Top 10 IT issues, 2017: Foundations for student success

January 17, 2017

The 2017 EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues are all about student success.1 Information technology in higher education continues to have many priorities and serve numerous constituents. IT service catalogs comprise hundreds of services to meet the many needs of faculty, students, and staff in various fields: the humanities; social, biological, and physical sciences; law; music; theater; art; business; and healthcare and allied professions. You name it, higher education offers it, and the IT organization supports it. Every academic and administrative area makes its own, separate demands on the IT organization, at any time and from any place. Despite the many and disparate requirements of each user and each technology, a predominant focus has risen to the top for higher education information technology in 2017, and that focus is student success. Colleges and universities are concentrating on student success to address concerns about the costs, value, and outcomes of higher education. Student success initiatives are making use of every available resource and opportunity and are involving every relevant stakeholder. Institutional technology is all three: resource, opportunity, and stakeholder.

These examples characterize the changing role of information technology in higher education. Technology is an enabler, not a primary driver, of institutional strategies and IT investments. Information technology provides the traction to move hard-to-move needles.

The theme of student success is not immediately apparent when scanning the 2017 Top 10 IT Issues list. In many ways, the list differs from previous years only on the margins. But in interviews with panel members—a new part of our methodology this year—we learned that the summative motivation for addressing today’s digital challenges is student success and, accordingly, institutional success. IT leaders realize that the success and potentially the future of their institutions rest on the success of their students and that digital technology is an essential foundation for both institutional and student success.

Concerns about higher education affordability and value are one driver of today’s student success initiatives. Advances in technology and data science are another. Those advances make it possible to use information technology to improve students’ institutional experiences, such as engaging technology-enhanced learning that helps students learn more effectively, data and analytics that assist students in planning and attaining their credentials expeditiously, and digital applications and experiences that are seamless and effective. Applications that collect and report student information provide the path into and out of algorithms that analyze and model student data and that help students, faculty, and advisors draw insights and recommendations for curricula, majors, courses, and extracurricular activities and support systems. Courseware that adapts its pace and pathway to individual learners helps optimize learning experiences. Technology does not lead student success efforts, but it is indispensable to them.

Student success initiatives exemplify major technology and process transformations, with all their attendant risks and hoped-for benefits. Like all transformative efforts, student success is multidimensional and requires strong foundations and leadership. The 2017 Top 10 IT issues coalesce into four related themes that colleges and universities are addressing: IT foundations; data foundations; effective leadership; and successful students (see figure 1).

Figure 1

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