Senior campus technology leaders should be held accountable for developing and delivering on plans to:
- Increase Quality
- Increase Access
- Reduce Costs
Every project that technology touches (which now means most things we do in higher ed) should be looked at through the lenses of quality, access and costs. It is no longer adequate to address one or two legs of this three legged stool.
The role that technology plays to increase quality and access is perhaps more apparent than the ability of technology to reduce costs. We are comfortable thinking about ROI invested in supporting and running our learning platforms. And to the extent that educational professional headcount (such as learning designers) falls under the computing budget we can draw a straight line between investments and results. The growth of open educational resources and open online courses are clear examples of the role that technology can play in improving access.
How can technology drive down higher ed costs?
1. Cost Transparency: The first step to bringing down higher ed costs is to understand them. The costs of delivering higher ed should be a topic that everyone on campus is concerned about. All of us need to gain an understanding of the economics of higher ed, both on our own campus and within our industry. Do we all understand why tuition is increasing much faster than wage growth? Can we articulate the relationship between tuition and costs? Is Baumol's cost disease a concept that we can all discuss? Are we all reading and discussing Why Does College Cost So Much?  Technology leadership needs to be deeply involved in these discussions. We need to find ways to share as much information as we can within our community about costs, and to crowd source ideas from everyone on campus. Measuring and reporting on expenses and revenues can be a task that technology people play a part.
2. Maximize High-Cost Fixed Assets: Higher ed is a business with lots of high cost fixed assets. Campuses are expensive to build, run, and maintain. Classrooms and lab space can't be easily or quickly expanded to meet demand, or shrunk when demand falls. One way that we can lower costs per student, lower tuition, is to run more students through our existing campus buildings. Blended learning, where we reduce face-to-face seat time by taking advantage of digital asynchronous and synchronous learning platforms, allows us to educate more students without building new buildings. The marginal cost of each additional student is low. The trick is ensuring that that marginal student receives the same quality education, and that by adding more students we are not damaging quality. Growing our blended footprint will be the path forward.
3. Shift Costs from Fixed to Variable: The best way to shift costs from fixed to variable is to find ways to source our operations. Pushing campus technology services out of our data centers and to cloud providers is one important strategy. When we run our technology locally we gain control but give up flexibility. We need to over-build and over-spec our systems to account for peak loads and to ensure resiliency and reliability. Developing a comfort level with moving services to the cloud, from e-mail to learning management systems to campus media to backup etc. etc., will allow us to pay for what we actually utilize.
4. Push Services Up the Value Chain: Ideally, everyone who works in higher ed should be connected to learning, research and service. Increasing productivity will require bringing our technology professionals as close to the learning process as possible. Everyone who works in higher ed should be an educator first, a technologist second. This mindset requires pushing non-education related services to specialists in these areas. Should we be experts in storage or teaching? Are there businesses that all they do is storage? Are there partners we can find who are able to achieve scale in their specialized tasks, therefore lowering costs for all customers?
What are your ideas for how technology, and technology leaders, can address costs in higher ed?