2018 Educause Top 10 Issues: #5 is Student-Centered Institution

The Top 10 Issues of 2018 for higher education technology were announced at October’s Educause conference in Philadelphia. Each year I share my thoughts on the issues, from #10 to #1. Feel free to review the most recent entry on #6 Higher Education Affordability here. And now, let’s move forward!


#5 Issue: Student-Centered Institution
Understanding and advancing technology’s role in defining the student experience on campus (from applicants to alumni)

Disclaimer: I think it’s interesting that this particular issue is smack-dab in the middle of the top ten issues list. Why? Because if you look at ANY higher education strategic plan today I would bet cash money that at a minimum 90% list ‘student success’ as the top priority. As you look at the Educause Top 10 list again, you will also see ‘Student Success’ as the #2 issue for 2018. And if you read both, they are pretty duplicative which makes my mind wander to — a lingering gap in truly understanding the massive nature of student success.


I always like to start just about every discussion reaffirming ‘the why’. Primarily it’s to make sure that what we’re talking about is an institutional priority (as opposed to an IT preference, not that that ever happens) but in addition, in so many ways it’s to ensure that everyone ‘sitting around the table’ understands how critical it is to deeply know the business. As our literal business is educating students, student success is obviously pretty important. Reiterating that over-and-over again is as much a teaching opportunity as a level-set. For this Educause Top 10 Issue, I’m going to start and end by deferring to the words of two of my most esteemed colleagues on campus who happen to be members of a newly formed Office of Student Success within our Provost’s Office. While I support, empower, facilitate and am thoroughly vested in continuously improving student success efforts, I happen to have close working relationships with the wizards on campus who have been charged by our Provost to lead in this area. I asked each, “Why is understanding and advancing technology’s role in student success important at the University of Arkansas?”


“Technology has the potential to align teaching, learning, and student success initiatives in new and significant ways. As campus efforts align, this bring a transformative feel of the entire start to finish experience to students. When this happens, students receive the benefit of a personalized and seamless experience. As unnecessary hurdles diminish, opportunities to focus on learning and personal movement forward increase. Technology can truly help students move from surviving to thriving during their college years”

Trevor Francis, Associate Vice Provost for Student Success


Think About That ^ 
Technology is poised to be a facilitator for student success. This nurturing cradle-to-grave charge is guaranteed to be impactful – a continuous feeling of engagement from the ‘will I attend college’ phase in middle school through the ‘wow I can’t thanks my arts and sciences core enough for my success today’ embedded in career phase (read: I say this all the time!). You always feel welcomed, at home and familiar with your institution of choice. Currently however in most higher ed environments I would guess that technology is more of an impediment. A block. Territorialism of ownership, integration, decision-making, sloppy transitions. Maybe it’s the common Francis last name (we joke about this but no relation), but currently at the University of Arkansas mindsets are aligned on this ‘why’. And we are working diligently, though slowly and ever-so-deliberately, toward a more unified experience for our students. What will it look like? Feel free to watch us progress.


“Through technology, we have the opportunity to turn fractured student experiences into cohesive, deliberate pathways that not only provide a seamless experience for students but also coordinate the services we provide across departments. Technology assists student services in providing a level of individualization for students that may not have been possible before, increasing the probability that a student doesn’t just survive the college experience but also thrives and contributes to the learning environment long after graduation.

Danielle Dunn, Associate Director for Student Success Technology


What? A Technology Position within Student Success??
Not threatened and entirely thrilled as a campus technology leader that this position resides within the Student Success office. Yes, it’s outside of IT Services. Yes, it’s living, breathing and decision-making outside the realm of the Office of the CIO. But guess what? WE ARE ONE TEAM. Reminding ourselves that a percentage of our students are continually looking for a ‘reason’ to not persist, an easy out, is important. A higher education degree is completable, by all. It takes a personalized experience. This isn’t coddling students (and so what if it were?), this is supporting each student where they are. This is emulating a high-touch environment within a 30k student research institution. We will do this as this is our goal – together.

Moving Forward?

This is a big deal. And while we hear a lot of about student success and the importance, technology folks need to double-down a bit on learning more about what our peers are doing in this space. We are not successful if our students are not successful. We all play a role. Admittedly I’m a student success fanatic. I’m also a faculty success fanatic. I also don’t believe the core business of higher ed is or will ever be technology. I recognize that our job is to lift and empower and it’s imperative that we as ‘technologists’ grasp who and what needs to be lifted to success. This isn’t lip service. Student success will always be priority:highest even if it drops off an Educause list.





Next issue: Data-Enabled Institutional Culture, #4.

Link to all: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/1/top-10-it-issues-2018-the-remaking-of-higher-education