Connecting Technology Buckets in Student Affairs

Who wants to lead?

December 1, 2014
Connecting student affairs technology

The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) website lists "44 sets of functional area standards for higher education programs and services." That represents a multitude of departments and services that are present at most colleges and universities. It also means that there are scores of technologies at play within myriad functional areas.

Situated at the core of these technologies are databases that collect and disseminate endless amounts of data. Those datasets are housed in buckets or silos that rarely are bridged. New systems are brought online, older systems are patched up, and a digital patina starts to form. In a world where big data is de rigueur, how do we make sense of things? And perhaps more importantly, who do we look to for future-ready technology services that have the capacity to connect digital tendrils to our existing collection of services?

An email from Tim Bounds, the Senior Director of Strategic Operations for Duke University Student Affairs prompted this post. Also known as the "Controller of Chaos," at least that's what his email signature states (probably the best title I've ever seen), Bounds asked me point blank about this issue last week. It was my Thanksgiving weekend homework and I've been thinking about it for several days. According to Bounds, Duke has "separate systems for career services, housing (on and off campus), conduct, student organizations, event registration, assessment, health education, student elections, dining, student health, counseling, and probably more."

My educated guess is that most student affairs divisions are in a similar position. To add even more context to this conundrum, the majority of information services and technology solutions for student affairs functional areas originate from several different providers. Reliability, customer support, data security, updates, scaleability, platform compatibility, user interface, accessibility, and data "buckets" are all part of the equation for student affairs technology. Perhaps wishing for a unified system, Bounds pondered what it would be like to have all of the data from all of their systems available within PeopleSoft.

Having all of the data pools available to some extent within a student affairs division would create a lot of opportunities for assessment, analysis, and action. Plus, it would make things (Possibly? Hopefully? Maybe?) easier for IT personnel to maintain things on the back-end.

When I think about the "big players" in the higher education technology solutions arena, I think about Ellucian, Pearson, Blackboard, and PeopleSoft (Oracle). These are companies with extensive histories and massive footprints on a global scale. However, there are so many companies that are doing great work within higher education: Starfish Retention Solutions, OrgSync, Campus Labs, Jenzabar, EBI MAP-Works, Maxient, Chegg, InsideTrack, Pave Systems, and StarRez. Please note that this list is just a small selection of some of the companies who offer amazing functionality within the functional areas of higher education administrations.

We definitely do not have an issue with finding technology providers. However, we have to find the right solution and the right provider for today and tomorrow. What we need are companies that want to create "Swiss Army Knife" solutions and/or technology solutions that can bridge everything together into a meaningful/useful dashboard.

So, that is the context – a large number of functions that require technologies to support their services in an interconnected, longterm capacity.

Who is working on a solution? Who is leading the way? Or perhaps, who wants to lead the way?

Dear Vendors, if you have a thought or an answer to this post, we want your comments. Please do not hesitate to share your ideas, links, or even a pitch. Maybe you are reading this post and you're not with a company that has historically been focused on higher education. Guess what? That's okay. We need big ideas to assist with big technology challenges in student affairs. Drop a comment, give us context, and who knows, you might be featured in my next post. This is low-hanging fruit. It's a niche that is ready for amazing things to happen.


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