The Boston Consulting Group published an article recently that highlighted trends in higher education. This piece did a good job covering those that are emerging. I want to examine the convergence of several of them and how I think technology will play a part in shaping that future.
State colleges and universities have long relied on government subsidies to keep tuition at a manageable rate and fund all of the research and activities associated with the school. In recent years the amount of funding coming from the states has dropped as they struggle to balance their own budgets. The shortfall is made up through increased tuition and grants as well as targeted campaigns aimed at private and corporate donors. Increased tuition is problematic due to the large debt graduates are accumulating. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report detailed how some graduates are carrying student loan debt into their forties, which means they cannot help their children start academic careers. The result is that the children are assuming their own debt, which continues the cycle. Generating alternative funding sources or containing operational costs could help break that cycle.
There are more education options available to students. Schools across the country, and even some international schools, are offering attractive incentives to reel in young scholars who might otherwise attend their state university. There’s also been a spike in online curriculum and for-profit schools. In this competitive environment universities must target the right prospective students and then lure them in. With the drop in state funding mentioned above, many universities are pursuing more international students, who pay a higher tuition. All of this requires a targeted, intelligent marketing campaign.
Partnerships with private industry are helping universities increase their research efforts. These partners provide funds for sophisticated research, the results of which can be licensed back to the partner or sold outright. Top-notch students and faculty are drawn to such projects, industry gains new business ideas and opportunities, and students and potential employers are brought together.
Colleges and universities are facing pressure from increased competition, uncertain funding, and the push to accelerate and capitalize on research. Here are ways that I think technology can help alleviate that pressure:
- Social Media. Universities are increasing their use of social media to reach a tech savvy generation from around the globe. Advances in web and media technologies as well as analytics help schools target the right audiences and markets.
- Big Data and Business Analytics. The ability to quickly analyze large amounts of prospective student data helps colleges narrow their search for potential students. By identifying and targeting particular demographics, schools can reduce marketing costs and increase the efficiency of their search campaigns.
- Collaboration Software. Research partnerships are no longer just with the company down the street. Partners can be thousands of miles away so it is important that schools and private enterprises can communicate, catalog and analyze research results in a systematic and predictable way. Collaboration applications can help keep researchers informed and successful.
While colleges and universities are facing funding and competition pressures, there are technologies that can help lessen those concerns and lead to new knowledge and discoveries. I am hoping this post spurs your thoughts on other ways that technology can or is helping higher education.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.