Cameron Evans and Raymond Blackwood
During this recent Campus Management webinar, Cameron Evans, National and Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Education at Microsoft Corporation, and Raymond Todd Blackwood, Vice President of Product Management at Campus Management, answered questions from attending institutions.
Given the state of funding, how are most business officers responding, whether it is raising tuition or other considerations?
Cameron Evans: When you look at it across the board, every university, every college, and every leader is tailoring financial strategies to their particular situations, their locations and constituencies, and strengths. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to funding.
But most universities are trying to make sure that students are successful within that first year. It’s simple math. If you have three freshman students and two of them leave in their sophomore year, the cost of teaching did not go down because the two students left. It just means that the costs now have to be lumped onto the remaining student. If you can help more students to actually sustain themselves throughout their academic careers, then we can see tuition costs actually flatten or at least stop increasing so dramatically.
So having systems that enable you to track relationships far more effectively is a great way to bring costs down and improve outcomes at the same time. Colleges and universities are finding that their core missions of helping students succeed also helps keep costs from escalating.
What about public funding? How is that tied to student outcomes and the current landscape in higher education?
Cameron Evans: It always depends on the institution. If it is a private institution, public funding is not the biggest issue on its radar. But for a public institution, the funding mix from the federal and the state government has changed dramatically and has had an impact. As a result, more courses are being offered online, and not always for the reasons people think.
For example, at one institution it may be that students who live off campus are having greater difficulty affording the drive to school as resources contract. Having courses online and moving courses into the cloud provides a more cost-effective and expedient path for students to achieve their academic goals, as well as a more cost-effective academic platform for the institution. Institutions need to have both a micro and macro view of the dynamics shaping their environment, but sometimes this insight is buried in the data.
Raymond Blackwood: In my home state of Florida, there is a new model for how schools get funding. Each institution is assigned a value based on performance over ten different metrics. Among the metrics they look at is the cost of undergraduate tuition. To piggyback on what Cameron said about retention for those first-year students, Florida actually looks at how many of your second-year students remain, and how many of those have a 2.0 GPA or higher. So outcomes matter when it comes to qualifying for public funding. I think 30 states now have different programs similar to this right now, and it is putting a lot of pressure on institutions to increase student success. At the same time, there is pressure on the administration to cut costs and find more efficient ways to operate.
What impact on HR departments are you seeing at various colleges?
Raymond Blackwood: The Affordable Care Act has really put a strain on a lot of the HR departments, especially those that manage a high number of adjunct faculty, because they really stride that line of benefit eligibility. You have to remember, teachers do not teach all year long necessarily. You may have some online programs that go all year long, but in many cases, they may take 15 or 30 weeks. If your adjunct faculty member goes over that 30 hour limit, they are eligible for benefits.
So we are seeing more and more cutting back on the number of credits per term institutions allow for adjunct faculty. And those faculty are responding by teaching at more institutions. So while they are having to pick up the cost of managing their own healthcare, they are also having to figure out how to balance teaching at multiple institutions.
How are HR departments responding to increased concerns about information privacy, whether it is HIPAA or FERPA?
Cameron Evans: Privacy has become the new Achilles heel across higher education and has only escalated with recent disclosures of government and retail breaches and theft of citizens’ confidential information.
So as we move more data into the Cloud and onto mobile devices to increase productivity and accessibility, the growing issue is how to keep this data safe.
For FERPA and HIPAA, the laws themselves have not necessarily matured with the speed of technology, so it is incumbent upon technology companies that serve higher education to be ahead of policy in terms of how they approach data security. In fact, institutions should maintain custodial control of their data and ensure that no other nation can lay claim to their particular data assets.
As we start integrating more systems, embracing “The Internet of Things,” and connecting different machines as a massive source of content for big data, we need to have a very fervent conversation about privacy. This is super important if you are moving to the Cloud. You need to find a provider that you can trust and make sure that they have their business practices publicly documented and available for you to walk through. You need a third-party audit to assure stakeholders and to know with any confidence that the business decisions you are making will not jeopardize their privacy.
Raymond Blackwood: I know that Campus Management focuses a lot of its time and resources on making sure that the self-service capabilities in its solutions protect the privacy of the user, even as the institution needs to gather a lot of information, including medical information.
So having multiple layers of authentication and being very diligent about access based on roles at the institution are critical to data security.
A lot of schools, though, do not have the resources to establish roles and responsibilities the way it happens in the corporate world. What’s more, learning is about open sharing, free speech and openness, so any solutions provider to higher education has to address this tricky balance.
How do Campus Management solutions adapt to the change that is happening in higher education?
Raymond Blackwood: I just read the recent Market Guide for Higher Education from the Gartner Group. The industry analyst observes that institutions are looking for flexible, rule-based, and configurable solutions that provide self-service capabilities without having to customize.
They are looking for solutions that support flexible term structures like non-term, borrower-based, and competency-based programs, that strengthen ground programs as well, and that can be deployed modularly to keep up with the rate of change.
That is really why we partnered with Microsoft. Their platform and workflow capabilities along with their Cloud strategy and BI tools are really suited to the needs of today’s institutions.
Cameron Evans: Technology has to be a lot more flexible and adaptable to both people and the processes. What Campus Management is doing with CampusNexus and Microsoft Dynamics AX enables institutions to transform as change occurs.
A lot of institutions are looking at international students and online learning as growth areas. What additional steps can institutions take to ensure data security internationally?
Cameron Evans: As more universities partner with other governments and ministries of education outside of the United States, privacy becomes an even greater issue. As we increase data services and systems for other countries and their employees, faculty, and students, we have to understand and address their data rules, policies, and legislation.
I may have some federal requirements to make sure that data stays secure in the United States while another country like China says it doesn’t want any of its students’ data in America. This comes up more frequently than people realize. Fortunately, Microsoft does business around the world, so we can help higher education continue to grow internationally.
Raymond Blackwood: Campus Management is a global higher education company and has implementations going on throughout the world, including current implementations of Microsoft Dynamics for institutions in Africa and Malaysia. So we are engaged in these data security issues on a daily basis and are aware of the types of data that can be exchanged from country to country.
What are some lessons learned or recommendations?
Cameron Evans: We still have a lot of nontraditional students, including Gen-Xers and Boomers, who turn to higher education to find new skills through degree programs and continue to participate in society. Millennials come into higher education expecting technology to be super personalized and adaptive to them. We have to make sure that we are leveraging technology to serve the widest range of students and to help them optimize their time and academic experience.
Raymond Blackwood: Cameron is absolutely right about the different generations of students, learning styles, and expectations today. To optimize capital investments and to serve diverse constituencies, institutions must get more departments involved in implementations earlier on. It’s no longer just a function of IT to solve one-off technology problems at an institution, but a cohesive enterprise strategy that supports a foundation for managing change and addressing student needs over time.