Like many post-secondary institutions, Ithaca College, in upstate New York, has seen its share of change in recent years. Shifting demographics have made the college much more diverse, and its student population today hails from 48 states and more than 50 countries. Ithaca, originally founded as a music conservatory, now offers more than 90 majors through five schools on several campuses.
What’s the one thing that’s remained the same since 2017? In pursuit of its mission to serve everyone equally in an “active and inclusive” learning community, the college has relied in part on a technology solution: Microsoft 365 Education.
M365, as it’s also known, is Microsoft’s education-specific version of its popular Office 365 suite. It was tailored to help bridge the equity gaps that many institutions see among their students and to provide them with certain skills they’re likely to need in their future careers, says Dan Ayoub, general manager for Microsoft Education Experiences.
Ayoub points to reports on the changing nature of work and notes that many of the jobs that will be available in a few years do not yet exist. The recent surge in diversity in higher education, where the number of adult learners is also on the rise, is in some ways a reflection of this new reality.
The “digital revolution demands that our education system keeps up, and that’s really where our team is focused,” says Ayoub.
Microsoft Tiers Give Institutions Flexibility in Software Deployment
In Ithaca’s case, its M365 solution is what Microsoft calls its A5 option: a tier where the college pays a per-user monthly fee for high-level security features not included in the standard package.
Other institutions might choose another tier depending on their budgets, says Ayoub.
A1, for example, is a free solution available to any accredited institution that offers access to most M365 tools. A3 provides the same features as A1, plus full access to Office desktop apps and a collection of additional management and security tools. M365 provides cost savings for institutions that purchase a package versus individual licenses. Costs and payment schedules depend on the size of the package purchased and the number of licenses.
All M365 packages include Office 365, Windows 10 and Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security. Specific features include real-time captions in OneNote, PowerPoint and Teams that allow students who are hard of hearing or non-native English speakers to read along during lectures; Learning Tools, which help improve reading and writing for learners regardless of age or ability; and Teams for Education, described as a “digital hub that brings conversations, content, assignments and apps together in one place.”
Learning Tools applications are now available in more than 45 languages, Ayoub notes, and Teams was recently updated with several new features intended to give students and educators the tools they need to create collaborative classrooms and personalized learning. Class Insights, for example, is a new tool that equips educators with data on student performance and activity, while Private Channels let users establish “focused spaces” for specific members of a given team.
New Security and Compliance Packages Complement M365
While Ithaca College was one of the first in higher education to adopt the advanced security features available through M365, it’s hardly alone among institutions intent on protecting their students, faculty and staff. When it comes to factors that are a priority for institutions, security and cost control are the top two, says Ayoub. For that reason, early last year, Microsoft announced two new M365 security and compliance offerings.
The first package, Identity & Threat Protection, includes top security services such as Azure Advanced Threat Protection, Microsoft Cloud App Security and Azure Active Directory. The second, Information Protection & Compliance, is meant to help IT teams with risk assessments, data governance and regulatory challenges.
In the end, Ayoub says, Microsoft 365 Education is a secure and easily managed solution designed to fit learning environments of all kinds. As colleges and universities continue to change, M365 will evolve as well.
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