Monday Jul 06, 2015

Are we on the edge of a tipping point or just another hype cycle?

The month of June (2015) is like a blur to me.  There were so many conferences and events for higher education where Oracle had a presence that I barely had enough clothes to reload my suitcase each week.  

Despite the crazy schedule, there were some very interesting themes that emerged from all of the meetings.  First off, let me describe each of the conferences.  In early June, Ovum sponsored the first ever Future EdTech event for higher education in London.  The predominate attendees were from the UK, but there was a remarkable number of western European institutions that made the journey to London.  The following week was EUNIS, the European University Information Systems Congress which took place this year at Abertay University in Dundee Scotland.  This was followed by what I consider to be the most enriching conference I attend every year, the Forum for the Future of Higher Education, held at the Aspen Institute. And then last but not least, during the final week of June was my semi-annual Oracle Education & Research Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington, DC.

Three of the four meetings I outlined are ed-tech focused, with the notable exception being the Future's Forum.  But what struck me about that meeting, even though the audience was largely non-IT (presidents, provosts, deans, and representatives from various financial services and non-for-profits focused on education) the underlying themes of so much of the content was technology.  Whether advances in on-line learning platforms (the Minerva project was a fantastic example of this) or the use of predictive analytics to measurably improve student outcomes and foster data-driven decision making in higher education, it is clear that IT has "crossed the chasm" from an auxiliary service that keeps the trains running (i.e. wireless networks operational, payroll processed, IP telephones working, etc.) to a strategic enabler of transformation in higher education.  But has the IT function in higher education made this shift, or has the need for the shift to be made come into sharper relief?

I was struck by many of the comments at the Ovum event in London and from EUNIS around the methodical if slow progress that certain parts of Europe are making towards the US model of funding based on outcomes, and the need for the "consumers" of education to bear more of the cost.  Whether or not this is a good move, I'd rather not debate here (as we would drift into the discussions around whether funding higher education is a public good) but the reality of this kind of shift is that "consumers" will become much more conscious of value and demand a more modern "experience" with which they are accustomed from their interactions with entities that have made much greater strides in leveraging technology (specifically CRM technologies) to make the experience much more personal and "frictionless" (to borrow a term from Nicole Engelbert of Ovum).

For the final week of June, we convened the 8th meeting of the Education and Research ISC (Industry Strategy Council) in Washington.  As I told the group during opening remarks, this is by far the most enjoyable part of my job at Oracle (and also one of the more stressful, but in a good way).  We get two days of largely uninterrupted quality time to get feedback from this distinguished group and to put ideas in front of them in a somewhat non-threatening, open, candid environment.  In many respects, it is fulfilling what I had hoped to create with this group four years ago - the development of a commons - an environment where we can push the limits on some of the issues that we're confronting in a safe, closed environment where ideas and thoughts can be surfaced openly.   I'm sure each of the ISC members has their own opinion, but I believe we accomplished that in this meeting.  The makeup of this group is largely IT leadership (CIO), but increasingly more functional and business leadership participates (CFO, VP Enrollment Management, even a couple of presidents). However I have sensed over the course of the last 8 meetings, culminating in the most recent one, that IT is becoming very strategic in higher education. Yes there are still many examples of what I called “science project” thinking, but on the whole there has been a significant shift in the way IT in higher ed underpins the strategy of the institution, not reacts to it.

On the second day, we were joined by three members of Congress who are stakeholders in education policy: Chairwoman (of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee) Virginia Foxx from the House, Chairman Lamar Alexander from the Senate side, and Senator Bob Casey.  Each of them commented on the breaking news regarding the Dept. of Education's decision to back off of it's plan to develop a college rating system.  In particular, Senator Alexander highlighted the committee's efforts to dramatically reduce the paperwork involved in applying for Federal Financial Aid, and also the drive to dramatically reduce duplicative and needless reporting and administrative burden that is costing higher ed so much by chasing compliance.

In my next post, I’ll spend a bit more time on some of the comparisons between two industries that have had similar struggles with realizing the value of enterprise IT systems: Healthcare and Education, through the lens of someone who spoke on the topic at the aforementioned Forum for the Future of Higher Education.

Monday Jul 14, 2014

Data vs. Information in Higher Education

I thought I would share the text of a letter that we've submitted to Senators Tom Harkin and Lamar Alexander, Chairman and Ranking Member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee where the Higher Education Re-authorization Act (HRA) and higher ed reform more broadly is being discussed and addressed.  While some of what is being discussed around higher ed reform doesn't intersect directly with Oracle's interests or strengths, the issue of leveraging data to make better decisions (i.e., converting data into useful information) is something that Oracle has not only a keen interest in but also considerable expertise from our work across many different industries.



July 10, 2014

The Honorable Tom Harkin
United States Senate
Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Lamar Alexander
United States Senate
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
835 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin and Senator Alexander:

Oracle has a shared interest in data related to higher education, and have watched with interest the series of hearings held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP Committee) related to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. We appreciate the thoughtful and deliberative approach taken by the Committee related to this reauthorization. While we realize the hearings thus far have not directly dealt with data they have touched on the collection of better data in a general sense. Now that legislation has been introduced, we are offering our comments on the topic of data as it relates to higher education and look forward to working with the Committee as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.

Oracle is a leader in providing innovative and comprehensive data systems for institutions of higher education in the United States. Our software and hardware systems are the foundations for the data platform in higher education throughout the country, with over 1400 campuses leveraging Oracle technology, 430 of which run Oracle Peoplesoft Campus Solutions student information system, the core application of the academic enterprise. Our products are used everywhere, from small community colleges to the largest world-class, multi-campus university systems. Over 11 million students have data stored and processed using Oracle’s systems, more than any other provider of its kind in the United States.

PeopleSoft Campus Solutions is a comprehensive software suite that provides institutions with support for the full student life-cycle, from prospects and recruiting to enrollment and alumni management. Our products allow institutions to provide services and information to students, as well as prospective students, in an easy to use format both online and in real-time.

Industry Strategy Council

Oracle incorporates feedback from its most strategic customers through industry strategy councils. The longest standing of these councils is Oracle’s Education & Research Industry Strategy Council. Meeting semi-annually, this group consists of a broad range of 29 higher education institutions (with representation from community colleges to the largest AAU research universities) which provides input on the most pressing issues facing higher education where technology can play a pivotal role.


Without question, higher education institutions are “data-rich” organizations that collect information on students at multiple points and for various purposes as they progress through educational systems. In fact, higher education institutions likely possess more raw data and information on their students than any other type of organization in any sector. While some institutions have structures and processes in place to analyze and use the data, few have the ability to quickly turn that knowledge into timely action.

Data Silos
Within most higher education institutions there exists a complex web of disconnected systems such as learning management, library, fund-raising, recruiting, human resources, financial systems, research grants, and more. Although these systems could benefit from sharing information with one another, most institutions do not have a uniform way to collect and compile the data produced. As a result, information technology budgets on most campuses are heavily burdened by high costs to connect and maintain integrations between all these systems and the information they hold, which is money that could be spent on higher-value projects to support the institution’s mission.

Particularly at larger institutions, these divisions lead to numerous data silos. A large research university is not unlike a mid-sized city with its own police and fire departments, hundreds of buildings in a multitude of locations, thousands of employees and tens of thousands of constituents. The departments within such a system routinely collect information on students for a variety of purposes, and often times this happens without coordination or sharing of information. For example, Student Financial Aid, the Office of the Registrar, and the Student Affairs Department with a university system all generate separate data that could be useful together, but the lack of collaboration and organization result in a missed chance to use data to tell a comprehensive story. What are absent are the tools, data and IT governance structure, and the organizational capacity to turn data into meaningful information to drive student success.

The keepers of the most data within college systems, Institutional Research departments, typically spend much of their time compiling statistics into fact books and meeting basic regulatory reporting requirements, and are rarely focused on the strategic use of data to support one of the core missions of the university –increasing the productivity of teaching and learning. Operational and performance reporting has fallen to the diverse silos of operations within the complex enterprise that is a higher education institution.

Duplicative Data and Data Management
While one might assume that there exists just one record for each student within a system, this often is not the case and can cause problems on many levels. Human error is one contributing factor to duplicative data. A seemingly insignificant mistake entered into a system from day one can result in duplicate data that over time, contributes to inaccuracies in reporting and in many cases, a false representation of student success (or lack thereof). For example, if an applicant uses the name “John B. Smith” during his first interface with a college, and simply “John Smith” during a subsequent interaction, two records have been created for the one student. In many instances, the “John B. Smith” record is never replaced or deleted, and can actually count against an institution as a non-progressing student or a dropout.

Duplicative data is often created as a result of discrepancies in “data definitions.” Institutions are routinely asked for data on their student population, from various local, state and federal sources, all of which may ask for the exact same information, but in different ways. For example, there are numerous definitions that vary across federal and state program reporting, such as the definition of a full-time student, ethnicity, dependency status, date of birth vs. age as of a certain date and residency, to name just a few. These definitions vary across programs from the Department of Education to the Department of Labor to the Department of Health and Human Services to other agencies interacting with institutions of higher education. Time wasted to report a duplicate record, as well as the amount of unnecessary data amassed as a result are both serious and costly problems for institutions.

Definitional confusion frequently becomes a volume management issue. The volume of required compliance reports is vast and made cumbersome by the multiple definitions of data that vary by report. This pulls limited resources from Institutional Research departments to focus on non-strategic activities like compliance instead of valuable strategic analysis such as evaluating student success and risk factors.

Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) As required by the Higher Education Act, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is a system of surveys that collect data from all U.S. postsecondary institutions that participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. IPEDS collects data within a variety of categories, including institutional characteristics, completions, enrollment, student financial aid, graduation rates, finance, and human resources. While it may have been an appropriate tool for capturing a snapshot of student populations in the past, it is essential that as the Committee considers reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, IPEDS is brought into the twenty first century.

Students in 1966 experienced higher education very differently than students in 2014. Rather than applying for a specific program, staying in it until completion and subsequently becoming employed in that specific field, a typical student today may start out at a community college, change his or her major two or three times, transfer institutions, take a leave of absence and return to school, or even reduce at some point to half-time status. The availability of on-line courses from many different institutions contributes to the swirl though an academic system versus a linear path at one institution. Market forces and employment trends push students into different majors and schools, and family circumstances or simply the high cost of a college degree can also impact how, where and why a student attends college. We need to study students, not just institutions. Further, we need to recognize that each institution has a different mission, and meets the needs of its students in a unique way.

Specific problems with IPEDS are well-documented and agreed upon across industries. For example, as noted in a 2010 GAO Report, “IPEDS graduation rates only measure the outcomes for first-time, full-time, degree/certificate seeking students, which comprise 49 percent of entering students nationwide according to IPEDS data. Students who attend part-time or transfer in are not counted toward a school’s graduation rate. All nongraduates are treated as dropouts, even if they go on to graduate from another institution.”[1] We agree that this is a problem and symptomatic of an outdated system in need of refreshing.

A more longitudinal method that provides a comprehensive, 360 degree view of a student moving through and out of a system can make the same data much more valuable and worth the time and financial resources institutions of higher education invest into complying with IPEDS reporting rules. While a longitudinal view of a student’s progression through higher education is a laudable goal, the endpoint should be inclusive of all learning, K-through-adult continuing education.

Contextualizing Data

It is important to note that the repeated calls to link data to outcomes should be tempered with the reality that defining meaningful outcomes for all interested parties is extremely difficult. Although institutions can influence and support student success, we must remember that the mission of Federal Student Financial Aid programs, as defined by the Department of Education, are to “make college education possible for every dedicated mind.”[2] Although the ultimate goal of every academic institution is to educate students, the way each institution approaches that mission can be almost as varied as the populations they serve. As a result, the outcomes for each institution may be very different, but no less effective.

For example, students often begin a program and acquire the sufficient skills and credentials to be hired by a company without having to complete the entirety of the program or earning a diploma. In such instances, the Department of Education fulfilled its mission by providing education to a dedicated student, and the student achieved his or her goal by gaining the skills necessary for employment in the field of his or her choice. We can all agree that these are not “failure” type situations, and must not allow extremely strict or “one size fits all” definitions for student success.


The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act presents an opportunity for Congress to amend antiquated policies and complex and duplicative reporting requirements that are costly and burdensome to institutions of higher education. In addition, improving data reporting rules can help companies responsible for storing and processing student data, like Oracle, to create products and applications that can help students, faculty and employees of higher education institutions get the most out of their time and efforts.

Creating Additional Resources for Student Services

Our Education & Research Industry Strategy Council members have shared concerns with us regarding the countless hours and resources they must commit to ensuring they are in compliance with federal regulations.

Simplification of data collection requirements across the board would allow institutions to better fulfill their individual missions by utilizing their resources to focus on serving the students themselves. Regardless of type, every single department within an institution of higher education desires for its staff to spend less time behind computer screens collecting, analyzing and reporting on data, and more time enriching and improving upon the experiences of their student population. Academic Advising Departments can spend more time keeping students on the quickest and most efficient pathways to completion, and provide students with additional resources on their career choice or professions. Researchers could spend more time producing research, and less time jumping through administrative hoops.

One Council member recently reported that its Financial Aid Office spends approximately 85% of its resources tracking, monitoring or reporting in order to follow federal regulations. This is clearly a tremendous burden and expense for the institutions, which must abide by a number of separate programs that each come with its own rules and regulations that do not coincide with one another. Further, such systems must be set up and maintained separately, but must work together as each influences the eligibility for the other. For instance, each institution has its own refund policies for students who do not complete their enrollment in a term. Financial Aid must independently perform intricate calculations using specific guidelines to determine if funds must be returned to various federal programs.

It is our firm belief that it is possible to simplify reporting requirements and enrich student experiences while at the same time collecting and synthesizing information necessary to ensure the integrity and quality of our nation’s institutions of higher education.

Increased Efficiency through Simplification

Streamlining data collection requirements could also allow companies like Oracle to
improve the products we offer to institutions of higher education. If the systems we create, operate and maintain are less complex to develop, we can increase our speed of delivery and deployment to our higher education clients, enabling them to operate more efficiently.

With additional time and resources, Oracle could shift emphasis towards more modern technologies such as predictive analytics, device-aware access (mobility), and embedded social capabilities, which would lead to increased utilization and collaboration among our higher education constituents. As mentioned previously, common data definitions could allow for data to be transferred more easily and efficiently, which would make the interface easier to navigate and draw conclusions from. Further, harmonization of data definitions could help us to make the interface more user-friendly, and ultimately result in greater adoption among students, faculty and staff.

Finally, data standardization would be an enabler for common business processes across institutions, which could lead to increases in shared services between and among higher education institutions. Significant efficiency and effectiveness gains could be realized if there were a greater reliance on shared infrastructure (public and/or private cloud technologies). For example, community college systems within states could share a common instance of human resources (human capital management), financial, and student administration systems, among others.

The goal shared among servicers, institutions, and Congress during the Higher Education process is above all, to improve opportunities for students to gain a quality education. It is our belief that the challenges and suggestions outlined above could help that goal become a reality.


Cole Clark
Global Vice President, Higher Education and Research Industry Business Unit, Oracle
Chair, Higher Education and Research, Industry Strategy Council

[1] GAO Report to Congress – “Institutions’ Reported Data Collection Burden is Higher Than Estimated but Can be Reduced through Increased Coordination” (2010) p22

[2] “Who We Are” United States Department of Education Federal Student Financial Aid website. <>

Thursday Jun 26, 2014

Summer in DC

I just wrapped up a week in DC for our Education & Research Industry Strategy Council (ISC) - the seventh meeting over which I've presided since stepping into my current role.

It's exceptionally gratifying to see how much we've progressed in three short years.  We now have a fairly regular dialog with policy officials in Washington, a robust agenda touching on a variety of issues that are in focus for higher education executives, and tying all of that together with a technology underpinning.   We had exceptional turnout of the members as well, including new participation from Vanderbilt, Illinois State, Seneca, McMaster, Chicago, and Valdosta State.

The agenda themes for this session included a Cybersecurity in Higher Education, Information Discovery, Student Success, and Higher Education Cloud.  Two days was not enough time!  While we did spend a considerable portion of the discussing and deliberating, I do think we need more time to tee up issues and have more open discussion than presentations.  It's a hard balance to strike, given that the mission of the ISC is multifaceted (exposing the ISC to new ideas and technologies, getting input on our strategy in education and research, providing access to Oracle executives, and facilitating dialog with policy officials) but the real value comes from the interactions and we need have more of that throughout the time we are together.

I was most impressed by the amount of interest we had from the members of congress that spent time with the council.  We had three Senators (Isaacson from GA, Murphy from CT and Casey from PA), and two members of the House (Foxx from NC and Petri from WI).  Further, Undersecretary of Education Jamie Studley joined us for a long conversation about the proposed higher ed rating system and the implications for data and information in driving those rankings.

The real in-depth discussions, however, were reserved for our Higher Ed Cloud session.  It's clear to me that while the broader industry in moving to Cloud aggressively, higher ed is taking a more deliberate approach, and we need to provide guidance and leverage some of the lessons learned and best practices from other industries who've already made this journey.  There is a real opportunity here for higher ed to become more agile and nimble in order to adapt more rapidly to the dynamics in higher education, but equally possible that they could rush headlong into Cloud for Cloud's sake without a plan and create more issues than already exist in higher ed IT today.

Overall I was very pleased with the outcome but the real test will be in the feedback we receive from the approx. 30 member institutions.  I am already looking forward to December when we reconvene in Redwood Shores!

Tuesday Apr 29, 2014

"This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed, the Tambellini Report, and other random thoughts

I realize it's been some time since my last post - updating blogs in short, stream-of-consciousness bursts doesn't always come naturally. However I do have a number of somewhat unrelated items that I want to highlight.

 First off, I'm very pleased that Oracle Education & Research will be a founding sponsor of the upcoming "This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed weekly audio newscast. This will be in many respects very much like a "meet the press" weekly program that will touch on the timely and relevant topics in education technology, along with the policies, funding, and cultural and political dynamics and issues that are prevalent in our industry. Casey Green is spearheading this effort with Inside Higher Ed, and we are extremely pleased to sponsor what we believe will be a strong contributor to the dialog that needs to take place as our industry undergoes significant change and transformation. As are part of our participate in the "This Week" series, we will be engaging in quarterly podcasts with Casey to talk about Oracle's position in the industry and where we see our industry solutions playing a role in enabling some of the transformation I just referenced. The first of these will take place on May 7, 9am PT, "Pathways to Student Success" webinar.  Register for this webinar where my colleague, Mark Armstrong, and I discuss Oracle's latest investment for Student Success with moderator, Casey Green. Lastly, here's where you can go to get more subscriber information about This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed weekly audio newscast.

In other developments, the 2014 Tambellini Report (created and distributed by Tambellini Group, LLC) was released this week (week of April 28) and shows extremely strong results for Oracle in the Student Information Systems market, with nearly three times the selections of any other competitor. This validates a couple of trends I've commented on previously: that we are entering a era where the business systems of higher education implemented 10+ years ago are in need of a refresh, and the staying power of niche vendors who lack the breadth and depth of a multi-industry, multi national company like Oracle are being severely challenged.

Finally I wanted to highlight a number of the topics and agenda themes that we'll be discussing at our upcoming summer Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington DC: Cyber Security in Higher Education, Student Success, Information Discovery in Higher Education, and SaaS business applications for Higher Education. We'll be joined by our Chief Security Officer Mary Ann Davidson, Jamie Studley from DoED, and several members of congress from committees focused on higher education policy. We are welcoming several new members to the council including Vanderbilt University, Seneca College, and the University of Chicago. We're looking forward to a content-rich two-days in downtown DC! Stay tuned where I'll share some of these outcomes in my next blog.

Monday Mar 10, 2014

After months of rumors, it's official… Oracle announces Cloud Student

Greetings from Alliance 2014 in sunny Las Vegas, where today we made a number of announcements about increased investment by Oracle in the higher education market.   During the opening reception last night and in more detail this morning, we outlined our plans to build (from the ground up) a new Student Information System (Oracle Cloud Student) that will be offered as SaaS and designed with the modern student in mind.  Make no mistake, this product will have the student, and the student's success, at the foundation of the development effort upon which we are embarking.  

There will be a strong focus on mobile, social, and the student experience, with a significant amount of attention given to the "modern" (now what some might even call "traditional") multi-channel student who takes courses across multiple institutions, some (to potentially all) on-line, and in some cases "on-demand" (i.e. term-less).  It will embed predictive analytics,  which will significantly enhance the modern academy's effort to improve student success.

Probably the biggest overlooked element in all of this is the enormous head start we have as a company given the massive investments in SaaS, Cloud infrastructure, CX, and analytics.  No other company on the planet can draw on the rich portfolio of IP, development talent, deployment and implementation experience, and industry expertise than Oracle.   While I've said in this blog in the past that it's a very exciting time to be a part of the higher education IT ecosystem at this point in the industry's evolution, our focus on developing a modern SIS for higher ed of 2015 and beyond makes this period even more compelling.

Our CEO was personally involved in approving these projects, and we aren't stopping with just a new Cloud SIS.  We're building higher education-specific functionality into our existing robust SaaS HCM and ERP products, so that colleges and universities have the option of running their entire business systems footprint on Oracle's Education Cloud.

And given the breadth and depth (both from an IP as well as from a financial stability perspective) we are continuing to develop, enhance, and improve the already most mature, functional, and global suite of business systems for higher education: Peoplesoft Campus Solutions, HCM, and ERP.   While many have assumed these were zombie products, the delivered features and enhancements in Campus alone over the past 8 quarters are greater than all of the R&D done on the product in the prior 5 years.  To help the market understand this commitment to our existing portfolio, we will be launching Campus Solutions 9.2 concurrent with the Cloud announcements I mentioned above.

I can't end this post without a final comment on "cloud.  The hype around cloud computing is palpable.  Many of the new entrants into the market like to paint Oracle into a corner as "legacy" and "non-cloud."  But with this announcement, as well as with the capabilities we have today with our complete end-to-end stack and investment in all Cloud "layers" (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS), there is no software consumption modality that we cannot provide at extreme performance and extreme efficiency and cost-effectiveness (again, because of the end-to-end capabilities we have in designing how the software and hardware are integrated to work together).  We've learned a lot from many other industries' foray into Cloud and believe now is the time for us to help higher education as it embarks on a similar journey.

Sunday Dec 08, 2013

Another Oracle Education and Research Industry Strategy Council is in the books

December 4-5 were the dates for our winter Industry Strategy Council meeting that we hold semi-annually, with the December sessions always being at our headquarters in Redwood Shores California.  Institutions participating included the Cal State system, Georgia Tech, Qatar University, Griffith University (Australia), University of Maryland, Western Ontario, Michigan, Central Florida, and  Kansas (to name a few).  We discussed some exciting new announcements in our higher education applications portfolio (under non-disclosure), a status report on Sun Microsystems inside Oracle, 3 years after acquisition, our strategy for research, and our views on operational excellence.  We had tremendous third party participation in a number of these sessions include Erin Gore, EVP of higher ed at a major bank (former CFO of UC Berkeley), John Fowler, or SVP for Systems, Steve Miranda our EVP for application product development, and Joanne Olson our EVP for North America Applications sales.

We have a three-fold objective with these meetings: to garner input from the council on our strategy, to inform and provide insight on our strategy in a way not available to the bulk of our customer and prospect base, and to provide a networking and interaction opportunity for the council members not only among themselves but also with senior executives from Oracle.

While it's impossible for me to be specific given that some of what was discussed at the meeting was confidential, some of the news shared this week hallmark a major "doubling down" for Oracle in the education & research industry with significant plans to increase out investment and portfolio in this area.  Stay tuned for more information on what these announcements entail in a future blog entry.  But suffice it to say there has never been a more exciting time for Oracle in Education & Research.

Thursday Oct 17, 2013

College Ratings via the Federal Government

A few weeks back you might remember news about a higher education rating system proposal from the Obama administration. As I've discussed previously, political and stakeholder pressures to improve outcomes and increase transparency are stronger than ever before. The executive branch proposal is intended to make progress in this area. Quoting from the proposal itself, "The ratings will be based upon such measures as: Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants; Affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates.”

This is going to be quite complex, to say the least. Most notably, higher ed is not monolithic. From community and other 2-year colleges, to small private 4-year, to professional schools, to large public research institutions…the many walks of higher ed life are, well, many. Designing a ratings system that doesn't wind up with lots of unintended consequences and collateral damage will be difficult. At best you would end up potentially tarnishing the reputation of certain institutions that were actually performing well against the metrics and outcome measures that make sense in their "context" of education. At worst you could spend a lot of time and resources designing a system that would lose credibility with its "customers".

A lot of institutions I work with already have in place systems like the one described above. They are tracking completion rates, completion timeframes, transfers to other institutions, job placement, and salary information. As I talk to these institutions there are several constants worth noting:

• Deciding on which metrics to measure is complicated. While employment and salary data are relatively easy to track, qualitative measures are more difficult. How do you quantify the benefit to someone who studies in one field that may not compensate him or her as well as another field but that provides huge personal fulfillment and reward is a difficult measure to quantify?

• The data is available but the systems to transform the data into actual information that can be used in meaningful ways are not. Too often in higher ed information is siloed. As such, much of the data that need to be a part of a comprehensive system sit in multiple organizations, oftentimes outside the reach of core IT.

• Politics and culture are big barriers. One of the areas that my team and I spend a lot of time talking about with higher ed institutions all over the world is the imperative to optimize for student success. This, like the tracking of the students’ achievement after graduation, requires a level or organizational capacity that does not currently exist. The primary barrier is the culture of "data islands" in higher ed, and the need for leadership to drive out the divisions between departments, schools, colleges, etc. and institute academy-wide analytics and data stewardship initiatives that will enable student success.

• Data quality is a very big issue. So many disparate systems exist (some on premise, some "in the cloud") that keep data about "persons" using different means to identify them. Establishing a single source of truth about an individual and his or her data is difficult without some type of data quality policy and tools. Good tools actually exist but are seldom leveraged.

Don't misunderstand - I think it's a great idea to drive additional transparency and accountability into the system of higher education. And not just at home, but globally. Students and parents need access to key data to make informed, responsible choices. The tools exist to not only enable this kind of information to be shared but to capture the very metrics stakeholders care most about and in a way that makes sense in the context of a given institution's "place" in the overall higher ed panoply.

Friday Jul 05, 2013

The Summer ISC and the Futures Forum

The summer meeting of our semi-annual industry strategy council (ISC) took place in Washington DC at the end of June.  We enjoyed the highest percentage of member participation since I've been leading this group, and the range of topics we covered included our student success solution, our work in the area of student experience (which includes many of our social relationship management tools), an update on our investments in our student information analytics and student information system products, and a update on our budgeting and planning tools for higher ed.  All of that was covered in the first day, with the second day reserved primarily for discussions with policy officials from Congress and from the current administration (DoE) regarding policies and initiatives in higher education where information technology can play an enabling or supporting role.  

During this second day we heard from Richard Culetta (Director of Education Technology) at DoE, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana, also on the Higher Education Subcommittee, and Matt Chingos, fellow, at the Brookings Institute. 

We were hoping to have Senatos Rubio and Wyden, authors of the "Student Right to Know Before You Go" bill which they introduced through the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, but the immigration reform bill which came to a vote on the very day we were meeting took up their schedule.  However, we had Emily Bouch (Senator Rubio's Legislative Aide on Education Policy) and Laura Bernsten (Senator Wyden's Domestic Policy Advisory) who crafted the bill visit with the ISC and engaged in a spirited debate on it's merits.

We also filmed a number of short interviews with several of the council members which, once through post-production, we'll post to our website and also place links here.

Several key themes emerged from the two days of meetings with the council.  One is that we have much work to do at Oracle making sense of the myriad of products, especially those recently acquired, in terms of their value and how they enable solutions to the thorniest problems faced by higher education.  Another is that the role of IT in higher education is slowly changing.  IT leadership is becoming more strategic although the tactical and transactional demands haven't waned.  Many of the members expressed their view that Oracle's engagement with higher ed over the past two years has really changed (for the positive), both in terms of product strategy but also in terms of field engagement.  We have a few members on the council that are not from IT (CFO's, Presidents, COO's) and these representatives consistently communicate how IT is by far the most important (aside from funding and personnel) strategic asset the institution has to maintain and improve competitiveness.

The Forum on the Future of Higher Education

The strategic nature of IT in education was reinforced for me at the forum referenced above.  I missed this conference in 2012, but after seeing the output from the meeting I pledged to myself that I wouldn't miss it in 2013.  There was not an IT leader in the 100+ person group (aside from me), but big data and analytics themes ran through virtually all of the discussions, as well as the need to leverage technology to strengthen our major research university's competitiveness in the global research arena.  The changing business model was also at the forefront of the conference, and the need to use tools and "world class" best practices from industry's use of IT to not only run the "business" but also model the business in a future state that may be significantly different from today's reality was clear.

As an added bonus, I met many of our ISC's members bosses at the Future's Forum!

Our next meeting is already being planned for December.  We plan to devote a much larger chunk of the agenda to the research enterprise, to budgeting and planning in higher education, and to security and access management.  Watch this spot later for more details.

Tuesday Apr 30, 2013

The "Gold" in effeciency & effectiveness in higher ed IT

During this year's Alliance conference in Indianapolis (the North America conference of the HEUG - Higher Ed Users Group) the HEUG board decided to experiment with a new concept to enable some executive level strategic discussions among a select group of leaders from higher ed represented through the HEUG.  This group, billed for now as the "Executive Advisory Group" was made up predominately of CIO's but with a few non-IT leaders sprinkled in.  The goal of the group was to determine how the work of the HEUG can be leveraged to better position higher ed for the future, in other words, wrestling with the age old problem that exists in higher ed IT of translating the benefits of information technology and data into business value and real information (to aid in decision making).  This is a terrific ambition but will definitely be difficult to accomplish.  I'm delighted to be a part of the process and hope that we can foster real change in the attitudes and understanding of non-IT senior leadership at some of our colleges and universities.

Jerry Waldron, intrepid sole that he is, was drafted to lead this effort (Jerry is the CIO at the College of New Jersey). As part of the prep work (and follow-up) to the EAG meeting on the Sunday of Alliance, one article that he suggested as post-reading was a piece written by former Princeton president William Bowen.  Entitled Walk Deliberately, Don't Run, Toward Online Education, Dr. Bowen makes a number of interesting points regarding the lack of hard data proving (or disproving) the efficacy of MOOC's and other forms of online learning.  But it was some of his other points regarding cost containment that I found most interesting:

Academic leaders must look explicitly for strategies to lower costs. I am not saying that educational leaders lack courage (though, sadly, some do). The reality is that controlling costs is a hard sell, in part because strong forces are pushing in the opposite direction.

He's likely not talking about my next point, but it ties back very directly to some of the discussions during the Sunday EAG session at Alliance in March.  And let me make this caveat before proceeding: Oracle doesn't exactly have the best reputation across higher ed for being a part of the cost containment movement (most would argue that we're part of the problem), but this is where I think Oracle is most misunderstood.  We've been all too willing to sell higher ed a lot of software, hardware and services - in other words where there has been lack of discipline and governance we've been complicit in indulging our customers (big generalization here) in the creation of custom jalopies (IT systems made up of lots of parts integrated and maintained by the customer)  vs. selling complete automobiles.

Further, there is additional "gold" in striving for more streamlined, integrated systems from fewer suppliers: the information available in the data.  With so much emphasis on improving student outcomes (student success) and personalized learning (student experience), one of the keys to really enabling these strategic imperatives through better data quality.  Investing in a myriad of point solutions from different vendors, especially if that data is now in the cloud, is a nightmare that some in higher ed are already experiencing.  Even if I didn't work for Oracle, I'm certain I would argue for the same things that Nicole Englebert  of Ovum in her comments to the aforementioned EAG made during her opening remarks.  In a presentation she made to the group entitled "Tectonic chanve in higher education," she references as a major strategic goal the reduction in the number of information technology vendors with which institutions partner, with expectations for a different type of relationship.  She also talks about more standard approaches to enterprise applications, requiring fewer resources (i.e. lower cost) for maintenance and improved agility.

So I think in summary it's going to take some very very courageous CIO's (with willing co-conspirators in COO and CFO positions) to move the needle when it comes to transforming IT in higher from tactical to strategic.  And that's why I applaud what the EAG through the HEUG is trying to do.

Monday Oct 08, 2012

Will Online Learning Save Higher Education (and does it need saving)?

A lot (an awful lot) of education industry rag real estate has been devoted to the topics of online learning, MOOC’s, Udacity, edX, etc., etc. and to the uninitiated you’d think that the education equivalent of the cure for cancer had been discovered. There are certainly skeptics (whose voice is usually swiftly trampled upon by the masses) who feel we could over steer and damage or destroy something vital to teaching and learning (i.e. the classroom experience and direct interaction with human beings known as instructors), but for the most part prevailing opinion seems to be that online learning will take over the world and that higher education will never be the same.

Now I’m sure that since you all know I work for a technology company you think I’m going to come down hard on the side of online learning proselytizers. Yes, I do believe that this revolution can and will provide access to massive numbers of individuals that either couldn’t afford (from a fiscal or time perspective) a traditional education, and that in some cases the online modality will actually be an improvement over certain traditional forms (such as courses taught by an adjunct or teaching assistant that has no business being a teacher).

But I think several things need immediate attention or we’re likely to get so caught up in the delivery that we miss some of the real issues (and opportunities) around online learning. First and foremost, we’ve got to give some thought to how traditional information systems are going to accommodate thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of individual students each taking courses from many, many different “deliverers” with an expectation that successful completion of these courses will result in credit at many or most institutions. There’s also a huge opportunity to refine the delivery platform (no, LMS is not a commodity when you are talking about online delivery being your sole mode of operation) as well as the course itself by mining all kinds of data from the interactions that the students have with the material each time they take it. Social data analytics tools will be key in achieving this goal. What about accreditation (badging or competencies vs. traditional degrees)? And again, will the information systems in place today adapt to changes in this area fast enough?

The type of scale that this shift in learning could drive has the potential to abruptly overwhelm just about every system in place today in higher education. I would like to (with a not so gentle reminder) refer you back to a blog entry I wrote when I first stepped into my current role at Oracle in which I talked about how higher ed needs an “Oracle” more than at any other time in it’s evolution (despite the somewhat mercantilist reputation it has in some circles). There just aren’t that many organizations that can deliver the kinds of solutions “at scale” that this brave new world of online education will demand. The future may be closer than we think.


Sunday Jul 22, 2012

Happy Birthday WGU!

I was recently granted a seat on Western Governors University national advisory board, and just returned from their semi-annual board meeting and 15-year anniversary commemoration. For those of you that are not familiar with WGU, it's the first of it's kind competency-based, non-profit, on-line university that was originally established in Utah and now has official state-branded institutions in Washington, Indiana, and Texas. WGU is very focused with programs in Nursing, IT, Business, and a teachers college. Their primary audience is adult learners that require non-standard hours and delivery models for education.

It's withstood some withering criticism from traditional higher ed, and has also been the unfortunate victim of collateral damage from the oft-times-justified scrutiny of for-profit higher ed. But despite huge obstacles and odds, WGU has quietly demonstrated huge growth both in students, graduates, and financial footing. And at the core of WGU's model is leveraging technology as a strategic weapon in the battle to provide quality education at extremely reasonable costs. Their core IT philosophy espoused by their CIO Niel Nickolaisen and President Bob Mendenhall is a "buy vs. build" and "cloud-first" approach. He and the WGU senior leadership team also understand the value of data and leveraging analytics to drive up student success, and their SAP (Satisfactory Academic Progress) figures are already bearing this out. In this age of near-vilification of higher ed in some circles, it's refreshing to see a model that's working, financially stable, growing, and producing graduates with a high level of satisfaction.

WGU has over 33,000 students today and graduates more science and math teachers than any other institution in the US (yes you read that right). All because several governors, the then-head of the DoE, and some early private sponsors (including Scott McNealy from Sun and Thompson Learning, now Cengage) believed in this competency-based, on-line model of higher education.

So congratulations WGU on 15 years. I have a feeling that the next 15 will be even more spectacular.

Cole Clark, Global Vice President, Oracle Education and Research Industries

Monday Jun 04, 2012

Educause Top-Ten IT Issues - the most change in a decade or more

The Education IT Issue Panel has released the 2012 top-ten issues facing higher education IT leadership, and instead of the customary reshuffling of the same deck, the issues reflect much of the tumult and dynamism facing higher education generally.  I find it interesting (and encouraging) that at the top of this year's list is "Updating IT Professionals' Skills and Roles to Accommodate Emerging Technologies and Changing IT Management and Service Delivery Models."  This reflects, in my view, the realization that higher education IT must change in order to fully realize the potential for transforming the institution, and therefore it's people must learn new skills, understand and accept new ways of solving problems, and not be tied down by past practices or institutional inertia.

What follows in the remaining 9 top issues all speak, in some form or fashion, to the need for dramatic change, but not just in the areas of "funding IT" (code for cost containment or reduction), but rather the need to increase effectiveness and efficiency of the institution through the use of technology—leveraging the wave of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to the institution's advantage, rather than viewing it as a threat and a problem to be contained.

Although it's #10 of 10, IT Governance (and establishment and implementation of the governance model throughout the institution) is key to effectively acting upon many of the preceding issues in this year's list.  In the majority of cases, technology exists to meet the needs and requirements to effectively address many of the challenges outlined in top-ten issues list.

Which brings me to my next point. Although I try not to sound too much like an Oracle commercial in these (all too infrequent) blog posts, I can't help but point out how much confluence there is between several of the top issues this year and what my colleagues and I have been evangelizing for some time. Starting from the bottom of the list up:

1) I'm gratified that research and the IT challenges it presents has made the cut.  Big Data (or Large Data as it's phased in the report) is rapidly going to overwhelm much of what exists today even at our most prepared and well-equipped research universities.  Combine large data with the significantly more stringent requirements around data preservation, archiving, sharing, curation, etc. coming from granting agencies like NSF, and you have the brewing storm that could result in a lot of "one-off" solutions to a problem that could very well be addressed collectively and "at scale."  

2) Transformative effects of IT – while I see more and more examples of this, there is still much more that can be achieved. My experience tells me that culture (as the report indicates or at least poses the question) gets in the way more than technology not being up to task.  We spend too much time on "context" and not "core," and get lost in the weeds on the journey to truly transforming the institution with technology.

3) Analytics as a key element in improving various institutional outcomes.  In our work around Student Success, we see predictive "academic" analytics as essential to getting in front of the Student Success issue, regardless of how an institution or collections of institutions defines success.  Analytics must be part of the fabric of the key academic enterprise applications, not a bolt-on.  We will spend a significant amount of time on this topic during our semi-annual Education Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington, D.C. later this month.

4) Cloud strategy for the broad range of applications in the academic enterprise.  Some of the recent work by Casey Green at the Campus Computing Survey would seem to indicate that there is movement in this area but mostly in what has been termed "below the campus" application areas such as collaboration tools, recruiting, and alumni relations.  It's time to get serious about sourcing elements of mature applications like student information systems, HR, Finance, etc. leveraging a model other than traditional on-campus custom.

I've only selected a few areas of the list to highlight, but the unifying theme here (and this is where I run the risk of sounding like an Oracle commercial) is that these lofty goals cry out for partners that can bring economies of scale to bear on the problems married with a deep understanding of the nuances unique to higher education.  In a recent piece in Educause Review on Student Information Systems, the author points out that "best of breed is back". Unfortunately I am compelled to point out that best of breed is a large part of the reason we have made as little progress as we have as an industry in advancing some of the causes outlined above.  Don't confuse "integrated" and "full stack" for vendor lock-in.  The best-of-breed market forces that Ron points to ensure that solutions have to be "integratable" or they don't survive in the marketplace. However, by leveraging the efficiencies afforded by adopting solutions that are pre-integrated (and possibly metered out as a service) allows us to shed unnecessary costs – as difficult as these decisions are to make and to drive throughout the organization.


Monday Apr 02, 2012

Impressions and Reactions from Alliance 2012

Alliance 2012 has come to a conclusion.  What strikes me about every Alliance conference is the amazing amount of collaboration and cooperation I see across higher education in the sharing of best practices around the entire Oracle PeopleSoft software suite, not just the student information system (Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions).  In addition to the vibrant U.S. organization, it's gratifying to see the growth in the international attendance again this year, with an EMEA HEUG organizing to complement the existing groups in the Netherlands, South Africa, and the U.K.  Their first meeting is planned for London in October, and I suspect they'll be surprised at the amount of interest and attendance.

In my discussions with higher education IT and functional leadership at Alliance there were a number of instances where concern was expressed about Oracle's commitment to higher education as an industry, primarily because of a lack of perceived innovation in the applications that Oracle develops for this market. Here I think perception and reality are far apart, and I'd like to explain why I believe this to be true.

First let me start with what I think drives this perception. Predominately it's in two areas. The first area is the user interface, both for students and faculty that interact with the system as "customers", and for those employees of the institution (faculty, staff, and sometimes students as well) that use the system in some kind of administrative role. Because the UI hasn't changed all that much from the PeopleSoft days, individuals perceive this as a dead product with little innovation and therefore Oracle isn't investing.

The second area is around the integration of the higher education suite of applications (PeopleSoft Campus Solutions) and the rest of the Oracle software assets. Whether grown organically or acquired, there is an impressive array of middleware and other software products that could be leveraged much more significantly by the higher education applications than is currently the case today. This is also perceived as lack of investment.

Let me address these two points.  First the UI.  More is being done here than ever before, and the PAG and other groups where this was discussed at Alliance 2012 were more numerous than I've seen in any past meeting. Whether it's Oracle development leveraging web services or some extremely early but very promising work leveraging the recent Endeca acquisition (see some cool examples here) there are a lot of resources aimed at this issue.  There are also some amazing prototypes being developed by our UX (user experience team) that will eventually make their way into the higher education applications realm - they had an impressive setup at Alliance.  Hopefully many of you that attended found this group. If not, the senior leader for that team Jeremy Ashley will be a significant contributor of content to our summer Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington in June.

In the area of integration with other elements of the Oracle stack, this is also an area of focus for the company and my team.  We're making this a priority especially in the areas of identity management and security, leveraging WebCenter more effectively for content, imaging, and mobility, and driving towards the ultimate objective of WebLogic Suite as our platform for SOA, links to learning management systems (SAIP), and content. There is also much work around business intelligence centering on OBI applications.

But at the end of the day we get enormous value from the HEUG (higher education user group) and the various subgroups formed as a part of this community that help us align and prioritize our investments, whether it's around better integration with other Oracle products or integration with partner offerings.  It's one of the healthiest, mutually beneficial relationships between customers and an Education IT concern that exists on the globe.

And I can't avoid mentioning that this kind of relationship between higher education and the corporate IT community that can truly address the problems of efficiency and effectiveness, institutional excellence (which starts with IT) and student success.  It's not (in my opinion) going to be solved through community source - cost and complexity only increase in that model and in the end higher education doesn't ultimately focus on core competencies: educating, developing, and researching. 

While I agree with some of what Michael A. McRobbie wrote in his EDUCAUSE Review article (Information Technology: A View from Both Sides of the President’s Desk), I take strong issue with his assertion that the "the IT marketplace is just the opposite of long-term stability...."  Sure there has been healthy, creative destruction in the past 2-3 decades, but this has had the effect of, in the aggregate, benefiting education with greater efficiency, more innovation and increased stability as larger, more financially secure firms acquire and develop integrated solutions.


Friday Mar 09, 2012

Why Higher Education Needs Oracle More Than Ever

For those of you that I haven't met, I'm Cole Clark. I lead the education and research industry team for Oracle globally. I started my career after graduating from Rhodes College in 1988, working in the nascent IT organization at another university (the University of Tennessee, Memphis) to help put myself through school. I "grew up" in computing during the advent of the Macintosh, client server, the slow demise of the mainframe and the move away from centralized computing with more and more power and capability (and operating system empowerment of users) at the desk, and eventually, lap.

I eventually joined the company whose products I admired so much (Apple), then moved to Sun when in 1997 it appeared Apple would not make it (clearly got that one wrong), then to Oracle by way of its acquisition of Sun in 2010. During those almost 23 years I've watched the almost full-circle from centralized to decentralized back to centralized and now to even more centralization (shared services and cloud) in computing in higher education.

But with this movement back to centrally managed services has come an enormous cost, both in real dollars (or name your currency of choice) and in what we deliver to constituents. Sure, there's the promise of greater efficiency and data security, but with so many more players in the traditional "stack" of enterprise computing, each focusing on a specific layer (or two or three), higher education has generally amassed a collection of technologies that merely move the spaghetti that existed before in the client-server environment to the data center. Think about it - in many cases there are different (sometimes multiple!) suppliers at each layer - storage, storage management, operating system(s), virtualization system, server(s) interconnects, network, database, security and identity management, content management, portal, and various applications. And at each layer, a management interface that rarely integrates (seamlessly and elegantly) with the other layers. So we add people and process.

Virtualization has brought with it greater server utilization and efficiency, but in the place of a handful of, at times, under-utilized servers, we now have massive VM sprawl that brings with it its own set of management costs.

All of the above runs head-long into the economic crisis in education that hit in 2008 and persists today. Cloud computing and community source hold the allure of even greater efficiency and cost savings. But is this really the holy grail? As (outgoing) CSU Northridge president Jolene Koester says in her outstanding piece on university IT when confronted with the comparison of technology to a utility, "...the role of information technology in my university is far more strategic, far more ubiquitous, far more integrated into multiple business practices, and far more integral to the core university functions of teaching and learning. I no longer regard as valid the comparison of information technology to a utility." No, the answer is in my view to leave computing to organizations that are highly skilled, have thousands of use cases upon which to solve problems, and have the intellectual property under the roof to engineer these highly complex systems to work together, with a common management interface.

I recently convened the first meeting of an expanded industry strategy council for education and research at Oracle headquarters in California. I invited many institutions that were outside of our typical participants in the past: some that owned no Oracle applications and utilized solutions from competitors, some that owned little Oracle at all, some that were former Sun customers, some that are still devoted Sun customers today. What resonated with me after a day and a half of interaction and dialog was that there is a lot going on at Oracle unbeknownst to higher ed - investments in relationships and technology, but foremost, moving IT away from integrated solutions to engineered and optimized.

That's our mission in higher ed - to build highly optimized and engineered systems with less complexity and cost, leveraging those engineering assets to bleed out implementation and maintenance costs before they arrive at a college or university data center, or in the data center of some shared services hosting center.

Oracle's biggest obstacle in this quest in higher ed is, from my somewhat naive view of the world, it’s perception by some in the education community as a ‘big bad vendor’. Candidly, it's Oracle’s own fault (again from my personal perspective) that Oracle has created this persona which has contributed to the rise of community source endeavors like Kuali and Sakai. With all due respect to these groups and their cheerleaders, I don't believe they will get higher education where it needs to go. Again, community source solutions have come about partially because vendors are not satisfying the market with the correct products and partially (maybe more than partially) because Oracle is sometimes viewed as Machiavellian. Point taken. But I would encourage any of you taking the time to read this to get to know this new systems company called Oracle. No, all answers to all education computing problems are not yet in, but the key to running efficient and effective computing that provides competitive advantage and allows for keen insight from masses of data into the trends and potentially catastrophes (before they occur), lie in working with us to deploy engineered and optimized systems from us and from our partners.

Oracle has acquired Sun, and PeopleSoft, Hyperion, Siebel, Right Now and.... (the list is more than 75 companies long). We're all about the "systems-ness" of computing now. Yes, Oracle and other vendors have our faults - we're working on those and want to talk more about how we dramatically improve our relationships (hence my desire to further expand the strategy council to even more members, globally). Give us a call. In the words of one of my favorite architects on my global team, "I am listening."

Cole Clark


Comments, news, updates and perspectives from Oracle's global vice president of the education and research industry--which includes higher education, research, and primary/secondary education (K-12) organizations worldwide.


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