What's Driving Higher Education Change?

James Krouse

A recent S.M.A.C. Talk Technology Podcast forecasts the future of the higher education industry.
Hosted by Brian Fanzo and Daniel Newman, the interview of SAP higher education industry expert Malcolm Woodfield shines a light on three key areas that universities need to work on if they want to remain competitive: affordability, accessibility, and success.

Tech immersion redefines affordability

Woodfield, the SAP global vice president of Higher Education and Research, points out that major shifts have occurred since the millennials have become the primary customer of universities and colleges. Unlike previous generations, today’s student has a more personalized expectation. The four-year, on-campus, test-and-graduate model doesn’t necessarily meet their life goals. The problem for many institutions of higher learning is how to meet changing expectations and balance with economics.

Some schools can gain a little financial wiggle room by increasing student fees or making a modest tuition hike. But at the end of the day, publicly-funded institutions are not going to enjoy many additional funds. That means radical change won’t necessarily be coupled with radical budget increases.

“The only alternative is to manage what they have a little better . . . ,” Woodfield says. “Manage efficiency and productivity.”

And the 20-year SAP Higher Education expert is not alone in his view that innovations such as Internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) can be go-to affordability drivers.

In a Higher Education and Research Advisory brainstorming report, Silke Jakobi discusses how six thought-provoking clusters surfaced that included financial components. Among them were sustainability, research facilities management, and asset management. The IoT areas focused on energy saving, connected infrastructure, logistics, and facilities. The AI and ML clusters focused on resource optimization, compliance and powered research and management among others.

At a minimum, there appears to be some consensus across higher education that technology can drive affordable change.

Platforms provide accessibility

Accessibility needs to be looked at as a two-way street in the technology age. Previously, higher education institutions considered accessibility in terms of how students gain access to classrooms, libraries, computers, and other stakeholders. That’s a great model in terms of one-way customer satisfaction. And it’s true that the student body is the end-customer in many ways. But accessibility in today’s higher education marketplace calls for immersion.

“They use mobile devices, right? They don’t sit in a dorm room or in a library. They sit on the tablet, or on some other mobile device,” Woodfield says. “That’s where education is delivered. That’s the ‘new’ platform for education.”

And, Woodfield points out that millennials, educators, and administrators gain improved benefit from two-way digitization and information access.

“So, what does that mean? From a technical point of view, it means universities need platforms, and this is where Leonardo comes in,” Woodfield says. “Platforms for student engagement and platforms for the analysis of student behavior, if you like, or student success, student data. That’s where the analytics piece comes in. Universities are looking for a lot more insight into what students are doing, where they’re coming from, where they’re going, and what they’re choosing.”

“So education, as it’s delivered, has to adapt to that,” he says. “And that affects the whole university, not just the teaching and learning piece, but the whole way a university is run. The way they use other applications for administration or even for research has a kind of effect on the whole . . . what we would call the enterprise.”
But the big question remains: How does all this affordable accessibility add up to success? And what does success mean to millennials?

A new higher education “success”

The changing customer, the millennials, have put enormous pressure on higher education institutions to reinvent themselves in a way that makes them relevant. Just as U.C. Berkley was “relevant” as the center of the 1960s and 1970s free speech, or MIT was out front in terms of cutting-edge technology, every college and university has to connect in a meaningful way with its current customer base. Relevance, in many ways, is the foundation of the trending term “success.”

“The big buzz word these days is around student success. What is it? What is a successful student? Millennials have different ideas of success,” Woodfield says. “It’s not all about getting that great job. It could be something else, right? It could be a social cause they’re interested in. It could be developing other kinds of interest. Defining student success and enabling that on a personal basis, that’s the thing … It’s a ‘selfie world.’ They expect a personalized education.”

That’s an astute observation on Woodfield’s part. If you look at how millennials approach work and trace that back to education, it’s clear that they don’t see the world through a traditional 9-to-5 job lens.

As Ryan Jenkins points out in his Inc. magazine article, “This Is Why Millennials Care So Much About Work-Life Balance,” greater value is being placed on work-life immersion.

“For millennials, the never-offline and always-available workplace is all they know,” he says. “To them, turning off work at 5 p.m. is an antiquated practice. Due to their always-on approach to life, Millennials see no problem with blending work and life.”

In terms of what millennials view as “success,” that too looks very different, according to Jenkins.

“Millennials don’t view climbing the corporate ladder or owning tangible items (job title, house, salary, car, and the like) as success,” he says. “According to the 2016 Millennial Survey by Deloitte, 16.8 percent of millennials evaluate career opportunities by good work-life balance, followed by 13.4 percent who look for opportunities to progress and 11 percent who seek flexibility (i.e., remote working and flexible hours). For many millennials, success is having control over how and when they work and accumulating various life experiences, both of which are enabled by a better work-life balance.”

These ideas and innovations are radically different from students just a few decades ago. That means cutting-edge innovations are necessary if universities are to remain affordable, improve access, and promote a new type of success.

Take a few minutes, enjoy a beverage and immerse yourself in the S.M.A.C. Talk Technology Podcast featuring SAP Higher Education expert Malcolm Woodfield.

Hear the full podcast episode here. For more insight on digital leaders, check out the SAP Center for Business Insight report, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics, “SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart.”


James Krouse

About James Krouse

James Krouse is the director of Global Solutions Marketing at SAP. He is the global strategic marketing lead for the healthcare and higher education industry groups and is responsible for tailoring GTM strategies, analyst relations, government relations, positioning, and messaging.