The Important Role that IT Plays in the Student Engagement Equation
IT influence is growing, particularly when it comes to digital transformation (Dx) and student engagement.
Prior to the pandemic, IT offices often worked “behind the scenes” to shape and execute their institution’s strategic plans for technology and data security in partnership with other campus offices and leaders. It was a collaboration. But as colleges and universities shut down their campuses in March 2020, IT leaders were pushed to be not just great collaborators but to be more prominent leaders as well.
IT leaders made significant decisions that impacted their institutions in so many ways. The spotlight was bright as IT leaders drove immediate change: guiding the institution through the transition to online/digital learning and providing virtual student support.
The changes brought on by the pandemic will be core to every institution’s playbook going forward. We anticipate that the influence of IT will continue to grow in the years ahead, particularly when it comes to digital transformation (Dx) and student engagement.
IT leaders are driving critical technology infrastructure and data security decisions. At the same time, IT leaders are looking to leverage existing technologies – Student Information Systems (SIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and FAM (Financial Aid Management) in a way that drives the greatest benefit from these systems for students.
IT is also continuously assessing how innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and predictive analytics can be actively brought into the institution’s technology stack. It’s a critical role that requires both strategic thinking and practical decision-making.
As IT leaders balance all of these initiatives and lead their institutions on the next leg of the post-pandemic journey, we anticipate the following themes will become even more important over time:
Simplify the Student Engagement Experience
A common struggle many institutions face: too many technologies and too much data spread across multiple systems. And yet, it can sometimes be difficult to change systems or onboard new ones. So how do you access the data across these systems to maximize its use for the benefit of both students and the institution without extending IT too far?
Affordable, light-weight and system-agnostic AI tools are proving to be a way to access the data from disparate systems in a way that drives more personalized student engagement and predictive analytics. And through pre-built integrations, they are easy to integrate. AI-powered student engagement platforms can simplify the user experience and provide a seamless navigation between a multitude of software applications used throughout their educational journey.
Creating an Ecosystem that Maximizes ROI of all Technologies
For an institution’s IT infrastructure to reach its full potential, the ecosystem should include software that can operate harmoniously with other tools. Feed data from your SIS to your CRM. Flow data from your chatbot interactions and Zoom calls into cases and opportunities in your CRM. If adding a new technology, be mindful whether it can work well with other existing (or potential future) tools. A real win is when a new technology helps you get more out of another technology you are already leveraging.
Meeting Institutional Goals
Enrollment pressures will continue after the pandemic recedes. Competition for students will increase and demographic shifts will reduce the pool of college students. IT will need to align its decision-making and priorities with the institution’s strategic goals. Having the mindset “every technology enables the institution to fulfill its mission, fosters student engagement and plays an important role in generating and preserving enrollment” will be more and more important. IT is a critical enabler of an institution’s enrollment and retention efforts, not just simply technology support.
Be Flexible and Nimble
Coming out of the pandemic, many schools are reversing temporary measures and policies that were put in place during the pandemic. IT offices are supporting these decisions and policies when needed. They are aligning the systems to reflect the business needs of their institution. They are being called upon to be flexible and nimble as the environment continues to change at a rapid pace as institutional decisions shift and evolve. This means adopting tools that can be flexible and adaptable to meet the ever changing needs of students and how to facilitate effective engagement.
While it can be easy to focus on the day-to-day, rather than longer-term strategy, we all need to take a step back from time to time to assess the “bigger picture”. Within IT, there is a growing awareness that technologies deployed by the institution are part of something bigger: driving student success and broader institutional goals around enrollment and retention.
Prior to the pandemic, IT had blended functions of both execution and leadership, in collaboration with other offices. Through the pandemic and beyond, the strategic nature of IT leadership will expand and the execution component will become more and more urgent. Higher education institutions have been forever changed in this regard. IT will never labor “behind the scenes” again. And as IT more closely aligns with the institution’s strategic goals, we anticipate that student success and engagement will be even higher on IT’s radar.
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