Postsecondary Trending Now: Top Ten IT Issues for 2015

The lists appear predictably each December and January: the top ten news stories of the year, the top ten films of 2014, the top ten predictions for 2015.

While these collections appear in media of every stripe, one in particular carries implications for next-gen postsecondary education and its vision for change via technology:  the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT issues. The 2015 issues,  identified by a panel of representatives from EDUCAUSE member institutions and then ranked in order of perceived importance by the general membership, appeared earlier this month as the cover story in the January/February issue of EDUCAUSE Review Online.

Some of the issues apply primarily to the work of IT leaders and professionals in higher education (e.g. “hiring and retaining qualified staff.”) But others clearly illustrate that higher ed IT aligns increasingly with the agendas of student success and with improvements in degree completion.

Take these three examples, all of which resonate with those leading change in NGLC’s Breakthrough Models for College Completion, Breakthrough Models Academy, and Breakthrough Models Incubator:

Issue #2: Optimizing the use of technology in teaching and learning in collaboration with academic leadership, including understanding the appropriate level of technology to use

Innovators seldom enjoy the luxury of operating in a vacuum. Whether they are leaders within academic or IT organizations, their ability to juggle the need for change with the imperative to incorporate their work into their organization’s priorities and have an influence upon those priorities is a crucial component of the effort.

At Rio Salado College, one of NGLC’s Breakthrough Models for College Completion, Academic Dean Jennifer McGrath has led the effort. She has engaged faculty leaders in the planning as Rio Salado has implemented technology innovations to personalize learning and individualize interactions with students as they move through their programs—from a student completion portal that allows them to track their own progress to a student success helpdesk. These innovations are keys to the success they’ve been seeing, as she explains in a December blog post about the innovations—and about a recent visit to their program by Bill Gates himself.

Issue #3: Developing IT funding models that sustain core service, support innovation, and facilitate growth

The issue of how financial models sustain and support both innovation and scaling has been a critical part of the curriculum both for the Breakthrough Models Academy and the Breakthrough Models Incubator, programs designed to spur and promote innovation in the design of programs for student success. For two consecutive Incubator sessions, Rick Staisloff, principal of the RPK Group, has presented the issues surrounding development of a sustainable business model, which he describes as “your organization’s plan to generate and sustain revenue so that it can meet its expenses while bringing value to stakeholders.” He sees the business model as the intersection of mission, market, and margin. And we’ve learned, both from him and from the Incubator participants’ developing plans, that sustaining innovation simply isn’t possible without careful consideration of just how to support it financially. Last year, Staisloff explained the concept in this blog post.

Issue #4: Improving student outcomes through an institutional approach that strategically leverages technology

A vision in which technology serves as a lever to the improvement of student outcomes is at the core of all the work of the innovators that NGLC has supported. This initiative’s first wave of investment, the “Building Blocks for College Completion” grants to 29 institutions in 2011, sought to demonstrate proof points that an innovation using integrated technology to successfully support students at one institution could be implemented elsewhere, and improve outcomes there as well. Last September, NGLC’s Kristen Vogt summed up some key lessons learned from this effort in her post “7 Ways to Use Tech to Improve College Student Success.” Her findings are further highlighted in this infographic.

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