities and challenges that face us all. The Top 10 IT Issues reflect both the inspiration and trepidation IT leaders anticipate for 2022, including:
Issue #2: Evolve or Become Extinct.
In our discussion, leaders focused on the need to accelerate digital transformation in order to improve operational efficiency, agility and institutional Workforce Development, and they agreed this was nothing less than an existential challenge.
Issue #3: Digital Faculty for a Digital Future.
Leaders emphasized the need to ensure faculty have the digital fluency to provide creative, equitable and innovative engagement for students.
Issue #6: From Digital Scarcity to Digital Abundance.
Leaders highlighted the need to address student equity issues, with calls for a commitment to achieving full, equitable digital access for students by investing in connectivity, tools and skills.
Issue #10: Radical Creativity.
Leaders also acknowledged the need to help students prepare for the future by giving them tools and learning spaces to foster creative practices and collaborations.
One of the most important underlying themes of the 2022 Top IT Issues is people. For the first time, the list looks at students as more than learners and as more than customers who need services. The list views students as people with rights, dreams and fears. Our panelists responded to the concerns IT leaders expressed in our interviews. They shaped IT Issues around creativity, equity, individual needs and preferences, and mental health. This is almost entirely brand-new territory for the panelists and their ideas on the contributions technology can make to the most pressing challenges and opportunities in higher education.
Staff, faculty, and leaders are exhausted and chronically stressed. They are tired of pivoting, overloaded with too much work and faced with the constant need to learn new ways to work, teach and collaborate. They are overwhelmed by family challenges or extended social isolation and are fearful of the future, yet these are the people who must create the higher education we deserve. This concern permeated almost every conversation we had with the IT Issues panelists, this year and last.
As we look to technology to help higher education not just adapt to the pandemic but actually transform higher education and students’ outcomes, we will always need to put people at the center of our thinking and activities. The times ahead will demand more and different from us all. Technology may power the transformation of higher education, but the people are the ones who must benefit.
Author Perspective: Association