Why Student Information Systems Will Shape Higher Education

As consumers, we are accustomed to rapidly evolving technology, lining up at the Apple store year after year to buy the latest version of the iPhone. In the world of higher education, however, technology innovation doesn’t occur at nearly the same speed.

The reality is that the old, retiring student information systems (SIS) that power many campuses today simply can’t keep up with their increasingly diverse student populations. According to a recent survey, 74 percent of all undergraduate students today have at least one nontraditional characteristic, such as working a job outside school hours or being the first person in their household to go to college. The ethnic makeup of students is also shifting—for example, Hispanic high school graduation rates are projected to increase by more than 50 percent between 2013 and 2025. And, a recent study found that the declining number of high school graduates overall is causing a shift in full-time student enrollment on traditional college campuses for the first time in decades, since there are now fewer students to recruit.

With next generation enterprise IT being top-of-mind for many higher ed CIOs, it’s important to understand how new technologies can help institutions better support these next-generation students.

Agility

As a start, the modern-day SIS must have the agility to accommodate this wider variety of students in today’s higher education ecosystem. For example, it should be able to provide personalized academic advising, as well as digital resources for exploring various curriculums and career pathways.

An agile system will also allow institutions the flexibility to offer varied learning models, such as competency-based education, an approach that allows students to advance based on the mastery of a skill, regardless of pace. By measuring individual progress, schools can track completion and student retention, giving administrators valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t. This information can then be used to adjust programs as needed, or intercept struggling students before it’s too late.

Many higher education institutions today are operating with outdated IT infrastructures and have a hard time keeping up with the demands of tech savvy, mobile students.

Cost Efficiency

Many public schools are familiar with the woes of declining funding, and that trend is compounded by the increase in alternative credential offerings. We are beginning to see higher education “unbundling” the path to a degree by offering several smaller credentials that build up to a full associate’s or bachelor’s degree, such as micro-credentials, certificates, and badges, that can be “stacked” at a more affordable cost. Because many of these options combine video and online learning, the price of delivery ends up being much more competitive than many traditional tuition fees.

With these alternative models—along with the pressure to keep overall costs down under the scrutiny of today’s higher tuitions—schools must find a way to implement a cost-efficient IT strategy. Because many higher education institutions today are operating with outdated IT infrastructures, they have a hard time keeping up with the demands of tech savvy, mobile students. Consequently, they’ve been forced to introduce bolt-on third-party systems to increase reach and accessibility to students and administration. These additional solutions have only added costs and inefficiencies to schools’ IT departments as they struggle to make the complex labyrinth of systems work together.

Effective Analytics

With today’s higher education marketplace experiencing more competition than ever, it will be vital for schools to leverage relevant data to justify the value students and parents receive from attending their institutions. From course demand forecasting to paid tuition, this data will begin to play a bigger role in how higher education institutions market themselves. Data points like student demographics, retention and graduation rates, and job placement will influence school rankings, funding, legislation, financial decisions, and more.

LSU President F. King Alexander  discussed this point at the EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim last October. “Three years ago I asked my staff a simple question: We know this is our largest graduating class in history at LSU, but is it our largest African-American graduating class?” said Alexander. “Nobody knew the answer because we didn’t yet have access to that data. So last spring, when we did have our largest African-American graduating class—as well as our largest female and veterans graduating classes—I was able to share that with our governor. This is the type of data we need to change the conversation and drive support for a lot of our initiatives.”

Institutions need to be proactive about supplying the data that will help students and parents better understand the path to a degree, what is required of them financially, and what they can expect post-graduation. Schools that invest in a SIS that can answer these burning questions, as well as guarantee a higher quality experience at a lower cost, will be leading the way to the next generation of higher education.