Vicki Tambellini frequently mediates discussions between two sets of groups on college campuses nationwide: those who are eager to move their institution to next-generation cloud technologies, and those who cling to their legacy systems and processes.
“There are departments who say, ‘I want my forms on green paper’ or ‘I want forms on pink paper,’” says Tambellini, CEO of independent higher ed tech research, analyst, and advisory firm Tambellini Group. “You have to give that kind of thinking up in order to modernize.”
For the past three years, leading colleges and universities have focused on implementing information technologies designed to streamline and target their recruiting and admissions processes, and for many institutions that focus is paying off. Using new data analytics capabilities, some of them powered by AI, they’re better able to identify the students most likely to accept an admission offer.
At the start of the admissions process, colleges and universities are using intelligent solutions that personalize the information presented to students, based on the students’ browsing history, on the institution’s website and even where they’ve gone on other sites.
“Don't be afraid to start the journey. Just know that the minute you think you're ready to start, you've already started.” —Vicki Tambellini, CEO, Tambellini Group
Once those institutions admit students, they’re using new software applications for managing financial aid and other elements of the enrollment process, including dorm assignments assisted by chatbots and AI-powered guidance that helps students determine which classes they need to meet their degree objectives. “We get a lot more information now about students and what their interests truly are,” Tambellini says.
Colleges and universities that foster a sense of belonging before a student sets foot on campus are most likely to avoid the dreaded “summer melt,” when students who have accepted an admission offer and then run into obstacles around housing, financial aid, or fees begin to reconsider their decision. “Institutions that have strong multichannel access to students through email, texts, social media channels—those are the ones that give students the sense of belonging that they need,” Tambellini says.
For their part, students now demand the ease of use they experience every day with apps on their mobile devices. They want quick answers to questions, such as “How can I graduate faster?’’ and “How do I know that I’m not going to run out of financial aid and that I’m maximizing my aid so that it’s used in the best way possible?”
Students also expect their institutions’ student management system to handle every touchpoint, even integrating third-party apps, so that they fill out their information only one time. “They don’t want to get a form and take it across the campus to get all of their professors to sign it,” Tambellini says. “They expect to do everything online.”
Cloud services make it possible for higher ed institutions to stay current with the latest technology features. There’s no waiting years for application updates that require considerable new investments of time and money.
After ensuring that a cloud project is indeed fully funded, Tambellini advises, college and university leaders need to think about what they want to accomplish before they pack for their cloud journey. That means getting a clear sense of the institution’s culture and ability to absorb continuous change.
The next step is for the institution’s IT people to work with leaders across different departments to prioritize the application functionality that will deliver the biggest bang for the buck. “People worry that their jobs are going away,” Tambellini says, “but what will actually happen is that they’ll have more opportunities to have better experiences with students and provide better service.”
Another priority, she says, is picking the right cloud vendor, in part by evaluating whether it’s likely to be around in 10 years and still developing software for the higher ed sector. “I discourage schools from picking vendors just on functionality because vendors will always leapfrog each other,” Tambellini says.
The endgame for cloud is that it should empower colleges and universities to rebalance their resources, spending fewer on the basic management of technology and more on unleashing cutting-edge teaching, learning, and research, says Nicole Engelbert, vice president of higher education development at Oracle.
It may seem counterintuitive, but Oracle’s higher education development team is building its next-generation student system on the premise that the best cloud solution is the one you never have to use. “Leveraging AI and machine learning, the software automates key processes, creating more time and space for end users to do what they love to do, which, of course, is engaging with students and helping them on their way,” Engelbert says.
Tambellini offers simple advice to colleges and universities considering a big move to the cloud: “Don't be afraid to start the journey. Just know that the minute you think you’re ready to start, you’ve already started.”
Margaret Lindquist is a senior director and writer at Oracle.