Higher Education Technology: Digital Transformation Disparity

Public Institutions Vs. Private Institutions



Steven Lerner
03/01/2019

higher education technology

Last year, Miami Dade College, a public institution of higher education, released its first mobile app. It was a project that the developers took their time with before deploying it to the students.

“We certainly wanted it to be something of value,” said Senior IT Security Analyst Frank Martinez of Miami Dade College. “We took our time and we evaluated, what is the scope of everything that's possible in terms of the technology, which things are most feasible for our institution in particular, and what integrations would actually bring some value for the user of the app?”

The mobile app’s capabilities include campus logistical information, such as a map. Students can also access their class schedules on it. Future versions of the app could give students access to classroom materials on their mobile device, and have Bluetooth capabilities that could automate attendance-taking.

As institutions of higher education, such as Miami Dade College, undergo digital transformation, they will look to do develop more mobile apps and leverage next-gen technologies. However, the era of digital transformation is also shedding light on the disparity of IT resources between private institutions and their public counterparts.

Digital Transformation Challenges For Public Institutions

Although the resources gap between public and private institutions isn’t new, it has widened in recent years. A public college primarily gets its funding from state legislatures. Last year, state support for higher education increased by 1.6% across the nation. However, that money is shared between every public college in the state — each with a larger student body than the previous year. Despite last year’s overall budget increase, 22 states actually reduced the money given per student at public colleges.

Private higher education institutions are insulated from volatile state legislative budgets because they receive most of their funding from student tuition, grants, and endowments. Public colleges are also under intense pressure to diminish tuition increases, which means that some departments are often cash-strapped and have to reduce budgets. This usually impacts IT departments, and it restricts their ability to undergo digital transformation.

Miami Dade College has made the best out of these challenges by deploying their mobile app. However, at many public colleges, other higher education technology projects might have to take a back seat.

“We want to make sure that we're providing all the latest and greatest technologies for our students,” said Martinez. “Being a public institution, it can be very difficult for us to be agile when it comes to adopting new technology.”

An example of this digital transformation disparity can be examined by looking at the trend of private colleges and universities providing all of their students with voice-activated smart speakers in the dorms. Miami Dade College tested an Amazon Echo in a hallway that offered students directions to other buildings, but it was only a proof of concept pilot created by an intern who volunteered to do it.

“The problem is the skillset that's necessary to build out what's behind it,” said Martinez. “Those are some of the challenges we face in terms of finding people who know how to do that, or having people get trained to learn how to do that.”

Compliances And Legal Challenges

Aside from the lack of resources, public colleges and universities also have to follow numerous IT compliances relating to data and privacy. Since 2017, in order to receive federal funding, colleges and universities must comply with new cyber security standards.

“In recent years, the rise of cloud-hosted technology systems and solutions have introduced new areas of concern,” said Martinez.” And one of the rising areas of concern I think for technology in general this year is privacy.”

As one of Miami Dade College’s senior security leaders, Martinez is constantly trying to improve the institution’s security posture. This now includes privacy, an issue that Martinez has discussed with peers at other Florida institutions of higher education.

A big security failure for any public entity would likely result in a catastrophic public relations fallout, and perhaps lawsuits.

Impact On The Future Workforce

Even though the discrepancy in budgets between public and private institutions might seem like it’s only an issue in higher education, it could have repercussions in every sector. Your future employees are likely enrolled in college now, and the technology that they receive in college — or lack thereof — could impact them when they enter the workforce.

To counter this problem, Miami Dade College is inserting new technologies into its curriculum so that students can develop a skillset that is relevant to what they are doing in the workplace. An example of that is its new Cyber Security Center of the Americas, which is dedicated to teaching students new skills that are specific for a cyber security role.

“All of these different fields are facing digital transformation in their own way,” said Martinez. “As an institution that seeks to prepare our graduates to step into those roles and have an aptitude for digital transformation and whatever the current state of the art technology is in their relative fields, we face that challenge where we need to ensure that what we are preparing our students for is commensurate to what they're going to encounter when they go out in the field.”

If students receive the best higher education technology, it could propel their careers.

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