The new school year brings new challenges for colleges and universities. When COVID-19 hit and thousands of education institutions rushed to move classes online, preparations were already underway for potential remote classes in the fall. But now that potential has become a reality. Institutions are navigating new policies and pressures to facilitate distance learning and hybrid learning at scale – all while administrative staff work from home.
In many respects, the costs of these obligations have remained steady or even increased, while available funds have sharply declined. Stagnant state funding, lower applications and enrollment, and pressure to decrease tuition over the past years have placed incredible financial strain on institutions and also led to consolidation or closure. On top of this, one in four higher education institutions had no financial contingency plan when COVID-19 hit, according to EAB.
And now – with few students living on campus and paying for housing – a large source of college revenue has dried up. Further, some institutions have been forced to issue refunds when the ability to hold in-person classes rapidly reversed due to outbreaks. According to University President Gayle Hutchinson, California State University, Chico recently cancelled its limited number of in-person classes just one week into the semester due to an outbreak and will provide prorated refunds for room and board.
Higher education institutions face unprecedented stress when it comes to budget – and simultaneously require more resources to facilitate distance learning during the pandemic. This will accelerate higher education institutions’ expansion to online models, according to a new Moody’s Investors Service report, although some institutions will struggle to invest in their digital infrastructure and weather these uncertain times.
But it’s even more imperative now for institutions to bolster digital capabilities, because the distance learning experience can make or break students’ engagement in a course – as well as enrollment. Students are increasingly fluent in using digital platforms, and expect the same level of speed, seamlessness, and security they are familiar with. With the right tools, institutions can quickly scale remote learning up or down to meet demands – without introducing an overwhelming financial burden at a time where budgets are already tight.
Transform higher education business models
Some institutions were able to transition seamlessly to digital learning, while others are still finding their footing. With these immense financial challenges, colleges and universities are exploring new revenue models that may transform the business permanently. They are expanding non-degree and certificate programs. They may also turn to partnerships and acquisitions to expand capacity and gain visibility, and look to offer asynchronous and on-demand “competency-based” education programs.
In any case, institutions’ IT teams are ramping up digital infrastructure to support remote networks, tools for virtual classrooms and collaboration, and spikes in connectivity. They are realizing that agility is the gold standard – they need the right infrastructure to accommodate adjustments as organizations adopt new models and evolve as they discover what works best for students.
To adapt to this paradigm shift, institutions must focus their efforts on organizational culture, adequate resources for digital infrastructure, and flexibility and agility for budgets and infrastructure – two factors that are increasingly important amid the shifting landscape.
➢ Organizational culture. A seamless digital learning experience is paramount for students, as well as faculty. How higher education leaders approach the new remote learning “normal” sets the stage for an instructor’s support and flexibility amid change and uncertainty – and therefore students’ satisfaction with the course. Therefore, it is crucial that leaders proactively seek cues from their students about digital learning needs, and make sure academic and non-academic staff feel part of a cohesive organization that is charting a new path via technology.
➢ An innovative approach to budgets. Financial limitations are not new to higher education institutions. But uncertainty in education now, and over the next few years as we respond to the pandemic, means that institutions must be able to stretch their resources further than ever before. They must be strategic about their investments, but be willing to invest enough in their digital learning experience for it to succeed. They must have the courage to implement next-generation technologies and seek partners who are supportive of consumption models such as on-demand and reserved capacity usage. This requires coordination with and support from leaders to accelerate digital transformation plans, and from their financial teams to prioritize operational expenses over capital expenses.
➢ Flexibility and agility through infrastructure. As-a-Service solutions help colleges and universities scale up or down their remote learning capabilities, without massive disruption to install. Moreover, these models allow them to leverage only the digital infrastructure they need at a given time, minimizing any financial burden. With limited budgets, institutions benefit from infrastructure that works with the financial resources they have today, yet remains innovative and nimble for the future where predicting long-term requirements can be difficult. With flexible and agile infrastructure, institutions can upgrade and expand storage as needed to power transformational models.
Bringing flexibility and agility to remote learning with a Modern Data Experience
The right IT infrastructure can deliver on both budget and remote learning capabilities. Enabling flexibility and agility starts with the right foundation – a Modern Data Experience. It must be fast enough to reliably support the learning, access, and collaboration needs of students as well as instructors.
A Modern Data Experience is also simple: simplified management, enhanced security, better performance and reduced costs, which institutions need most. This simplicity means that education leaders can focus on what matters – providing a quality learning experience for students – without worrying about costly disruptions or migrations. A Modern Data Experience is also seamless, spanning any protocol, any tier of service level, and multiple clouds in a single environment.
Innovation for remote learning goes hand in hand with freedom for higher education finances. Organizations must deploy infrastructure that aligns with pay-as-you-go requirements – or whatever contract terms make sense for their situation – and delivers value for a decade or more. It should also self-upgrading, meaning organizations avoid downtime, performance impact, and forklift upgrades – powering remote learning, anytime.
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