Top 10 IT Issues, 2018: The Remaking of Higher Education

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The 2018 Top 10 IT Issues show how digital technology is remaking higher education through four key themes: institutional adaptiveness, improved student outcomes, improved decision-making, and IT adaptiveness.

Top 10 IT Issues, 2018: The Remaking of Higher Education
Credit: Jon Valk © 2018

We have tremendous potential to realize in these coming decades.... If you look at complex dynamical systems, we're … in an era of great breakdown, environmentally and socially and psychologically. And when systems break down, the ones who have the resilience to actually repair themselves, they move to a higher order of organization.

—Joan Halifax, Founding Abbot, Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, quoted in "Compassion's Edge States and Caring Better," On Being, December 26, 2013

Information technology has broken through the silicon ceiling to gain the active attention of higher education leaders. The 2018 Top 10 IT Issues list1 is a story of the convergence of higher education's biggest concerns with technology's greatest capabilities. The U.S. economy, politics, and technology are remaking higher education to a degree not seen since the middle of the 20th century, when the juggernaut that is the U.S. higher education system emerged from the country's post–World War II ambitions for advancement, faith in science, and commitment to education and developed into a competitive advantage. The 21st century has seen those ambitions blunted, that faith questioned, and the commitment diminished. This century is also witnessing spectacular technology advancements that are reshaping every sector and influencing every demographic.

Regardless of technology, the historical business models in use today across higher education will likely need to change. Higher education is headed toward something new: perhaps brighter, perhaps darker, or maybe just different. Technology simply—well, not so simply—introduces what may be a more extreme set of potential futures on both the utopian and the dystopian ends of the spectrum.

Technology has often served as a back-burner activity at many higher education institutions. The IT director would be called in to the president's office to defend the growing IT budget, to explain the cause of a major data breach, and (less commonly) to advise on strategy. But in recent years, and with increasing magnitude, information technology has had other impacts on the institution—ones potentially more profound and beneficial than a noticeable slice of the budget or an ongoing source of risk.

  • Faculty at eight universities participating in the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) grant program Accelerating Adoption of Adaptive Courseware at Public Research Universities are combining several new technology-enabled advances in learning—adaptive courseware, active classroom learning, and active classrooms—to focus classroom time on students' particular learning challenges or interests instead of one-size-fits-all lectures.2
  • Arizona State University is incorporating voice technology into engineering students' residential community and their curriculum, to give them a unique opportunity to use their living experiences to improve their learning, and vice versa.3
  • Ramapo College redesigned its advising services and augmented them with early-alert technologies to improve the retention rate for transfer students from 78 percent to 85 percent.4
  • Virtual reality and related technologies are transforming science and science education by introducing discipline-specific simulation labs that accelerate learning and experimentation at much lower costs.5
  • Georgetown University is among the institutions piloting digital storytelling, which uses multimedia to turn classrooms "into spaces of creative critical multimedia production," enhancing traditional scholarship and writing.6

The American College President Study 2017, from the American Council on Education (ACE), is largely focused on presidents' characteristics and their perspectives on funding, diversity and inclusion, and other issues. But the authors advise presidents to pay more attention to technology, particularly to "using analytics functions to make better decisions and leveraging technology to scale out quality, cost-effective best practices."7 The presidents and boards that "get IT" may very well be those presiding over the institutions that will be most successful in the coming decades.

2018 Top 10 IT Issues

  1. Information Security: Developing a risk-based security strategy that keeps pace with security threats and challenges
  2. Student Success: Managing the system implementations and integrations that support multiple student success initiatives
  3. Institution-wide IT Strategy: Repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner of institutional leadership in achieving institutional missions
  4. Data-enabled Institutional Culture: Using BI and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions
  5. Student-centered Institution: Understanding and advancing technology's role in defining the student experience on campus (from applicants to alumni)
  6. Higher Education Affordability: Balancing and rightsizing IT priorities and budget to support IT-enabled institutional efficiencies and innovations in the context of institutional funding realities
  7. IT Staffing and Organizational Models: Ensuring adequate staffing capacity and staff retention in the face of retirements, new sourcing models, growing external competition, rising salaries, and the demands of technology initiatives on both IT and non-IT staff
  8. (tie) Data Management and Governance: Implementing effective institutional data governance practices
  9. (tie) Digital Integrations: Ensuring system interoperability, scalability, and extensibility, as well as data integrity, standards, and governance, across multiple applications and platforms
  10. Change Leadership: Helping institutional constituents (including the IT staff) adapt to the increasing pace of technology change

The EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues Website Offers the Following Resources:

  • A video summary of the Top 10 IT issues

  • Recommended readings and EDUCAUSE resources for each of the Top 10 IT issues

  • An interactive graphic depicting year-to-year trends

  • Top 10 IT Issues lists by institutional type

  • Additional subject-matter-specific viewpoints on the Top 10 IT Issues

  • The Top 10 IT Issues presentation at the EDUCAUSE 2017 Annual Conference

Last year's Top 10 IT Issues concentrated on IT investments and activities around one particular strategic issue: student success. This year the story is about the broader strategic impact of technology on the entire institution. The focus of information technology in higher education for 2018 is on remaking higher education, through four primary themes:

  • Institutional Adaptiveness: Institutional and IT leaders are strengthening their individual and collective capacity for not only effective and efficient, but also consequential uses of technology.
  • Improved Student Outcomes: Work on student success initiatives has become both more tactical, with a nuts-and-bolts focus on integrations, and more aspirational, with a new emphasis on students' entire experience with the institution.
  • Improved Decision-Making: The data issue is every bit as complicated as has been predicted, and efforts to gather, manage, and use the data are advancing.
  • IT Adaptiveness: IT organizations are adapting themselves to new economic, demographic, and industry models and realities and are approaching the information security of the institution with even greater rigor.

College and university leaders have become more realistic as they have gained more experience with what it means to use technology and data to improve institutional efficiency and to transform the student learning, completion, and social experience. As an industry, higher education has moved beyond the ideation phase of the early adopters and pilots. Real lessons will be learned this year, real money will be spent, and real progress will be made.

Higher Education, Remade: Institutional adaptiveness (Institution-wide strategy, Higher education affordability, Change leadership); IT adaptiveness (Information security, IT staffing and organizational models); Improved student outcomes (Student success, Student-centered institution); Improved decision-making (Data-enabled institutional culture, Data management and governance, Digital integrations)

Institutional Adaptiveness

Three of the Top 10 IT Issues represent the theme of institutional adaptiveness:

#3. Institution-wide IT Strategy: Repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner of institutional leadership in achieving institutional missions

#6. Higher Education Affordability: Balancing and rightsizing IT priorities and budget to support IT-enabled institutional efficiencies and innovations in the context of institutional funding realities

#10. Change Leadership: Helping institutional constituents (including the IT staff) adapt to the increasing pace of technology change

Today, any successful institutional strategy must have a digital footprint. Technology's capabilities and costs need to be integrated into institutional strategy. If that is to happen, IT leaders and institutional leaders need to develop a much deeper and stronger mutual understanding. CIOs need to understand how to talk about technology in the language and context of education, research, administration, reputation, and risk. Presidents and provosts need to learn how to ask IT leaders the right questions about potential IT investments; CBOs need to help their institutions manage technology investments in addition to technology budgets; and boards need to ensure that technology is treated as a risk and a risk mitigator, as a capital investment, and as an agent of institutional transformation.

This is all very exciting. And very expensive. There aren't enough dollars in any institutional budget to fulfill every technology-enhanced dream. Technology may someday make a postsecondary credential more affordable, but achieving lower costs will be paradoxically pricey. Choices must be made. The best choices happen when institutional and IT leaders collaboratively develop investment priorities and take a portfolio-based approach to technology spending.

If technology comes with one guarantee, it is that technology will never cease to change, which means that people will need to continually adapt to new features, new processes, lost ("upgraded") functionality, and the outages most commonly caused by change. There's good news this year, though: institutions are paying serious attention to change. Change that is well managed and well led is much more likely to be beneficial and accomplished more quickly. Whether institutions apply formal frameworks (e.g., the Kotter 8-Step Process8) or generic best practices, more institutions are including change management as a component of new initiatives and organizational development.

Top 10 Strategic Technologies and Trends

The EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues research is complemented by the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) Higher Education's Top 10 Strategic Technologies and Trends for 2018. The strategic technologies and trends report provide a snapshot of the relatively new technological investments on which colleges and universities will be spending the most time implementing, planning, and tracking, as well as the trends that influence IT directions in higher education. Those interested in a deeper dive into teaching and learning can consult the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) Key Issues for 2018. Collectively, the trends and forecasts reported in the Top 10 IT Issues, Strategic Technologies and Trends research, and ELI Key Issues help IT professionals and institutional leaders enhance decision-making by understanding what's important and where to focus.

Improved Student Outcomes

Two issues emphasized improved student outcomes:

#2. Student Success: Managing the system implementations and integrations that support multiple student success initiatives

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

Higher education institutions have gained considerably more experience in student success initiatives over the past year, with 74 percent incorporating a student success focus into their IT strategy—a 6 percent increase from last year.9 The related issues on the 2018 Top 10 IT Issues list demonstrate a recognition that the data needed to improve Student Success and Completion, issue #2 on last year's list, does not reside in one application. Student success is a constellation of processes, experiences, and outcomes that are not going to be addressed by one single student success system—eager vendor promises to the contrary. The data needed to achieve an institution's student success ambitions lies in multiple forms in multiple systems. This year's work concentrates on deciding which of those systems can best fit the institution, on implementing them, and then on integrating those systems to deliver the experiences and data needed.

One of the most exciting additions to the 2018 Top 10 IT Issues list is the Student-centered Institution. This issue is exciting because it demonstrates a comprehensive application of technology to higher education's most important constituent: the student. This is technology at its boundary-blurring best: moving beyond a point-in-time, functional consideration of the student as an applicant or as a registrant or as a learner in a course or as a commuter or as a dorm resident or as a graduate, toward—potentially and hopefully—as all of these. This is technology moving beyond configuring tools and systems to optimizing users' experiences and outcomes. This is technology that is holistic and design-centered.

Improved Decision-Making

Three issues this year relate to the theme of improved decision-making:

#4. Data-enabled Institutional Culture: Using BI and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions

#8. (tie) Data Management and Governance: Implementing effective institutional data governance practices

#8. (tie) Digital Integrations: Ensuring system interoperability, scalability, and extensibility, as well as data integrity, standards, and governance, across multiple applications and platforms

Decision-making is just a means to an end, and data is just a way to improve decision-making. That separates data by several degrees from what really matters about higher education: whether and how students learn, how education can improve students' lives and our society, how faculty produce and disseminate knowledge, and how that knowledge can improve and advance the world and its denizens. And yet decisions are choices, and choices have consequences. For higher education institutions and their students and faculty, those consequences are life-changing. The use of data is thus quite complex, as IT professionals and their institutional partners are learning.

Historically, we have not fully leveraged the value of the data in our systems. As higher education professionals recognize data for the raw asset it is, they are faced with a set of complexities that occupy almost one-third of the Top 10 IT Issues list this year. Data doesn't manage itself. The work of data management and governance is political as well as technical. The data formats and definitions that effectively answer one set of questions about faculty fall far short in addressing another set of questions about faculty. Institutions are finding it extraordinarily difficult to simply discover all the pockets of data and the ways data is being used to manage daily and strategic choices.

Technical challenges pertain to sharing and integrating data across the multiple systems developed and configured at different times by different vendors and stakeholders. Even that highly technical effort can become political, as questions about a primary data source, conflicts about who can see and alter what, and issues of data integrity must be addressed and resolved.

All of this work is needed to be able finally to incorporate data into ongoing decision-making, which brings its own set of challenges. Over and over, the EDUCAUSE IT Issues panelists stressed the importance of starting with clear questions that will truly inform decisions, of using basic analytics to gain experience, and of helping decision-makers and analytics users gain facility with the process of data-informed decision-making.

Tools for Better Decision-Making

Campus leaders use the Top 10 IT Issues to inform their strategic planning. EDUCAUSE has additional tools to enhance decision-making. The Core Data Service is an assessment and benchmarking service that helps leaders and managers plan for and manage IT service delivery; financials; information security; governance, risk, and compliance; technology-supported learning; and digital capabilities.

IT Adaptiveness

Two issues encompass the fourth theme, IT adaptiveness:

#1. Information Security: Developing a risk-based security strategy that keeps pace with security threats and challenges

#7. IT Staffing and Organizational Models: Ensuring adequate staffing capacity and staff retention in the face of retirements, new sourcing models, growing external competition, rising salaries, and the demands of technology initiatives on both IT and non-IT staff

Information Security is the #1 IT issue in 2018. As it was in 2017. And 2016. This high-stakes whack-a-mole game demands constant institutional attention. The Equifax breach occurred in the middle of our Top 10 IT Issues data collection. We looked but found no measurable influence on the issue's importance. It was tracking as #1 before, during, and after news of the breach broke. That's how consequential this issue is for higher education.

The stakes are growing, as are the threats, and also the investment needed to avoid catastrophe. It is no wonder this remains the top issue for the third year in a row. Yet information security is not a risk that can be contained to technology operations alone. As comments from members of the EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel point out, information security risks are strategic risks to the institution. They require a comprehensive, enterprise risk management (ERM) approach in order to be effectively addressed.

The IT profession is undergoing its own remaking that is every bit as monumental as higher education's. The economic and political pressures on higher education have been placing constraints on its IT workforce. Higher education is not as intrinsically attractive a place for IT staff to work as it once was, and there are many other options that offer higher salaries, more interesting and more modern challenges, greater professional development, and better benefits. IT managers are challenged on multiple fronts. They need to attract and retain the best talent. They need to adapt the existing workforce to new roles and techniques. They need to work with non-IT managers to enlist functional staff in the critical roles that these staff can play in new technology-related initiatives. The work won't get done without people, and the "people part" has become very difficult.

2017–2018 EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel Members




Sharon E. Blanton

Vice President and CIO

The College of New Jersey

Raechelle Clemmons

Chief Information Officer

Davidson College

Steve diFilipo

Chief Information Officer

Institute for Transformational Learning, University of Texas System

Daniel R. Drenkow

Director of Information Technology

Augustana University

Ahmed El-Haggan

Vice President for Information Technology and CIO

Coppin State University

Jim Julius

Faculty Director, Online Education

MiraCosta College

Vanessa Hammler Kenon

Assistant Vice Provost, Information Technology

University of Texas at San Antonio

Kathy Lang

Chief Information Officer

Marquette University

Chris A. McCoy

Chief Information Officer

University of Arkansas

Susan McHugh

Chief Information Officer

Mount Wachusett Community College

Bill Penney

Chief Information Officer

Santa Fe College

Patrick Perry

Chief Information Officer

California State University, Office of the Chancellor

Landon K. Pirius

Vice President for Organizational Effectiveness, Student Affairs, and Strategic Initiatives

Colorado Community College System

Mark Roman

Chief Information Officer

Simon Fraser University

Katie Rose

Senior Director, User Services

University of Notre Dame

Patricia A. Schoknecht

CIO and AVP, Business Services

Rollins College

Joshua Singletary

Chief Technology Officer

Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Justin Sipher

Vice President, Libraries and Information Technology

St. Lawrence University

Richard Sluder

Vice Provost for Student Success and Dean of University College

Middle Tennessee State University

Angela Svoboda

Associate Vice President for Digital Effectiveness

St. Edward's University

Rene Thatcher

Director, Services and Outreach

St. Lawrence University

Sheri Thompson

Director, Service Desk

Louisiana State University

David Weil

Associate Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Information Technology

Ithaca College

John Wood

Chief Information Officer

Central Wyoming College

Issue #1: Information Security

Developing a risk-based security strategy that keeps pace with security threats and challenges

Daniel R. Drenkow, Kathy Lang, Susan McHugh, and Joshua Singletary

"This is a swimming pool with no shallow end. Security professionals excel at identifying and offering mitigations for information security risks. But the sheer volume of mitigation tasks leaves smaller institutions overwhelmed: Having already consumed significant resources just to identify risks, small schools struggle to find a sustainable pathway forward."

—Joshua Singletary, Chief Technology Officer, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Information security is not just an IT risk, it's a risk to the institution. The risk is multidimensional—financial, reputational, mission-based—affecting all areas and all individuals. The compliance environment is becoming more complex by the day, and so are the risks. Desktop-level risks that were so worrisome in recent years are going unmitigated as attention shifts to turnkey solutions that are now managing a lot of critical business functions. Recent standard solutions—such as running a penetration test or posting policies—provide little protection or even comfort in today's environment. The problem is infinitely scalable for the biggest institutions and very difficult to reduce for the smallest.

The key word is practical. In a period where powerful, ready-to-launch platforms and tools exist alongside the traditional enterprise and unit-level enterprise products and process, what is a practical information security framework that is accessible to all institutions of all sizes? This is a question with no easy or stable answer.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • The CFO, who will have to manage financial risks
  • The marketing team, to safeguard the institution's reputation and tell the accurate story
  • The general counsel and the risk officer, to establish and monitor risk and compliance thresholds
  • The board and the president, to understand the magnitude of the risk and determine the institution's approach
  • The president and the provost, because they are going to get calls from students, parents, the press, and others after a breach
  • Advancement, research teams, admissions, and anyone who deals with customers. Students, parents, and other partners have more exposure to these issues now than at any other time. They are watching, and the wrong incident at the wrong time can affect decisions to apply, attend, fund, or donate.

The Misconceptions

  • One set of best practices can get all institutions to a better information security posture. (A one-size-fits-all model for risk-based approaches/strategies will not work.)
  • The IT department can, with enough funding and enough investing in enough tools, prevent all the risks. (This simply is not the case. Investing in tools can reduce exposure to risk, but it is impossible to eliminate all risk.)
  • This is an IT issue. (Information security is everyone's responsibility. Many incidents stem from end-user behavior. Training is at least as important as technology in managing the information security risk.)

The Pitfalls

  • Insufficient in-house expertise, funding, or leadership support can increase institutional exposure. This is especially difficult when funds cannot keep pace with funding needs. Investing in security after a major breach—which so often happens—simply increases the cost of information security because responding to major breaches is very costly.
  • Balance is important. Take care not to overinvest in identifying risks only to run out of funds to mitigate them or to overfocus on one area at the expense of another. Do the most you can to mitigate the risks without ignoring one area over another.
  • It's easy to believe that breaches are things that happen at other institutions—until one happens to you. It's no longer a matter of whether a breach will happen; it's a matter of when.

The Opportunity

Institutions that adopt an effective and enduring risk-based information security strategy are those able to embed compliance at the enterprise level and the unit level. Compliance stops being a barrier and increases efficiency. The entire institution becomes more knowledgeable about threats and threat assessments and has plans in place to deal with those threats.


To get started:

  • Pick a framework to follow (e.g., the CIS Controls or the NIST Cybersecurity Framework) to set a baseline for where you are and to plan for how to improve within the chosen framework. The framework helps you consider your entire environment.
  • Join information security groups such as those offered in the EDUCAUSE Cybersecurity Program to share information and learn from others.
  • Have a philosophy for how to address problems with scale before you overcommit your resources. Form a team, ideally including multiple stakeholder areas, to create and rehearse a response for information security incidents.
  • Institute a year-round campus-awareness campaign to educate your community. EDUCAUSE awareness materials can jump-start this effort.

To develop further:

  • Assess whether or not the approach that you began with was designed to accommodate the changes we are seeing now. Is it intentional about what was deferred or omitted from the strategy? Does the strategy have a holistic or team-based aspect to can help address the gaps?
  • Begin continuously educating your constituents about information security. The content needs to be timely and relevant to maintain community attention.
  • Continually review policies, content, and strategies to stay abreast of current threats and mitigations.

To optimize:

  • Use the fact that security is a strong strategic risk as an opportunity to elevate information technology as a strategic asset.
  • Learn from industries outside higher education. Sometimes they have ideas that we may not have considered. Look at their best practices.
  • Share your knowledge by conducting peer reviews and by writing and presenting to help others.
  • Consider an approach that can be baked into the institutional culture and made part of everyone's job rather than a standalone monolith that must be cared for and tended by the information security officer.

Ecosystem Opportunities

Our ecosystem needs more shared approaches that can reduce the complexity of the solutions and are translatable to individual institutions. Shared approaches can be differentiated by institutional size, class, mission, and complexity. They also make benchmarking possible, which helps monitor progress and establish targets. The more institutions that follow the same path, the stronger we all become.

Many leaders really don't want to talk about information security. EDUCAUSE and other professional associations should find a way to convene and frame discussions to advantage sharing, understanding, and commitment across our sector.

For information security perspectives on the Top 10 IT Issues, see Joanna Lyn Grama and Valerie M. Vogel, with Michael Corn and Sharon Pitt, The Third Time's the Charm? Information Security at the Top of the List Again.

Issue #2: Student Success

Managing the system implementations and integrations that support multiple student success initiatives

Ahmed El-Haggan, Jim Julius, Vanessa Hammler Kenon, and Richard Sluder

"It has only been a few short years since advising and analytics platforms were initially launched. Since then, however, these technologies and the knowledge base have evolved tremendously. Accordingly, institutions that are just now getting started can expedite implementation, accelerate outcomes, and thus add value faster."

—Richard Sluder, Vice Provost for Student Success and Dean of University College, Middle Tennessee State University

Student success, including persistence and completion, is at the core of higher education. To students and educators today, "student success" may encompass effective enrollment, on-time completion of educational goals, meaningful employment, and even preparation for good citizenship. Although by some measures completion rates have remained unchanged at many institutions for the past three decades,10 what has changed is the scrutiny of those rates. The future of individual institutions, higher education at large, and even our society is at stake.

Many institutions recognize that student success can and should be supported by the systems that students must navigate. We need good customer relationship management systems for recruitment and enrollment, course management alert systems and learning analytics for learning, class scheduling systems for registration, class scheduling analytics systems to decrease time to achieve, and education planning systems for advising, course building, and credential management. A wide scope of analytics tools now permits risk prediction for student success/failure, process review including assessments for curricular and policy impacts, and workflow. Some of these are new applications; some are enhancements of existing systems. The IT contribution is not simply one of automation. It is the data these systems generate that offers the most promise to truly improve student success: data about how students learn, how they navigate individual courses and entire curricula, which extracurricular activities they engage in, which interventions are most effective and when, and more. All this data requires integration and analysis, we well as effective and timely reporting, visualization, and other methods to put the right information into the right hands at the right times.

Today's solutions are not holistic. They tend to address components of the student success challenge, making system integrations inevitable. Today's solutions are still nascent, making ongoing reinvestments inevitable. Expensive, difficult, yet oh so promising—that is where we stand today.

The world is watching. Parents, students, boards, employers, donors, and the media are all are aware of the completion issues and are asking for data, and many have revenue stakes. Institutions that are doing this most effectively involve everyone; the issue needs a collective approach. Technology alone won't provide a solution, but no solution is possible without good technology.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Presidents and boards, to ensure the future of the institution
  • Provosts and other academic leaders, to help ensure faculty have the resources they need to work with students
  • Institutional research (IR) and operational excellence directors, to collaborate on data and reporting
  • Registrars and advisors, to ensure solutions are useful and effective
  • Students, who care a great deal about their success

The Misconceptions

  • System implementations and integrations are primarily technology issues. (These projects must start with the people and the processes and then consider technologies.)
  • The IT department is peripheral. (IT professionals often have a cross-institutional perspective that is unmatched and can "be the glue" to integrate not only data and systems but also cross-departmental business processes.)
  • Faculty don't need to be involved because student success is the purview of the IT or student services department. (The faculty-student relationship is core to students' experience and therefore to student success.)
  • Student success initiatives are another costly drain on institutional resources. (Although the work is expensive, if treated as an investment, student success projects help both institutions and students financially.11)

The Pitfalls

  • It is important to maintain a "one institution" approach, where all are working toward a common objective, and to guard against tendencies toward "siloing."
  • Lack of good project management discipline to facilitate shortcuts leads to significant failures. For example, leaders need to find a balance between an expansive vision and scope creep. Limiting the vision too much will lead to trivial results. Yet with scope creep, people become exhausted by multiple projects, and the initiative takes more time and money than intended.
  • It can be easy to exceed the institution's capacity for ongoing work and innovation. If "there aren't enough hours in the day" to do the work, either the work needs to shrink or the number of resources needs to grow.

The Opportunity

These initiatives ultimately force institutions to rethink and restructure what they do and to become better. By adapting to the student, today's student success initiatives are helping students who are not necessarily prepared to succeed in the traditional system. If done well, these initiatives raise the profile for the institution in settings beyond just the rankings in the U.S. News & World Report. Effective student success initiatives improve other processes and initiatives within the institution as well, all of which makes a difference in students' lives.


To get started:

  • Learn from the pioneering institutions. EDUCAUSE has collected many resources to enable those just getting started to find helpful examples, advice, and even mentors.
  • A student success initiative is a campus discussion that must have a strong executive sponsor. The project can include the IT organization, but it must have a good sponsor to ensure a campus discussion. Schools experiencing success all have multi-level, engaged leadership.
  • Stay vanilla with implementations. Stick to something simple. Be sure you have good project management and a reasonable timeline, and stick to your critical path.
  • Governance is very important and should include faculty. The IT work should always be seen through the lens of the larger student success efforts—not as "just another technology project."

To develop further:

  • Keep the momentum going by recognizing early successes.
  • Be careful to not add too many more tools when you are in the middle of the project. This can be confusing, especially after initial buy-in from your users. These projects are evergreen, and the tools will always be changing, so you need to pace yourself.
  • Emphasize the need to stick to the core strategic initiatives. There is always evolution, change, and upgrading too. Stick to the core and always come back to it.

To optimize:

  • These projects never end. The work you do today is going to be the story you will be telling next year.
  • Always be mindful of the next big lift—the areas that seem to produce the biggest return on investment without overloading the institution or leading it down an unintended path.

Ecosystem Opportunities

We learn from each other. Sharing success stories and the lessons learned through EDUCAUSE and other professional associations can help others be successful. Leaders who have developed open-source initiatives or have found foundations to fund student success should help their colleagues take advantage of these opportunities.

People pay attention to what is measured, especially when there is focus and accountability tied to it. Existing measures (e.g., IPEDS data) don't provided the data needed to adequately measure student success and outcomes. It might be beneficial to have a common data measurement system and create a standard way to measure student success performance management.

For teaching and learning perspectives on the Top 10 IT Issues, see Malcolm Brown and Veronica Diaz, Teaching, Learning, and IT Issues: Points of Intersection.

Issue #3: Institution-wide IT Strategy

Repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner of institutional leadership in achieving institutional missions

Mark Roman, Katie Rose, and Joshua Singletary

Information technology is a portfolio of investments designed to support achievement of the institution's goals and objectives. Prudent management of these strategic investments requires mindful strategic planning to deliver on the promise of the IT vision.

"Our institution-wide IT plan deliberately aligns with the institution's mission. Since it is structured around three pillars of research, education, and community, everyone can see themselves in the plan. This approach creates a heightened opportunity for stakeholders to engage deeply with the IT organization in understanding how information systems directly impact the institution's goals." 

—Mark Roman, Chief Information Officer, Simon Fraser University

If institutions want to be more successful, get things done faster, and achieve the right solutions, then the IT department needs to be a partner with institutional leadership from the very beginning. At many institutions today, the IT department functions, or is at least perceived, as the gatekeeper to (and from) technology. That diminishes both the role and the scope of IT leadership, to the detriment of the institution's progress. Changing the role of IT leadership from gatekeeper to copilot can make the difference between an institution where information technology is simply a toolbox and one where it is a strategic asset.

In complex institutions where IT systems, staff, and leadership are distributed, some degree of coordination is needed so that constituents can have a seamless experience, costs can be contained, and major institutional ambitions can be achieved.

In this world of consumerized information technology, where anyone at the institution can use a credit card to buy a cloud service, the ability to leverage the larger institutional buying power and to manage assets is lost. When the CIO and institutional leaders develop a strategy in partnership, the ensuing collaboration, coordination, and efficiency benefit the institution and all constituents.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Institutional leaders and board members, who need to understand how important technology is to the institution's future
  • Business units, so they're all working together, not around each other
  • Human resources (HR) and finance, to coordinate and support cross-institutional IT investments and people
  • The unit(s) responsible for compliance, because of the implications of cloud for compliance issues

The Misconceptions

  • Existing process models—for process management, project management, change management, etc.—will work. (Business units who have been "given the keys to the kingdom" by purchasing their own vendor solutions can find centralized IT processes burdensome. The IT department needs to redesign processes that accommodate multiple equal and independent operators of IT systems and assets.)
  • It's about the technology. (Today's top technology may soon become dated. IT leaders need to think less about technologies and more about strategies, processes, and how to change the culture and way of thinking at the institution.)
  • An institution-wide IT strategy is about IT control. (It's about making the best use of the very finite resources—whether funding or people—of the institution. An institution-wide IT strategy helps constituents make choices to better achieve their goals.

The Pitfalls

  • Local IT and enterprise IT units are two sides of the same coin. Don't be drawn into a debate that polarizes these groups. All IT contributors need to work together seamlessly to achieve the vision of "One IT." This approach will create an institution-wide strategy, not just a strategy for the "enterprise IT" department.
  • There will always be little niches that need to be met in a different way. Use conversations with stakeholders to identify those niches, focusing on meeting the institution's needs.
  • Be mindful of bureaucracy. It is easy to overengineer projects and processes. Focus on developing simple building blocks, and don't let process get in the way.
  • Enterprise IT and local IT units have different reporting and funding models. If you don't address this issue head on, it is going to trip you up. The local IT unit can provide great service and localized specialization, whereas the enterprise IT unit can provide great single services. To deliver on strategy, both are needed.

The Opportunity

When stakeholders and constituents buy in to an institution-wide IT strategy, it starts to affect decision-making at all levels. People start to engage with IT leaders in understanding the business goal and how the IT organization can support it. If the institution and IT leaders make the shift from the "IT department as gatekeeper" to the "IT department as copilot," this can provide a great opportunity to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit, serving as the onramp to using digital technologies to remake higher education.


To get started:

  • Consult stakeholders deeply and broadly, so that everyone feels they've contributed to the institution-wide IT strategy.
  • Create IT department core values that align with the role of information technology and the institution's needs.
  • Avoid surprises. Be open and transparent about the activities and priorities of the IT department and about challenges to information security, costs, and so forth.

To develop further:

  • Think about whether you've given IT staff a genuine opportunity to reach out on their own. Or are they under the impression that they're limited by an unspoken boundary? This is sort of like friendliness in a framework. Make sure you're out there, all the time, ensuring that your customers are in good shape.
  • Apply project management discipline to monitor the status of the relationship and the IT department's contributions.
  • Constantly build and nurture relationships. Ensure that IT staff understand what business partners need and do, and ensure that institutional constituents understand the effort and risks entailed in running IT services.

To optimize:

  • If everything is running smoothly, take the opportunity to simplify. Optimization is an ongoing activity and needs to become an organizational mindset.
  • Have an IT strategy that mirrors the institutional strategy so that everyone can see the direct link between what the IT department is doing and what the institution needs. Consider having mission-based IT functions, as well as underlying functions (e.g., minimizing the administrative burden, developing a digital strategy, nurturing people) that clarify the IT organization's contributions to institutional priorities.

Ecosystem Opportunities

Today, every organization is arguably a technology company simply because of the sheer ubiquity of information technology. This new reality requires higher education institutions to understand this applies to them as well; if not, they risk losing relevance. The higher education CIO is in a unique position to lead this change. Higher education needs a greater recognition of what the CIO role can be and how that role can contribute to the college or university.

Higher education is inseparable from information technology, and IT leaders need to be embedded in the leadership and the ongoing business of the institution. Students use technology the minute they encounter an institution; faculty use various teaching and learning, outcomes, scholarly, and research technologies; and administrators are technology driven as well. Technology is a major component of what we do. Awareness of technology's essential role in higher education, and of the implications for higher education, needs to be raised on a national level.

There is an interesting opportunity here for IT organizations to partner with other groups that focus on different aspects of the higher education experiences (e.g., NACUBO, ACE, CLIR, CUPA-HR, AIR). If we could bring all the best minds together, we might be able to come up with a framework and roadmap for the "next big thing" in higher education. We would also have a better understanding of the needs of CBOs, presidents, librarians, and other non-IT leaders in the next five to ten years.

Issue #4: Data-enabled Institutional Culture

Using BI and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions

Sharon E. Blanton, Ahmed El-Haggan, Landon K. Pirius, and Patricia A. Schoknecht

"Our institutional president adopted a concept of data democratization. This is changing the culture of discussions between faculty and staff before decisions are made. She has really set the tone for transparency, lowered the walls of silos, and supported organizational learning."

—Ahmed El-Haggan, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO, Coppin State University

In a world of scarce resources, fierce competition, and increasing calls for accountability in higher education, institutions need to adapt. We can no longer afford to let intuition and rhetorical prowess drive decisions or let anecdotes serve as the primary method to communicate outcomes and progress. If institutions are to survive in the current world, they will need to have clear and measurable goals, which require data. Higher education has to become comfortable with BI (business intelligence) and data analytics to inform decisions, diagnose issues, and guide choices. In order to know where we might go as an institution, we need to know where we have been and where we are right now.

Higher education is in the early stages of using data to inform decision-making. Institutions need to develop a broad awareness to ensure people that from all departments are thinking about what data is important to collect and how to collect it (e.g., data standards) to answer institutional questions.

Leadership sets the tone and can advocate for a data-enabled institutional culture that guarantees data and analytics are suitably accessible and are used to inform the broad conversation, support organizational learning, and answer the institution's strategic questions. Such questions include the following:

  • Who are our best prospects?
  • Why do we want them?
  • Where will we find them?
  • How can we attract them?
  • When will they come to our institution?

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Institutional leaders, to tell the institutional story well and to counter those who question the value of higher education
  • Institutional Research and Institutional Effectiveness staff, to ensure data accuracy and useful insights
  • Faculty, so that they have the right data (and access and tools) at the right time and thus can participate fully in decision-making

The Misconceptions

  • Data will decide. (The data provides only the information. It is up to decision-makers to review the data, discuss the implications, and make the decisions. Data doesn't always guide leaders to a clear answer, but it can point discussions in the right direction. Data brings information; humans provide the context.)
  • The existing data is sufficient to engage in analytics. (Most systems today were established simply to facilitate transactions, not to form the basis for analysis. Data standards for analytics and BI are more rigorous. Effective analytics requires establishing strong data foundations, which takes time and effort.)
  • Anyone can take the data and make sense of it. (Interpreting data effectively requires a lot of training, skill, and understanding.)

The Pitfalls

  • This issue is not just about good data; it's also about good questions. Poor questions yield poor answers and waste resources.
  • Analysis paralysis is a big problem (especially for institutions starting out), as is demanding perfection from real-world data. Too much time can be spent arguing about where to start. Decision-makers need to know when something is "good enough." If a report is created in a new reporting system, and the results are off by a couple of points from the old system, some naysayers will declare the whole project "bad."
  • Don't buy a truck to move a matchbox. Scale the solution to the problem to avoid overspending on something that is of limited value.

The Opportunity

Institutions that are successful using BI and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions can improve student completion and persistence, contain or reduce tuition costs, and remove barriers to access to higher education. They can become more efficient and make better use of their resources. Success may also open up grant and partnership opportunities.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is in the not-too-distant future for higher education. AI can enable institutions to provide faculty and students with adaptive and personalized resources for teaching and learning.12 Analytics lays the foundation for success with this future differentiator.13


To get started:

  • Do the foundational work, such as getting data into shape. Build encouragement of those efforts by starting with a small project that you can take to successful completion to show stakeholders why the foundational work is needed.
  • Agree on certain guiding principles, such as using data for continuous improvement and performance development and not using it for punitive measures or for performance evaluation.
  • Choose a user-friendly BI tool. Otherwise people will not use it.
  • Don't start with predictive or prescriptive analytics. Master basic analytics and the issues that are of burning importance to your institution before evolving toward more advanced practices.
  • Don't centralize the analytics functions in just one or two offices. Create a hybrid analytics organization that includes a very strong, highly qualified, analytics-trained staff in a central office and create center of excellences in different colleges and departments. Start small, and expand.

To develop further:

  • Often these projects (and associated committees) tend to mushroom, and the teams get unwieldy. At some point you will need to develop governance that allows the teams to break off, work on smaller projects, and then bring those projects back to the larger group.
  • Make sure the data that you use actually leads to better results and does no harm. Be thoughtful, and celebrate successes quickly. Show that there is a tangible payoff.
  • The tool is important and so are the people who can use the tool. Teach people how to use the tools to avoid the capacity bottleneck that inevitably occurs when only one or two people are comfortable with the tool. People need to be able to keep the momentum going on their own.

To optimize:

  • At some point you are going to discover institutional skeletons in the closet. You have to be prepared for difficult conversations, and you have to know what you are going to do about the act of "knowing" something actionable.
  • You may need different tools to optimize, and this will be another cultural change for the organization.

Ecosystem Opportunities

High-level standards (analogous to IPEDS) could help institutions share the development process and learn from one another. Although each institution considers itself to be affording students with a unique experience, some retention and prospective student issues (and associated metrics) are common to all institutions. A shared framework could allow colleges and universities to more efficiently and quickly contribute data and extract results. The time and money saved could make higher education more affordable overall.

The challenges of BI and analytics extend far beyond the IT and IR departments. The more broadly that higher education professional associations emphasize analytics and BI, the better. This should be a regular topic for boards, provosts, department chairs, and other institutional leaders.

Sharing best practices, logical data models, curricula, and expertise is critical. EDUCAUSE, AIR (Association for Institutional Research), and other organizations can use webinars and professional development to help drive momentum and build capacity for analytics.

For enterprise IT perspectives on the Top 10 IT Issues, see Betsy Tippens Reinitz, with John Barden, Josie DeBaere, William Liddick, John Rathje, and David Weil, Enterprise IT Perspectives on the 2018 Top 10 IT Issues.

Issue #5: Student-centered Institution

Understanding and advancing technology's role in defining the student experience on campus (from applicants to alumni)

Vanessa Hammler Kenon, David Weil, and John Wood

Technology can be used to engage students with the institution at all points in the relationship, from prospect to alumni, and to facilitate moves among institutions.

"Remember why we are here: we are here for the students. IT student success initiatives should be directly tied to the student experiences."

—Vanessa Hammler Kenon, Assistant Vice Provost, Information Technology, University of Texas at San Antonio


How technology can define the student experience on campus depends on the institution. Recruitment, retention, student success, and philanthropy are all drivers. Institutional leaders need to think about the student experience with technology and how to best use technology to engage and interact with students. They must look at today's experience and the number of technologies that students currently need to connect with during the course of the educational journey. IT leaders should consider how to make technologies frictionless and should permit easy technology transitions throughout students' life cycle for a more meaningful experience. Many institutions are trying to integrate disparate systems into a single, seamless platform that gives students, advisors, faculty, and other constituents tools to make the students feel well connected and engaged and, ultimately, that contributes to a student success strategy.

For many institutions, students' experiences with the institution are predominantly not face-to-face. Students expect the campus to come to them. This is also true of most alumni, and so a vibrant online presence is a key part of how an institution can use technology to express itself.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Faculty and academic support and provosts, because they are closest to the students
  • The vice president for student success, as the key player in all aspects of student engagement/experiences with the institution (from successful recruitment to completion)
  • Institutional leaders, because their jobs and funding are attached to items like completion/retention and affect the reputation of the institution
  • Industry, the employers, and the community, as the ultimate clients of the institution. They have a vested interest in securing graduates with the most up-to-date technology, and many of them are investing funds and time into the institution.
  • The students themselves. They are the consumers of the educational product we are delivering, and they should have a voice.
  • The ancillary services department, because much of its engagement with students is online (e.g., textbooks, event ticket purchases, payment processing)

The Misconceptions

  • There is a single, optimal way for a student to engage with the institution via technology. (There may be more than one student engagement experience and institutions need to provide multiple, personalized student experiences.)
  • Some aspects of information technology that underlie students' experiences, like the LMS, are a commodity, like facilities or the parking garage, and can be managed accordingly. (Production information technology is different from physical infrastructure. It is not place-bound or time-bound, and it needs to operate like clockwork and feel like a friend.)
  • Applying technology to the student experience is fundamentally a technology issue and can primarily be left to the IT department. (The IT department alone cannot design technology's role in defining the student experience. This is an institution-wide issue that requires multiple players from across the academy, including faculty and advisors.)

The Pitfalls

  • Sustainability is often an issue: What is the plan to continue to support this work after the initial project funding ends? These projects create tangible experiences for students and others, and concluding that they are unsustainable after students start using them can disappoint and alienate students.
  • Institutions that jump to a vendor solution without understanding their goals can trip up.
  • Institutions that are not willing to revisit their business processes will face difficulty. We must understand how students interact with us today—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and how technology can be used to make that interaction better.

The Opportunity

Institutions that don't become student-centered may not exist twenty years from now. Institutions with a clear vision for technology's role in defining the student experience can improve student satisfaction, which leads to better completion/retention, increased student success and graduation, and greater possibilities for future philanthropy.

Integrating systems into a single student experience platform can also lead to better data and then to better decision-making.


To get started:

  • Find institutions with successful student-centered technology experiences/projects; join relevant communities of practices (e.g., EDUCAUSE constituent and discussion groups); read online articles; attend conferences.
  • Build a guiding coalition. It should cut across the institution, so you want to be intentional about this.
  • Address the business processes that compose the student experience, and direct the technology discussion toward how to implement improved processes.
  • Learn about the challenges that students, the most important stakeholders, have faced in interacting with your institution, and find out what they might really want.

To develop further:

  • Don't focus on a solution from one particular vendor. You will most likely need components from a number of vendors, so it is important to understand the vision and foundational architecture for where you are heading.
  • This is not a project with a beginning, middle, and end. You are always going to be in the middle of this, and it is never going to end. Students will keep coming and changing, and you are going to have to change with them.
  • Engage with multiple stakeholders to gather their perspectives and feedback from activities. Listen to your student feedback, and go back to your vendors with that feedback.

To optimize:

  • Provide ongoing training to accommodate ongoing changes in students' needs and the products and tools. Give vendors an opportunity to come on campus to talk/learn from students.
  • Governance is important as you move from project to process. All of your major efforts in information technology and across the institution need to overlay on a student-centered effort.

Ecosystem Opportunities

Leaders need to reach beyond their institutions to talk together, collaborate together, and advocate together. Concerns about vendor costs, particularly when in areas with little competition, might be addressed productively by approaching vendors collectively.

Coalitions might collaborate particularly on three issues: (1) investigating the integration and interoperability standards needed to help improve the student experience and reduce the friction between components, (2) working across the industry to analyze and reengineer the out-of-the box business processes that new systems provide, and (3) engaging in more deliberate, larger conversations to more clearly and thoughtfully define the role of information technology in the student experience. The EDUCAUSE Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) work and Unizin are two related efforts.

Issue #6: Higher Education Affordability

Balancing and right-sizing IT priorities and budget to support IT-enabled institutional efficiencies and innovations in the context of institutional funding realities

Raechelle Clemmons and Justin Sipher

"People can see an institution's physical deferred maintenance and understand the importance. Most people can't see the digital infrastructure deferred maintenance challenge that is equal. If we don't successfully address the institutional digital infrastructure, it can have a significant impact on our educational mission as well as have reputational damage."

—Justin Sipher, Vice President, Libraries and Information Technology, St. Lawrence University

The higher education business model is unsustainable. The annual cost increases to sustain the current model of delivering higher education often outpace the growth in family income. Information technology, as a critical institutional partner, needs to become part of the solution to the cost of higher education. And yet, between external pressures (e.g., compliance requirements, information security challenges, and market IT salaries) and internal desires to apply technology to more initiatives and services, institutional IT costs are increasing.

Institutional leadership needs to understand the importance of digital maintenance. Buildings may last for many decades; technology's lifespan is much shorter and more volatile. Technology has been used in other industries to dramatically shift and reduce cost structures; higher education has not done so, for a variety of reasons. We may have created our own worst-case scenario: We have not been able to shift from sunk, legacy costs and transition to new technologies, a situation that has been inefficient and has not allowed us to maximize the value of new technologies. How do we let go of things that we have historically done but that are no longer differentiators?

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Senior leadership and boards, because this is not a technology issue, this is a business issue

The Misconceptions

  • Using technology to gain efficiency will diminish mission effectiveness. (Win-wins—technology-enabled solutions that are both more efficient and effective and more desirable to the populations that the IT organization serves—are attainable. Leaders need to look through the lens not of technology because it's inherently good but, rather, the lens of technology applied in the context of the mission to gain efficiencies and effectiveness and to achieve strategic objectives.)
  • IT departments should be able to lower costs by moving to the cloud. (In reality, cloud services are an extension of our existing infrastructure, not a replacement. This growth to outsourced suppliers increases complexity and cost.)
  • Technology efficiencies should reduce the IT budget. (Often, the efficiencies accrue to the business units. For the institution to remove costs, it needs to shift cost structures across the institution, which happens less often than it might.)

The Pitfalls

  • Focusing on the short-term costs of technology rather than long-term investments: letting technology debt accrue can increase the likelihood of information security incidents, infrastructure challenges, and not being able to meet community needs. The CIO and IT governance structures need to address long-term needs.
  • Confusing the "who we are" with the "way we do things" when we are talking about mission-centric activities: technology can positively benefit education, although it has frequently been miscast. Technology is the "how," but it has been conflated with the "who/what." We have to understand that the "how" has changed and will continue to change over time; "we" and our values do not necessarily change over time.

The Opportunity

The technology disruption that has affected other industries has not been successful or gone very far in higher education. Institutions that can balance and rightsize IT priorities and budget to support IT-enabled institutional efficiencies and innovations in the context of institutional funding realities will increase their own longevity and will help lead the way for the future of higher education. Institutions that have mastered how they are spending and investing their money will be positioned well as changes come around the corner. They will be able to react quickly.


To get started:

  • Understand your cost structures, which means understanding the service that you are providing. Standardize, define, and document the IT service management portfolio to understand the costs of information technology to the organization. This will help you determine and communicate whether a service is high/low value when compared with its costs.
  • Determine your opportunity costs (e.g., what else you could be doing). Engage at the institutional level to look at the institutional financial models and at the impact that technology levers can have on those. Ask yourself: If we do this, what can that change at the institutional level, not just at the IT department budget level?
  • Frame your services in the context of what is most mission centric.
  • Communicate frequently with stakeholders so that they understand institutional IT service provisioning.

To develop further:

  • Be able to articulate the value of information technology outside of the context of cost. Help to frame IT services to show that they are mission aligned and have value. You lose people when you are just presenting a cost argument.
  • Define information technology as an investment in the future. Then plan for all IT work using a business case methodology that requires return-on-investment calculations and measurable benefits realization.
  • Don't get complacent or stuck in the mindset that things must be done a certain way.

To optimize:

  • Share your insights with the field, to help advance all of higher education.
  • Go bigger. Find ways to leverage capabilities and services across institutions in order to create efficiencies.

Ecosystem Opportunities

Consortia-based or other cross-institutional collaborations might focus on two achievements. The first is creating shared services models to change the funding paradigm. The second is banding together and pushing back on unrealistic and unsustainable cost increases. Vendor pricing is, in many cases, rising too high and too fast (CIOs on the IT Issues panel report that annual 10 to 15 percent increases are not at all uncommon) and is dissonant with higher education's economic realities.

Issue #7: IT Staffing and Organizational Models

Ensuring adequate staffing capacity and staff retention in the face of retirements, new sourcing models, growing external competition, rising salaries, and the demands of technology initiatives on both IT and non-IT staff

Sharon E. Blanton, Daniel R. Drenkow, Kathy Lang, and John Wood

"I think we do a lot of good things in silence. I'd like to see IT leaders talking more about their methods, sharing what is working for them and making sure that their colleagues understand the work efforts that go into IT staff retention and employee satisfaction."

—Sharon E. Blanton, Vice President and CIO, The College of New Jersey

The nature of work in information technology has changed dramatically within just a few years. As technology solutions and their management evolve, the IT organization and the people who work there must evolve. Higher education institutions and their IT organizations need fewer programmers and developers and more vendor and service managers, business analysts, architects, integrators, and data scientists.

The challenge is not limited to changing job roles. The people are changing too. With less direct connection to academic life and with workloads as demanding as those in other sectors but without commensurate compensation, loyalty to a particular institution or to higher education itself has eroded. Almost half the IT workforce is now at high risk of leaving the institution.14 New hires don't stay as long as they used to. The U.S. workforce in general is becoming more transient.

All this churn demands agility in recruitment, hiring, and onboarding, as well as flexibility in work arrangements. HR staff need new skills and resources to help IT managers, and IT managers need superlative management skills. Because even though staff consider salary when they accept an offer, they rarely leave primarily for better pay; they leave for better opportunities and a more supportive workplace.15 Business units also feel the impact of new technology-laden initiatives. An institution running several major simultaneous initiatives needs to consider whether it has the capacity in both the business unit and the IT organization to successfully implement all projects concurrently.

One thing is certain: IT roles will continue to change. AI, machine learning, and blockchain are just a few examples of dramatically new technologies that will surely engender dramatically new roles for the IT organization and the people who work there. Institutions that don't figure out how to support their technology workforce needs will be at a chronic disadvantage.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Presidents and boards, because the day-to-day business and strategic direction of the institution rely on information technology. It is "mission critical."
  • HR leaders, because their organizations have shared responsibility for the health of the IT workforce
  • Students, because they are skilled critics of technology and have an increasing voice in what the IT department is delivering

The Misconceptions

  • Cloud computing and consumerization have simplified IT jobs. (In reality, new technologies have increased the technical complexity. The roles have changed and so have the skill sets, but the level of complexity is ever-increasing. The IT organization is complex in another way too: it is the most cross-siloed activity at the institution because it touches everything.)
  • IT staff are easy to manage and easy to replace. (Finding replacements with similar skills can be difficult or impossible. IT staff have numerous skills, abundant curiosity and ambition, large and complex workloads, and plenty of other opportunities. The slow pace of technology adoption in higher education operations areas, in comparison with other industries, or being given too many routine assignments can cause staff to seek other jobs.)
  • The potential IT workforce is enormous, because information technology is a cool and appealing profession. (Though a job in information technology may appear "cool," the work can be hard, demanding, and often dull. The STEM and other skills needed to successfully train and succeed in these roles are rare in today's emerging American workers.)

The Pitfalls

  • Institutions are financially strapped, but underspending on IT staffing can be, ultimately, more expensive. For some jobs and in some local markets, institutions must consider paying market salaries—or at least closer-to-market salaries—to attract and retain talent. This can have a cascading effect throughout the IT organization.
  • Management is not an occasional activity, limited mostly to hiring new staff and conducting performance reviews. IT managers need to continue to show how they value staff and must help to make each position "the best job" of a staff member's career. They must provide genuine feedback to help staff develop, give stretch assignments to encourage new challenges, offer ongoing career coaching, propose service opportunities, and show a sincere commitment to work-life balance.

The Opportunity

Institutions with excellent IT workforce management and development are much better able to adapt to workforce changes and institutional needs. Good IT staffing will be reflected in IT services and institutional initiatives. The institution will have confidence in its ability to use information technology to achieve its strategic objectives. And an effectively managed IT organization can serve as a model for change adoption for other areas on campus and for IT organizations at other institutions.


To get started:

  • Try to quantify the issue. Benchmark against and talk with peers. Use the EDUCAUSE maturity indexes to try to get some objective measures. Explain what is not being accomplished and why.
  • Aim for a balance between cross-training and getting the work done, between maintenance and more exciting assignments.
  • Ensure your staffing and training plan matches your technology roadmap.
  • Introduce incentives to retain staff (e.g., allowing telecommuting) if it is difficult to hire or retain good talent.

To develop further:

  • Start a mentoring program, which might help with attracting new staff and developing and retaining existing talent.
  • Workforce capacity isn't only about growth. Identify work and services the IT department can stop in order to create capacity for new activities that support the institutional mission.
  • Develop and implement a strategy to improve your organization's diversity, equity, and inclusion. Diversify your IT workforce. Diversity extends to different ethnic backgrounds, color, gender, age, and education backgrounds.

To optimize:

  • Introduce succession planning to identify and develop the next set of leaders and professionals.
  • Don't assume that what got you here will keep you here. Think about coming changes in technology, higher education, and the workforce. Look outside higher education to learn about best practices in IT workforce management in other industries.
  • Emphasize promoting from within the institution by internally developing talent. This creates a sense of optimism in the IT ranks.
  • Develop career paths from local IT into enterprise IT to better leverage and grow skills throughout the institution.

Ecosystem Opportunities

Institutions need to consider new funding sources to help pay for growing IT organizations and increasing salaries. One possibility might include enticing local industries to provide funding support for new IT initiatives. A strong local college or university benefits local businesses by providing a source of new professionals and ongoing development of the local workforce.

EDUCAUSE Management and Leadership Institute Programs enable IT professionals and leaders to learn about information technology, management and leadership, and higher education. Other association-level activities could include developing organizational toolkits for succession planning and other important workforce development practices and coordinating mentoring across the sector.

Issue #8 (tie): Data Management and Governance

Implementing effective institutional data governance practices

Sharon E. Blanton, David Weil, and Mark Roman

"It's important to realize that you are also changing culture. This isn't just about filling out forms or defining terms. There is a significant cultural aspect about who owns which data elements and looking at data as an institution-wide asset."

—David Weil, Associate Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Information Technology, Ithaca College

Making good decisions, understanding the keys to student success, or improving yield, retention, and philanthropy—all depend on good data. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to protect the data entrusted to them. Whether to safeguard it or to put it to use, data is an asset, and institutions must govern, protect, and manage it as such. This starts with the basics. Who has the authority to access and use data, which data needs special restrictions, and what is the lifecycle of data?

Data governance is also about a single version of the truth, and decision-makers need to have confidence in the integrity and accuracy of the data used to inform institutional decisions. Without that unified voice of data reason, the institution's data becomes corrupted through uncontrolled replication. This data sprawl creates information chaos, leading to faulty and expensive decision-making errors throughout the institution.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Senior leaders, because better performance metrics come from better data, and better data comes from appropriate data management and governance
  • IR leaders, because effective data management and governance expedites and improves their work
  • Business unit leaders, because they care about how institutional and departmental data works for their particular areas

The Misconceptions

  • This is an IT issue. (Data governance must be addressed across the institution. Someone must take the lead/accountability for it. The leadership will likely be different at each institution, determined by institutional structure and culture.)
  • Combining data from multiple sources is not a big deal. (A great deal of planning and process is needed to bring together data from multiple sources and to ensure that the data is correct. This may be the most systemic, hidden, and non-trivial IT issue facing an institution.)
  • Local needs trump larger needs. (Individual business units have very important, focused priorities, but they remain part of the larger institution. The institution can thrive only if its departments, schools, and other units are able to adopt a coordinated approach to challenges, including data management and governance. Data management and governance really is a team sport.)

The Pitfalls

  • Without strong leadership and good process, it is easy to get bogged down, stop too soon, or let a dominant force at the table prevent stakeholders from working through the issues.
  • Stating the business value of this very abstract, hard, and complicated work can be difficult. Trying to justify the complexity and the required level of effort is a significant pitfall. The solution is to reframe the issue, from the work that needs to get done to the business value that the successful outcome will generate.
  • A lack of trust in institutional colleagues to use the data in a responsible manner, or to protect the data in a responsible manner, can undermine the entire project. Classification and governance establish the rules and policies around using data. This requires some baseline level of trust that stakeholders will do the right thing once the "right thing" is determined.

The Opportunity

Institutions with excellent data management and governance can extract the maximum value from their data. They know where their most confidential data is and can secure it more reliably. Having clean data starts with an architecture that addresses data entity models for the enterprise. Streamlining data practices can also improve the data entry experience for students and faculty. These institutions have also laid the groundwork for analytics and, potentially, AI. Those capabilities can improve learning, students' experiences and outcomes, resource use, and research funding and productivity.


To get started:

  • Avoid getting overwhelmed. Start small. Pick an area that is very small, very important, or very vulnerable, and then build out from there.
  • Get input and support from all the right players across the institution before you actually start the project. You need to understand their areas, data needs, and problems and what they expect from better data. Form partnerships.
  • Learn from the mistakes and successes of institutions that are more mature than yours.
  • Realize that you don't need to do this alone. Various partners and service providers can help institutions get started with this work, and they can be instrumental in defining what needs to be done, talking you through the issues, and walking you through the initial work.
  • Plan from the start for sustainability. Build data management processes and policies that are systemically integrated into the standard operations of the institution, because otherwise data management discipline is easy to ignore by data users who are distributed across the organization and are not focused on common data quality.

To develop further:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. A lot of the work happens in a small group, but the outcomes touch—and should benefit—the whole institution.
  • It is very easy to lose focus on these kinds of projects because they do not have direct impact or immediate results. Be careful to not reallocate resources in the middle of a project.
  • To keep the group going, have a credible champion who is dedicated to this work and who is excited about the project.

To optimize:

  • Data governance and management is an ongoing commitment, a marathon with no end. Do not approach this work as a project with start and end dates. This is a new way of doing business.

Ecosystem Opportunities

Having a standard data model for higher education would be valuable. Vendors have their own data models, and these models are all different. A standard data model would extract time and expense from these efforts and ultimately facilitate student moves across institutions.

Sharing stories and case studies across the ecosystem would also be useful, so that we can learn from one another. The topic needs to be brought to the attention of provosts, CBOs, student affairs leaders, and even presidents. Data governance and management is prevalent within IT conferences and conversations. It needs to move beyond the IT portion of our ecosystem.

Issue #8 (tie): Digital Integrations

Ensuring system interoperability, scalability, and extensibility, as well as data integrity, standards, and governance, across multiple applications and platforms

Steve diFilipo, Justin Sipher, Angela Svoboda, and Bill Penney

"Data is the context engine of AI. Having a single source of truth with regard to data is critical."

—Steve diFilipo, Chief Information Officer, Institute for Transformational Learning, University of Texas System

The age of the ERP (enterprise resource planning) system is ending. Institutions are moving to enterprise architectures based on multiple products. Without careful planning, this can easily result in isolated systems, redundancy, and inefficiencies. Building out interoperability reduces inefficiencies and the silo effect, and it allows the institution to operate from a single platform. Without careful integration of enterprise and academic systems (in cloud and on the premises), data integrity is compromised and so are the decisions made based on that data.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • IR leaders, because they need data continuity across the institution
  • Business area leaders, who rely on good data to inform decisions
  • Presidents and CBOs, because funding is increasingly tied to data reporting

The Misconceptions

  • Software is like Lego blocks—the systems and the data are easy to connect. (In reality, integrating systems and integrating data across systems are manual and challenging tasks.)
  • Data generated locally can be managed locally. (In our interconnected and interdependent data world, decisions at the local level can affect the entire institution. Stakeholders need to understand both the departmental objective and the institutional impact.)
  • Data is a byproduct of systems, rather than an asset. (Institution leaders need to understand that data is a critical resource requiring data governance, and they need to understand what it means to govern data across the institution with data stewards, standards, and policies.)

The Pitfalls

  • Digital integrations require technical work but are primarily about the institution's data strategy. The work must be an institutional project that begins with data governance and management.
  • Not having a good data dictionary can trip up these initiatives. Stakeholders must agree on terms and who owns which data elements; otherwise there are blame issues and data integrity issues.
  • In many cases, digital integrations and new ways of managing and using data will change people's jobs. They will need new skills, and not all people will easily adopt the new skills. Those who don't can damage data integrity.

The Opportunity

Institutions that do this very well will have data without doubt and constituents who are all speaking the same data language. They will have improved access to data, enabling better answers and decision-making. They will be in a stronger position for process, technology, and system changes in the future.


To get started:

  • You are lucky if you are just starting out, since those who are further ahead have simplified your learning curve. Find them, and learn from them.
  • Appoint data stewards, and make sure that they understand their roles in relation to the data governance structure.
  • Ensure leadership really understands the importance of data integration; this is an issue that will fail without an institutional commitment.
  • Establish policies around software/technology purchases to outline the specifications for ensuring that new solutions are scalable and extensible.

To develop further:

  • Striving for perfection may not always be worth the engineering expense/complication. Does your solution meet your needs? Then it might be sufficient.
  • Consider establishing a CDO (Chief Data Officer) role or capacity. A CDO, who does not need to be in the IT department, can help coordinate stakeholders in the functional areas.
  • Build enterprise architecture skills in the IT organization so that best-of-breed software purchases can be used to the fullest extent.
  • Identify the technical person who can be a liaison in business units to help integrate distributed data.

To optimize:

  • Listen to some of the functional and technical staff who are closest to the data and to ongoing activities. These staff know where there are inefficiencies or opportunities and can help you solve or elevate them.
  • Move beyond the concept of point-to-point integration and develop an integration platform and/or data lake. This will allow for optimization.
  • Share with the rest of the EDUCAUSE community to help others learn and make faster progress.

Ecosystem Opportunities

A dialogue between institution leaders and vendors could increase alignment between the solutions that are provided and higher education needs. Good advisory groups or user communities might help advise vendors.

Standardizing data models across higher education or even including K–12 (K–20) might help influence the development of solutions with more open integration standards, instead of proprietary ones. The challenge will be to align on data defintions. Some efforts are already under way, for example within the Florida system,16 at IMS Global, and within Unizin. API models can also help.

Issue #10: Change Leadership

Helping institutional constituents (including the IT staff) adapt to the increasing pace of technology change

Raechelle Clemmons, Chris A. McCoy, Katie Rose, and Richard Sluder

The world is facing increasing change; disruption and transformation are everywhere. Technology is at the heart of this transition. Technology can be helpful only if people are capable of using it. Ensuring people are ready for the changes that will affect their daily lives is as important as implementing the technology itself.

These are not your parents' changes, limited to learning new software or a new device. Technology has significantly disrupted almost every other major industry, and it is only a matter of time before it disrupts higher education.

"The only thing constant is change. The pace of change is increasing and we have to ready the institution and our staff for that."

—Raechelle Clemmons, Chief Information Officer, Davidson College

People think that change is an event, and that we reach the other side and are done. But change is ever present and is something to work on day in and out. Although we live in a very swiftly moving and change-oriented world, higher education is complex and sometimes slow to respond. How do we move in a rapid change environment, and how do we become adaptive? All levels of leadership on campus need to be involved. We need "multi-level engaged leadership."

The institutions that handle change the best are those where change seems to occur seamlessly and effortlessly—an ordinary and inevitable part of operations. Here, leaders seem to take the high road. There may be negative conversations, but the starting point for almost all interactions is two steps beyond where conversations seem to get stuck at drama-laden institutions. Leaders at institutions where change seems to occur best have an uncanny sense of timing, an innate understanding of campus climate, a finely tuned sense of priorities, and an ability to draw the best from a variety of personality types. Leaders at these institutions orchestrate change intuitively.

Who Outside the IT Department Should Care Most about This Issue?

  • Presidents, boards and academic leaders, because the higher education business model no longer works. Expenses outpace revenue, most expenses are people-related, and higher education is people-intensive. It is only a matter of time before significant change affects us because our model is unsustainable. We need to know how technology is going to affect that.
  • Faculty, because technologies such as AI and robotics have teaching and learning applications. Teaching and learning are changing, and faculty need to learn how to swim with, rather than against, the current of technology.
  • State legislatures and other policy-makers, because they need to take an interest in preserving the academy

The Misconceptions

  • Change is unpleasant. (Institutions need a glass-half-full mindset to achieve change. Leaders need to continually emphasize the favorable parts of change, talk about change in a positive way, and remind constituents of the "why" of change.)
  • Change happens organically; focus on the project deliverables, and the change will take care of itself. (In reality, the change itself requires dedicated, special attention.)
  • Technology is endemic and cool, and that's why it should be adopted. (Technology has enabling capabilities, and it is important to focus on the enablement apart from the technology.)
  • Change must be "driven" by a powerful leader who "gets" change more than others. (Organizations will benefit from a leader who prioritizes change, but that leader must build a sense of buy-in and consensus around a change agenda.)

The Pitfalls

  • The communication side of change is critically important, and institutions don't always do that well. They sometimes forget to articulate the "why" in ways that are compelling.
  • Initiative fatigue can stymie effective change. Choose the primary initiatives carefully, limit them to major ones that most benefit the institution, and keep even those narrow. Remain aware of your institution's current change capacity.
  • Institutions can make change too mechanical and forget that it is relational. Change is about cultural change first and foremost. Only then can initiatives focus on process or technology.

The Opportunity

Institutions that excel can create the next adaptive model for higher education. Those colleges and universities will be able to demonstrate high persistance through the next centuries.

When an institution excels at change leadership, it is capable of leapfrogging forward, better meeting constituents' needs while delivering an exceptional level of service. Everyone is then able to more easily work toward the mission of the institution. Good change leadership moves organizations through change at the right pace and minimizes disruption and adverse effects on the organization. Doing this correctly presents huge opportunities, including better educational methods, research, and processes and more effectiveness overall.


To get started:

  • Create momentum by focusing on the "why" of change, building a guiding coalition, and communicating relentlessly and positively.
  • Engage your constituents—as many as you can and for as long as you can.
  • Invest time in learning about change. This is a well-studied discipline.
  • Develop institutional structures—processes, programs, roles, and skills—to support the ongoing changes at your institution.

To develop further:

  • Learn from the leaders, who can help you apply generic change leadership techniques to your institution or initiative.
  • Understand and improve constituents' digital dexterity as a strategy for making change easier. The more dexterous they are, the easier technology change becomes. A focus on digital dexterity (as an institutional or IT goal) can be another way to accelerate change—or at least our ability to change.
  • You can accelerate your learning curve through your affiliations. Connect with people who are easy to work with, have made a difference, and are available to assist you.

To optimize:

  • Use your momentum to tackle additional changes. It will be much easier, thanks to the groundwork you've laid.
  • Partner with other leaders, and share with the community overall.

Ecosystem Opportunities

We should be sharing successful frameworks, tools, techniques, and advice at the ecosystem level. Change happens at the person-to-person level. Really understanding the different tools that have worked elsewhere can help you decide what will work best with the person in front of you. We might develop consortia and other groups to help manage certain changes.

Although external experts are crucial in supporting the change initiatives higher education is undertaking, we must hold them accountable for focusing on the sustainability of the ecosystem. That will require balancing profit with support and outcomes that allow institutions to progress and endure.

Like politics, all change is local. But the ecosystem can help institutions understand the urgency for broad change and can influence the frame of mind of institutional leaders and constituents.

Reflections and Conclusion

The EDUCAUSE community selected the Top 10 IT Issues from a slate of 18 issues identified by the IT Issues Panel. The following are the 8 issues that did not make the top 10 list, in descending order of importance:

  • Digital Learning: Developing and delivering online and hybrid learning strategies that fit within the context of the institutional culture and each student's particular educational plan
  • Funding Models: Adapting IT funding models to accommodate changing IT sourcing strategies (cloud, shared services, etc.)
  • Institutional Compliance: Responding to an increasingly complex and costly IT compliance environment (e.g., ADA)
  • Digital Future: Embracing and preparing for the expanding implications of technology for higher education and its impact on the institution
  • Identity Management: Modernizing institutional identity and access management systems
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Developing an IT organization that reflects and supports institutional commitments to a staff of diverse individuals who feel welcome and valued
  • Institution-wide IT Governance: Coordinating relationships, accountabilities, and priorities among central IT and distributed IT staff and organizations
  • Digital Enterprise Transformation: Developing the business processes and enterprise architecture to move from traditional ERPs to new enterprise IT systems

Even though these 8 issues did not make the overall Top 10, they are not unimportant. Most of them made the Top 10 list of a subset of institutions.17 In addition, more than 25 percent of institutions rated each of these issues as 9 or 10 on the 10-point scale (1=not at all important; 10=extremely important) used to generate the Top 10 list.

A Matter of Trust

Information security challenges are the shadow cast by data. As data becomes more abundant and more consequential, that shadow gets longer and darker. It is no surprise that Information Security has stayed a stubborn #1 on the Top 10 IT Issues list for three years now. This issue cannot be ignored and seemingly cannot be tamed as higher education's appetite for data grows. The different types of data collected in higher education—whether to fuel student learning analytics, provide services to students, faculty, and staff, conduct research, or run the business of the higher education institution—bring a host of legal, regulatory, and policy considerations to bear. An institution's information security posture, which seeks to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of this data, must scale in this data-rich environment.

Protecting data is a matter of trust; and institutional data integrity is at the heart of this trust. Data integrity is the ability to ensure that data is accurate and consistent. Most data integrity issues to date have been unintentional. But in an era when truth and reality are viewed as malleable and when data is being weaponized, data integrity is an issue that demands new attention and vigilance. The problem will only worsen. Gartner predicts: "By 2020, AI-driven creation of 'counterfeit reality,' or fake content, will outpace AI's ability to detect it, fomenting digital distrust."18

And let us not forget privacy, another component of trust. FERPA was enacted in part to ensure students' privacy, HIPAA in part to ensure patients' privacy. Information security breaches are trust breaches. As predictive analytics and other algorithms are used more for decisions about students (e.g., predictive learning analytics), data becomes increasingly consequential and a more attractive target of deeply personal information. Panelists' most urgent advice for Information Security was "don't get complacent." A monster really is in the closet.

Taming the monster is especially important for higher education if we are to retain our reputation for objectivity and accuracy—a reputation that is under threat. Data integrity is a matter of trust, and trust is precisely what higher education is struggling to maintain.

Changes from Last Year

Half of this year's Top 10 IT Issues were new or at least significantly altered from last year. Three issues—Student-centered Institution (#5), Digital Integrations (#8, tie), and Change Leadership (#10)—were entirely new. Two others—Student Success (#2) and Data-enabled Institutional Culture (#4)—represent major shifts in focus. Converting the raw potential of data into a knowledge and decision-making asset is the predominant technology focus this year. It introduces new work, new relationships, and new challenges throughout the IT organization and the institution. The work is both tactical and strategic, with system integrations and data management as well as strategic planning and relationship management. Today's data focus is primarily on students. Yet the groundwork laid is increasing the institution's capacity to use data effectively for all kinds of decisions and designs. Institutions are also, in varying degrees of consciousness, preparing to apply AI and machine-learning to their aspirations and activities. We all know our world is changing; some are preparing for that change more intentionally than others.

Today Creates Tomorrow

What will the class of 2030 experience? Will such a concept as "the class of" seem quaint or uncommon by 2030? No one can say, and yet the choices that today's institutional leaders and boards are making are influenced by their thoughts about the class of 2030 and others—and about the future of their institutions. Every leader is a futurist in that respect, because every leader makes plans based on explicit or unconscious predictions of the future. Today's strategic priorities are bets on tomorrow.

Some higher education institutions are placing bets on technology and are moving more quickly than their peers to adopt technology. These early adopters included in their Top 10 lists two issues that did not make the main list: Digital Learning and Digital Future. Those institutions are on the frontier of remaking higher education.

Leaders at the early adopters are moving more quickly to incorporate a set of emerging technologies and trends19 that will remake education, research, and operations at their institutions (see table 1). Early adoption of technology is not the purview of only the large institutions or of only the doctorals. Each type of institution has a sizable proportion of early adopters: community colleges (53%), private masters and doctorals (33%), institutions with fewer than 2,000 students (33%), and institutions with 15,000+ students (42%).

Table 1. Technologies and Trends at Early Adopter Institutions

Emerging Technologies
  • Adaptive learning
  • Blockchain
  • Courseware
  • Development tools to support multiple key platforms
  • Digital microcredentials (including badging)
  • Enterprise GRC systems
  • Flexible interactive platforms for descriptive and predictive analytics of institutional data
  • Games and gamification
  • High-precision location-sensing technologies
  • Integration platform as a service
  • Mobile app development
  • Mobile apps for enterprise applications
  • Mobile apps for institutional BI/analytics
  • Open educational resources
  • Predictive analytics for student success (institutional level)
  • Predictive learning analytics (course level)
  • Remote proctoring services
  • Support for use of personal cloud services
  • Uses of the Internet of Things for campus management
  • Uses of the Internet of Things for research
  • Uses of the Internet of Things for teaching and learning
  • Agile approaches to change
  • Climate change
  • Contributions of IT to institutional operational excellence
  • Data-driven decision-making
  • DevOps movement
  • Digitization of scholarly and research data
  • Evaluation of technology-based instructional innovations
  • IT as an agent of institutional transformation and innovation
  • Strategic relationships with vendors
  • Use of algorithms to influence institutional and individual choices

Why does this matter? Evidence is mounting that technology is a major differentiator, a key to productivity and success.20 The future of each college and university is no longer certain. Too many are on financial shaky ground. The academy's primacy in postsecondary credentials is at risk. Institutions can no longer assume that 2030 will look pretty much the same as 2018. The choices that institutions make today will prepare them well for the changes at hand—or will leave them at a growing disadvantage. Institutions that are able to effectively develop and execute a digital strategy may be the most advantaged, and this potential head start is available to any institution.

Parting Words

Don't get complacent. Panelists offered this advice throughout their conversations about the issues this year. Don't get complacent, they said, because we are in an era of change, and as one panelist memorably put it: "Change doesn't have an end."21 Success generates new ambitions; risks are mitigated but rarely overcome.

Share the Top 10 IT Issues list throughout your institution. Discuss it with your peers within, but especially beyond, the IT organization. Panelists consistently expressed frustration with the widespread misconception that the issues on the Top 10 IT Issues list and other technology priorities are for the IT department to solve. Nothing, they felt, could be less true. Technology may be difficult, but it is nonetheless the easy part of a student success initiative, an analytics priority, or even an information security strategy. The challenges related to people, processes, and policies dwarf the mechanistic technical work.

And that takes us to the panelists' final advice and the parting words for all readers of this article: Everyone needs to care about all of these issues. None of these issues can be left to the CIO or to the IT department or to the institution's leadership or to any small group of stakeholders. The 2018 Top 10 IT Issues are about remaking higher education. Remaking higher education doesn't just take a village, or even an institution or system. It requires the full ecosystem of higher education.

Remaking higher education in a digital world calls for constituents throughout the institution, regardless of their role, to better understand the possibilities, limitations, and responsibilities that our technology- and data-rich environment has afforded. It calls for academia's gloriously independent nature, which has fostered so much creativity and invention, to recognize and embrace the affordances of interdependence and collaboration. It calls for all members of the IT workforce to immerse themselves in their institutions' activities and missions. It calls for policy-makers to recognize the impact that technology is making on higher education and to consider this impact in the context of the culture, missions, and benefits of higher education. It calls for vendors and solution providers to consider the effect their products and services are having and may have on higher education, in addition to the effect higher education is having and may have on their profitability. It calls for higher education decision-makers to learn how to operate in the ecosystem beyond their institution; the ivory tower is not impermeable. Remaking higher education in a digital world calls for everyone—students, researchers, instructors, administrators, librarians, technologists, business officers, all constituents—to accept that change is upon us and will not end. We are in an era of great change. We are all called to engage. Answer the call.


  1. Once a year, members of the EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel select a slate of 15-20 topics they believe will be the most important IT-related issues facing higher education institutions. EDUCAUSE members receive a survey with those issues and are asked to prioritize them. The 10 issues with the highest-priority scores become the Top 10 IT Issues. This methodology also enables EDUCAUSE to determine the Top 10 IT Issues among various types of institutions. For 2018, 11,797 email invitations to complete the survey were sent to EDUCAUSE members, and 438 (3.7%) completed the survey. Where multiple representatives from a single institution completed the survey, we selected the response from the representative in the highest-ranking position to determine the Top 10 IT Issues. The final Top 10 IT Issues list is thus based on the responses of 310 U.S.-based respondents.
  2. Karen Vignare, "Why Adaptive Courseware Will Scale in Higher Ed," Transforming Higher Ed, EDUCAUSE Review, September 18, 2017.
  3.  "ASU, Amazon Bring First-of-Its-Kind Voice-Technology Program to Campus," ASU Now, August 17, 2017.
  4. Kristi DePaul, "Ramapo College: Boosting Retention Rates with Inclusive Student Services," Transforming Higher Ed, EDUCAUSE Review, August 31, 2017.
  5. Sri Ravipati, "5 VR Trends to Watch in Education," Campus Technology, May 16, 2017.
  6. Georgetown University, Digital Storytelling Multimedia Archive and Website [], accessed November 21, 2017.
  7. Jonathan S. Gagliardi, Lorelle L. Espinosa, Jonathan M. Turk, and Morgan Taylor, American College President Study 2017 (Washington, DC: American Council on Education, 2017).
  8. See Kotter International, 8 Step Process (website).
  9. EDUCAUSE strategic trends data, 2017 and 2018. For 2017 data, see Ana Borray and Nancy Millichap, 2017 Trends and Technologies: IPASS, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, May 2017). The 2018 data will be published later this year.
  10. National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 326.10 (2016).
  11. See, for example, Donna Desrochers and Rick Staisloff, "Creating Sustainable Innovation with iPASS," Transforming Higher Ed, EDUCAUSE Review, March 8, 2017.
  12. Michael King, "The AI Revolution on Campus," EDUCAUSE Review 52, no. 5 (September/October 2017).
  13. Nick Harrison and Deborah O'Neill, "If Your Company Isn't Good at Analytics, It's Not Ready for AI," Harvard Business Review, June 7, 2017.
  14. Jeffrey Pomerantz and D. Christopher Brooks, The Higher Education IT Workforce Landscape, 2016, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, April 2016).
  15. Pomerantz and Brooks, IT Workforce Landscape, 2016.
  16. See Florida Department of Education, PK-20 Education Data Warehouse.
  17. EDUCAUSE publishes Top 10 lists for fifteen subsets of institutions: seven groups based on Carnegie classifications (Associates, Bachelors, Private Masters, Public Masters, Private Doctorals, Public Doctorals, and non-US), five institutional size groups (fewer than 2,000 students, 2,000–3,999 students, 4,000–7,999 students, 8,000–14,999 students, and 15,000+ students), and three approaches to technology adoption (later than peers, at the pace of peers, and earlier than peers). We also review the Top 10 lists of several IT sub-professions. These lists are available on the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues website.
  18. Kasey Panetta, "Gartner Top Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond," Smarter with Gartner, October 3, 2017.
  19. Since 2014, EDUCAUSE has examined higher education's top strategic technology priorities. In our research, strategic technologies are the emerging technologies and trends that institutions will be spending the most time implementing, planning for, and tracking in the coming year.
  20. Walter Frick, "The Real Reason Superstar Firms Are Pulling Ahead," Harvard Business Review, October 5, 2017.
  21. Katie Rose, Senior Director, User Services, University of Notre Dame.

Thanks to the 2018 EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues Sponsor

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Platinum Partner

Susan Grajek is Vice President, Communities and Research, for EDUCAUSE.

© 2018 Susan Grajek and the 2017–2018 EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel. The text of this work is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 53, no. 1 (January/February 2018)