The top 7 barriers to digital transformation for post-secondary education

In our last post, we examined the poor state of digital transformation at post-secondary educational institutions. Currently, the biggest factors driving the need for digital transformation are:

  • Increased competition for higher learning institutions through increased numbers of schools and greater competition from for-profit colleges
  • The skyrocketing cost of tuition, which is increasing at twice the rate of inflation in Canada, and four times the rate of inflation in the United States
  • The expectations of today’s students, who have been raised as the first true digital natives (unlike Millennials, who grew up analog and now live digital)

Unfortunately, post-secondary institutions have failed to keep up with the pace of digital change and students are frustrated by the slow rate of change, and by the lack of digital offerings and services. So, what are the biggest barriers to digital transformation at post-secondary institutions?

Barriers to digital transformation

1. Lack of clarity of vision by organizational leadership

One of the most critical barriers to digital transformation in post-secondary institutions is the lack of a clear, consistent vision. This lack of vision can happen for several reasons, such as: 

  • Not understanding the urgency of digital transformation
  • Conservative and risk-averse institutional culture that resists change
  • Poor digital literacy among key leadership
  • Lack of institutional trust in cloud-based digital technology

Lack of clear vision might arise from some or all these factors, or it might arise from something else. Whatever the reason, however, without a clear vision it is almost impossible for institutions to take effective and meaningful action toward true digital transformation.

2. No one knows what digital transformation looks like 

One factor exacerbating the lack of clarity around digital transformation is that there isn’t a clear picture of what digital transformation looks like for educational institutions. The needs of educational institutions are different than the needs of business, so schools attempting to tackle digital transformation are finding themselves in entirely uncharted waters. 

3. True digital transformation will require professional development 

For post-secondary institutions to meet their digital transformation goals, it won’t be enough to invest in modern Student Information Systems (SIS). New digital service offerings will need to be created, administrative processes will need to be streamlined, and many other smaller changes will be required organization-wide. As such, professional development will be required for faculty and staff who need to continue providing instruction and other services during the transition. 

However, the costs of this professional development can pose a challenge to already-constrained school budgets – as schools turn increasingly from tenured teaching positions, to relying on temporary and adjunct faculty. Today, 40% of post-secondary teachers are part-time, as compared to 24% in 1975.

4. Schools have the information they need, but it is heavily siloed

Post-secondary institutions already generate a wealth of student data that can be used to gather important information about student experience, administrative inefficiencies, demand for course offerings and services, and many other important insights. However, outdated SIS and a highly compartmentalized organizational structure means it is next to impossible to gain a comprehensive picture of the overall student experience because educational institutions are so heavily siloed.

5. Student information systems are stuck in the past

At most post-secondary institutions, faculty, students and staff are stuck using aging information systems that are difficult to use and all but impossible to customize. SIS software hasn’t seen significant innovation for more than a decade. Worse, post-secondary institutions have not been investing in keeping their SIS up to date. Says Jami Morshed, VP of the Global Center of Excellence for Education at Unit4, “currently installed SIS are on average more than 13-years old”.

6. Current digital infrastructure just isn’t compatible with new technology

Another problem posed by the age of current SIS is the fact they simply aren’t compatible with newer digital technologies needed to provide a comprehensive digital student experience. This means that to even get digital transformation initiatives off the ground, institutions need to either upgrade or entirely replace existing systems, which can be costly and incredibly time-consuming. 

7. Procrastination on digital has put schools well-behind the private sector

The lack of priority and investment in digital technology isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s a problem that has persisted for many years. Unfortunately, this means that educational institutions are now lagging well behind business in their digital capability: nearly 70% of public sector employees feel their digital capabilities are behind that of the private sector. And unfortunately, without a significant change in investment priorities, that gap is only likely to widen.

With all these barriers in place, what action should higher learning institutions be taking to remove barriers and make their digital transformation goals a reality? Stay tuned for our last post in our series about post-secondary digital transformation where we’ll talk about what priorities schools need to pursue and highlight some digital transformation success stories.

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About the Author: Anna Kreider