The modern, public university is arguably facing more strain than ever before—both from outside and inside its walls. Marked by new competitors and declining funding, the state of today’s higher-ed marketplace has driven more public universities to turn to technology as a holy grail for readying them to compete.
Universities are complex systems, comprised of thousands of departments, specialty schools, and student groups. They’re facing competition from for-profit institutions and tech startups, and the state funding for public universities is declining year over year.
A cross-sectional view of several macro-level trends in higher ed paints a clear picture on why this complexity is significant, and how technology will be a defining factor in addressing it.
More years, larger tuition bills, fewer results
For starters, students, on average, are taking longer to graduate. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the six-year graduation rate has significantly increased in recent years, adding to the overall cost of education. In addition, the Center reports that in four-year institutions with open admissions policies, 32 percent of students take six years or more to complete a bachelor’s degree. At four-year institutions where the acceptance rate was less than 25 percent of applicants, the six-year graduation rate was 88 percent.
Tuition and student-loan debt rising are major contributors to this trend. Many students are finding they have to earn income while in school to offset these costs, limiting the time they can spend on coursework, all while their debt grows. Unfortunately, many end up dropping out without a degree to show for their efforts before universities can get involved to provide much-needed student-relief services.
Encouragingly, many institutions are finding data analytics to be an effective tool for helping identify and respond quickly to factors that impact students’ ability to finish their degree and to finish it on time.
Public universities: mines of data-based value
Universities naturally generate a substantial amount of data from many different sources (which often operate autonomously). For example, beacon-equipped campus cafeterias and food courts provide administrators with an extensive data network that can be leveraged to manage the rush of students grabbing food between classes. Key fob scanners are another data source used by administrators to help identify at-risk student groups who may not be leveraging campus resources to their advantage.