NOTE: This blog was originally posted on Forbes. Read it here.
Ask any academic institution what its top concern is this year, and you’ll probably hear something along the lines of rising tuition costs and the effect that it’s having on academia. You may also hear about the decrease in state funding, or how increased costs are leading to a decrease in students finishing their degrees. Most colleges turn to familiar means to help combat this problem — whether it be a discount on tuition rates, asking for more from private donors or looking for those students who can pay more to attend the university such as out-of-state students. But as the Chronical of Higher Education discusses, these solutions aren’t fixing the root of the problem, which is the expense of running and operating a university.
So what’s the solution? Higher education institutions are working together to improve learning experiences, further research initiatives and develop technologies that will support their connected world. This concept of connected universities working together can help increase revenue while reducing expenses.
In one sense, the idea of higher education collaboration is an old one. Researches have been collaborating with other campuses for decades, and there are many conferences that bring together institutions based on geography or mission. However, in most of these cases, these institutions are working side by side on joint projects or a specific objective.
The new cross-institution collaboration involves shared structures that maximize each other’s strengths. Colleges facing similar issues, regardless of location or if they compete, seek to use shared technologies and infrastructure to reduce expenses while also delivering essential services.
One example of this cross-collaboration is Salesforce’s Higher Education Advisory Council and its effort in creating a better way for institutions to manage their students, alumni and staff. (Full disclosure: Cloud for Good is a Salesforce partner.) It worked together to create the Higher Education Data Architecture (HEDA). This open-source, community-driven project allows academic institutions of any size to enjoy the best practices and data architecture they need to represent constituents across the entire student journey. The council continues to develop, enhancing the structure of HEDA and additional products through community sprints, relying on the end users to keep defining those best practices as the higher education landscape continues to grow and change.
Another example is the University Innovation Alliance, which is focused on increasing the diversity of college graduates in the United States. This is a consortium of 11 universities that have joined forces to innovate together, open up their data and share everything they learn to address the graduation challenge. They are leveraging technology such as analytics, and after just three years, they are already reporting amazing results, with nearly 25% more low-income graduates per year.
And the Teagle Foundation conducted a three-year study across eight liberal arts institutions to test the effectiveness on cross-institutional online teaching resources and courses. After the study concluded, it found that the structured collaboration among faculty and institutions to redesign the flexibility of their academic offerings with technology has real potential to help institutions boost their revenue and registration rates in a cost-effective way.
There is still more that can be done to expand these types of partnerships. Higher education leaders must understand that while work is being done, it is fragmented. New approaches are being pioneered, but they need to be shared in a way that makes them easy for other institutions to access and adopt. Colleges need to identify peers with common goals and prioritize operational efficiencies in the areas of academic advising, career services, international recruitment and back-office operations.
These types of initiatives are only small signs of what technology makes possible. They are not only about immediate revenue creation but also about cost reduction and knowledge sharing. They are incorporating the viewpoints of a more diverse set of stakeholders, including students and faculty, resulting in improved efficiency outside of the elite and public behemoths like those who participate in the alliances noted above.