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The Role of Technology in Higher Ed's New Reality

1/25/2022 8:00:00 AM

Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt’s recent article on Inside Higher Ed about the future of the industry has garnered a lot of attention, ranking in the 5 Most Shared Stories on the site since publication. The article summarizes portions of their new book, The Great Upheaval: Higher Education's Past, Present, and Uncertain Future, Levine and Van Pelt are both highly experienced and well regarded higher education professionals and their book charts changes underway across the industry.

Their argument about the future of higher education is simple: the future is already here. As they remark, “We don't need a Ouija board to speculate on the future of higher education. We can see it unfold before our eyes.” These developments are “occurring in the margins,” in the less prominent and non-traditional sectors of higher education and by groups outside of the industry – Levine and Van Pelt mention museums, libraries, and technology companies. These organizations are responding innovatively to challenges that others may not have grappled with yet but will soon.

In sum, what has already begun and will continue to significantly transform the future of colleges and universities? The internet. The digital revolution, similar to the industrial revolution 200 years prior, has and continues to significantly reshape our economy and society. Because digital technologies are becoming so dominant, and rapidly evolving, the emerging workforce needs higher education institutions that prepare them with the skills to be successful in this environment. Even more, the digital revolution is changing our expectations, attitudes, and how we interact with each other.

The workforce needs and common processes, expectations, and attitudes that are transforming higher education include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • that education must be outcome-focused, rather than time-focused (4 years of college), and the outcomes should be relevant to today’s real-world opportunities – like knowing the technologies and having the competencies needed for the digital era

  • that the data generated by campus systems should be responsibly mined for insights to benefit students and staff – like using analytics to improve a website

  • that the college experience is hybrid, a blend of on-line and campus activity that fluidly interact and overlap – like shopping retail through a company’s app and their physical store without friction between the two experiences

  • that knowledge should be affordable to access and quickly obtained – like searching for a “how to” video on Youtube

  • that knowledge should be delivered on demand and on the student’s terms, experienced at a pace and timing set by each individual – like watching a show on Netflix

  • that services should be immediately available and conveniently accessible whenever and wherever someone wants to engage – like a chat-bot

  • that everything should be “unbundled” so a consumer can pick and choose what they want to pay for – like how “cord cutters” selectively subscribe to content providers rather than a cable service that includes hundreds of channels they never watch

Universities and colleges can work towards meeting the expectations of the digital era by investing in technology that provides flexibility, availability, and a hybrid experience. Offering modern payment and credential processes that support this expected experience will deliver a return on investment for higher education in the form of greater efficiency and effectiveness of campus services and increased student retention.

When campus information systems are integrated, administrators have access to data in digestible reports which give valuable insights and lead to more efficient and productive services. At the same time, integration between software solutions also help deliver streamlined, digital services that meet student expectations of convenience and availability.

This new experience is shifting campus IDs from physical to digital. The mobile ID can be connected to a digital wallet and campus services to expand the ways a smartphone can be used to access spaces, make tuition payments, purchase in-person (dining) or virtual goods (event tickets), communicate with teachers and administrators, and much more. The results are a seamless hybrid of in-person and online experiences that reduce friction and take advantage of the speed, accuracy, and security provided by digitization. Another way to accommodate the hybrid experience, and provide unbundled options, is to offer multiple payment methods and channels for students to engage in different environments.

Through solutions that integrate and streamline service delivery, colleges and universities are better positioned to address the challenges and expectations of the digital era, which will help attract new students and retain current students.