View from the Summit: The EduComm Institute's Inaugural CIO-CFO Summit Offered a Look into the Future and How Higher Education Might Get There

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THIS YEAR'S EDUCOMM CONFERENCE in Las Vegas saw the launch of the EduComm Institute's CIO-CFO Summit. The one-day event, sponsored by GovConnection in partnership with Cisco, preceded EduComm's opening reception and keynote at the Mirage.

Throughout the afternoon, a select group of CIOs and CFOs from public and private, two- and four-year institutions around the country listened as industry experts examined the vital role of information technology in how the campus of the not-too-distant future will operate.

The program was organized around the theme of "The Borderless Network" with presentations centering on changing expectations and new challenges to higher education.

Service Demands

Nicole Engelbert, senior analyst for Datamonitor, examined the connection between changing student demands and how communications and services are delivered on campus.

"Five or 10 years from now, higher education may very well look extraordinarily different from what it does now," she said. "And the institutions that gamble and win on how that change is likely to be will navigate it very well. Those that wait and sit back and hope for the best will find themselves in very difficult positions a decade from now."

Driving that change in large part is the sour economy. The financial crisis is hitting the boiling point with endowment losses last year reaching 18.7 percent.

"We've seen some gains, but the pain will continue to linger," Engelbert said. "What does that mean for how higher education is paid for? It sounds like a horror story, but it may actually provide an opportunity to think about the financial model for higher education in a new and different way."

The great, long-term danger is that public support for higher education continues to decline as state and federal budgets are slashed. "That means the cost of higher ed for the student continues to spiral upwards," she said. "But the ironic part is that demand continues to grow and is even soaring at many institutions."

The student demographic has also changed dramatically, with the nontraditional student market becoming more prominent than ever. Many of them hold jobs and support families in addition to attending school, so their personal investment is much higher.

"Because these individuals have a much higher opportunity cost to attend your institution, they are going to expect more from a service perspective," Engelbert said. "Is your institution ready for their expectations?"

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Improved service and agility will rule the day, she said. For institutions, that means catering to an anytime, anywhere, on-demand world.

"It's like the Netflix model," she said. "Services and courses will be delivered to students on their schedule. This is already available to them in most areas of their lives, except in higher education."

Students are also looking for hyper-personalization, and expect the delivery model to match their needs. They expect that the mythical, all-knowing student record actually exists, easily accessible anywhere on campus.

"They're probably thinking that a company like Dell, with an outsourced, offshore contact center in India, knows more information about them than when they go into the Bursar's office," she said. "But there is quite a gap in what they experience in a consumer market and what they experience on campus."

Finally, she said, students will want their schools to be able to change on a dime. "What you're doing today from an IT and services perspective is not what you're going to be doing five or 10 years from now--or even three months from now."

This fast-approaching future vision will require a very different approach to IT than what we currently have to meet these expectations.

"The new reality of technology is that it will be in a constant state of change," Engelbert said. …