Each year, those deeply invested in the issues of higher education attend EDUCAUSE’s week-long conference, during which the organization identifies the top 10 IT issues for the year to come. For 2017, information security, student success and completion, and data-informed decision-making topped the list.
Early in January, EDUCAUSE released more in-depth research on these key issues — including some expert enterprise opinions — and focused them all around student 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,” writes the EDUCAUSE IT Issues panel on their website.
EdTech talked with Susan Grajek, EDUCAUSE’s vice president for communities and research about these top issues and why security is now more important than ever.
EDTECH: How are these IT issues identified?
GRAJEK: We work with a specially selected panel of people who are the representatives of the EDUCAUSE membership at large. They are college presidents, provosts and representatives from institutions like community colleges, public universities and private universities. We meet with that panel several times a year, and we ask them to tell us the issues they are facing. And then, in the summer, we ask them to think forward to the coming year and to anticipate what they will believe will be the top issues.
That list forms the basis of a poll that we then send out to the EDUCAUSE membership, and they vote on the top issues.
EDTECH: Student success was identified as the central priority. How do the top 10 issues feed into that?
GRAJEK: Certainly student success is the most universal priority for institutions. Strategic initiatives almost always relate to technology in some way. If you’re going to be successful at transforming teaching and learning, you are going to first need a strong IT foundation.
In order to deliver on educational tech, you’re going to need good information security. To use data, you’re going to need good systems to support the data.
Higher ed student success initiatives also need a strong data foundation. The data housed at universities is incredibly helpful. If you’re trying to transform the advising process at your institution, you need to be able to give students really good information about where they stand. With data, you can tell students things like where they are with regard to achieving a degree, which courses they will be more successful in, and which course requirements they must take in a certain semester.
EDTECH: Speaking of data, it’s a key part of several of the issues EDUCAUSE identified. How has data emerged as such a key issue for universities, and how will universities need to adapt to use data successfully?
GRAJEK: Data has gone from an ignored byproduct of the transactions in our information systems to a key asset. People in higher ed are seeing data as more and more valuable, and there are more and more sources of data. The Internet of Things is generating an abundance of data, and we are really just in the early stages of understanding how to apply those resources to higher ed’s most challenging problems. I think it’s an exciting area, one that is growing, and one that has the potential to remake higher education as we understand it today.
Using data is not only about putting in a set of technology, it’s also about data governance and data management. An investment in data is not just one big investment, but one that will need to be remade as the tools mature and solutions evolve. A solution that was really state of the art and really provided an advantage in 2017 is going to fall behind in a few years.
EDTECH: Once again, security was named as the top IT issue of the year. Why does security remain so important?
GRAJEK: It represents simultaneously a huge risk to the institution’s reputation and financial bottom line, and a risk that is almost impossible to control. Every single constituent at any institution is potentially a risk for a information security breach. Nobody intends it; very few breaches are caused by a bad actor in the institution who intentionally exposes information. Most often, breaches are caused by ignorance or inattention.
Institutions are taking strides to protect themselves. They are doing all kinds of things to better secure data. That’s one huge aspect of data management and data governance. We have to make sure people who have access to data actually need access. We have to make sure we have good policies and procedures in place. I think the tools are improving, the technologies are improving, and we’re learning to become more savvy and careful.
Unfortunately, the bad actors are learning and evolving as well. I think this challenge is going to be with us for quite a long time until there is a real game changer.