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Unizin and the Trouble with Silos

Higher education and the silo mentality

In Iowa, my home state, silos are everywhere. In higher education, we have silos too. The siloed state of higher education is generally split between academic affairs and student affairs. Strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts abound and yet our siloed structures persist.

Recently, while reading a story on IHE, I read about the Unizin initiative. According to the Unizin consortium's website, Unizin is "an inter-university technology service that supports teaching and learning in the modern digital landscape." It sounds fantastic. However, it would appear at first blush that one of the most important silos in the higher education sphere has been left out of the conversation. For example, a blog post on how "Unizin is good for students, faculty, and the private sector" fails to include even the possibility that it just might be good for student affairs practitioners/divisions.

It makes me ponder why student affairs does not seem to be part of this conversation. Are we ignoring the "table" or are we being ignored by those seated around it? The silos that dominate our industry are not fixed. Whether we like it or not, the current state of higher education is more like a business than not. Collaborative efforts like Unizin need to be all-inclusive.

The Unizin FAQ page lists 4 reasons why higher education needs this consortium:

  1. To manage the content our faculty and students create. Student Affairs divisions should be partners in the management of institutional content. It would strengthen the learning environment.
  2. To share this content across universities at significant cost savings to all. Student Affairs divisions would benefit greatly from this type of cross-institutional sharing.
  3. To foster interoperability among the various systems for teaching and learning, and break down the barriers that exist between platforms. Including Student Affairs divisions/practitioners as part of this endeavor would aid in barrier-breaking and silo deconstruction.
  4. To facilitate learning analytics in order to improve student outcomes. Student Affairs is often at the center of retention and engagement...these analytics would be especially valuable.

Colorado State University, Indiana University, University of Florida, and University of Michigan "have already committed to Unizin." Those institutions have a rich tradition of being leaders in the field of student affairs. Let's include everyone in this initiative. Maybe we weren't at the initial table, and maybe we never will be, but efforts like Unizin would be better off if they were less-siloed and more holistic in nature. Alternatively, what would happen if 4 student affairs divisions committed to funding and participating in a project like Unizin? I's counter to my anti-silo stance. However, if we're not at "the technology table," maybe we need to create one.


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