Having just returned from attending the 2021 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in Philadelphia, there is one conversation that I am still thinking about. I met with a colleague who was not attending the conference but lives close enough to come to Philly for lunch. She is a senior Academic Affairs executive for a university system. She asked me about the conference and made a comment that this wasn’t a conference for “people like her.” Her assumption was that the EDUCAUSE conference was a technology event and wouldn’t address the topics that she cared about the most.

This is a not-uncommon perception in higher education. People who describe themselves as non-techies see a great divide between themselves and those of us whose job titles and descriptions evoke technological expertise and focus.

But my experience over a multi-decade career in education and technology has been one of both revolutionary change and evolution. While there have been many technological changes that have impacted higher education (WiFi is a great example), the evolution that has taken place has been even more impactful.  That evolution is reflected in the ways that higher education has shifted its IT/technological focus from productivity (such as ERP, office apps, and registration) to student success.  The CIO and IT team are not only supporting student success through implementing technology, but they are also now actively working to help find good technology solutions that will increase student success.

Looking at EDUCAUSE’s recently-released report on the Top 10 IT issues, you can see that the report focuses on ways technology “is helping to make the higher education we deserve.” And it’s no surprise that EDUCAUSE predicts that institutions who will be most successful in realizing this vision will be the ones who equate student success to institutional success. I couldn’t agree more.

So how do campus leaders, IT and non-IT alike, come together to realize this vision? To start, they can explore how to address two of the Top 10 IT issues EDUCAUSE highlighted in their report.

Let’s first look at IT issue #4: Learning from COVID-19 to build a better future.

EDUCAUSE advises campus leaders to use “digitization and digital transformation to produce technology systems that are more student-centric and equity-minded.” These are two core goals in delivering the education that students “deserve”. Efforts at being more aware and focused on equity have recently been at the forefront of many institutions’ efforts to improve student outcomes. Over the course of the pandemic, individual institutions and systems of higher education have both realized that too many students suffer inequitable access. Whether they live in a remote location with limited course and program options or are balancing work, family, and education all at the same time, many of these students find themselves falling behind. Why? Because their institution couldn’t offer access to the courses or sections they needed – when they needed them – in order to stay on track.

The Montana University System struggled with this issue, as many of their students are placebound. And the challenge became more acute during the pandemic. Through system-wide collaboration, they were able to expand course and program offerings for students, giving them choices and access that they didn’t have before. And, they were able to close the access and equity gap, helping more students stay on track to reaching their goals.

Next, let’s look at IT issue #10: Radical creativity.

This issue focuses on “helping students prepare for the future by giving them tools and learning spaces that foster creative practices and collaboration.” Collaboration is a critical skill for students to learn as they prepare to enter the modern workplace. But this concept can go one step further to include collaboration among colleges and universities.

My colleague, Jeff Jones, calls this the “Age of Collaboration”. It is a time when colleges and universities are coming together to implement new solutions to age-old challenges, such as boosting student success. One of these collaborative solutions is course and program sharing. At its core, course and program sharing is all about student success. It’s about expanding reach. And it’s about giving students the access they need to stay on track to on-time completion.

This creative way of collaborating changes the way institutional leaders think about putting student success first. Instead of looking for solutions within the walls of their campus, they’re evolving their approach to include solutions that cross institutional boundaries. They are giving students the ability to fulfill a graduation requirement by taking a transferable course from another institution. And they are filling empty seats in their own classrooms with students from other institutions.

This new way of thinking requires technology support from IT and policy, curricular, and programmatic support from Academic Affairs and Student Services. By joining forces, they can affect change and improve student – and institutional – success.

If these past 20+ months have taught us anything, it’s that change is constant. And, that the institutions that will succeed are the ones who embrace change. These are the ones who realize that there is no such thing as a “return to normal.” Instead, they see change as an opportunity to redefine higher education and to create for students, as EDUCAUSE says, “the higher education we deserve.”

About the Author

Jay Field

Senior Vice President of Institutional Partnerships at Quottly