The Consumerization of Education

By Sidney Fernandes, Interim VP-IT Assistant VP of Technology & CIO | USF Health Information Systems-University of South Florida

Sidney Fernandes, Interim VP-IT Assistant VP of Technology & CIO | USF Health Information Systems-University of South Florida

How CIOs can be leaders in helping higher educational institutions survive and thrive in this new reality Higher education is in the midst of an unprecedented change. The change is occurring due to multiple factors that range from significant demographic changes in the profile of the consumer of higher education as well as social and technological changes. The power and choices for the consumers of higher education are now rapidly crossing the traditional boundaries of geography, age and income.

Institutions of higher education that understand this change and orient their business to taking advantage of the changing landscape will find for themselves new opportunities that will radically transform how they deliver their product to this new group of consumers. Technology leadership will be importantin this transformation. CIOs who convince their leadership that technology is not about keeping the lights on, but about transforming the way the institutions handle all aspects of their business through the entire life cycle of the consumer experience. CIOs must therefore seize the opportunity to understand this change and suggest comprehensive outcome focused business opportunities that leverage technology.

To accomplish this daunting task CIOs must first understand these fundamental questions

• Why does the institution have to change?

• Who are these new consumers of higher education and what makes them different?

• What are these consumers interested in?

• Where do institutions have to change to attract and retain these consumers?

• How can technology be the key driver of enabling the institution to derive value from the change?

“Consumers of higher education now have more choices than ever before and are now much better informed of the choices that exist”

Why does the Institution have to Change?
Consumerization is the number one reason that institutions have to change. Consumers of higher education now have more choices than ever before and are now much better informed of the choices that exist. Online degrees have had significant growth in the last decade but this has largely not come at the expense of the traditional students as consumers of higher education. All this will change thanks in large part due to advances in learning management systems and their use of Big Data to enable mass customization of content that is catered to the learner. The digitization of the learning space will mean that many tasks that needed students to be physically present will now allow for the same rich interaction in a digital environment that is both effective and secure. The final piece of the empowerment of the consumer will be the ability of the consumer to rate quality and value to the price of the product that they are purchasing from institutions of higher education. With the rising cost of tuition and student debt, the revisiting of this value equation is inevitable and already in progress.

Who are these New Consumers of Higher Education and What makes them Different?
According to a report from the National Center for Education and Statistics, the profile of the higher Education consumer is changing rapidly. While the traditional 18-24 year old enrollment is projected to grow at 10 percentbetween 2010 and 2021, the enrollment growth is projected to increase by 20 percentfor the 25-34 year olds and 25 percentfor those that are 35 and older. This varied demographic means that higher education institutions will have to create and deliver products for both Generation Z who will comprise the traditional college age students as well as the millennials who in their early 30’s and late 20’s and will probably fit the non-full time traditional student mold .

What makes both of these groups different is that both groups will be proficient in the digital world, which will include the ability to quickly aggregate information from various digital channels. This will mean that they will be informed consumers who are used to comparing products. They will also be savvy with aggregating data through social media networks and have much lower bars when it comes to sharing their own personal information and privacy as long as the act of sharing will lead to better products or services.

What are these Consumers Interested in?
This new group of consumers is interested in education as a means to an end. The end being attaining knowledge that is useful to them in acquiring and increasing wealth which is what 75 percentof millennials consider very important in contrast with 45 percentof baby boomers. This group will need that knowledge delivered to them in the same way that they are used to receiving consumer products. ‘Mass customization’ with curriculum and learning pathways that are tailored to them as individuals will be the way of the future.

Where do Institutions have to Change and Howcan Technology be used to Drive this Change?
Institutions of higher education need to digitize every aspect of their engagement with their consumers. This does not mean that the traditional activities of the institution go away but rather that every interaction happens in a digital space that can then be measured for new insights. These insights should then be used to both increase efficiencies as well as the overall experience of the consumer.

CIOs can help lead this change by using digitization to drive the entire student experience. The areas of digitization could begin with digital marketing tied to analytics for student recruitment and retention then continue through the life of the student on campus. The use of sensors and mobile technologies could be used to enhance the student experience, these initiatives should all be looked at through the prism of data and analytics for driving rapid decision making and automated feedback loops to the consumers.

To do all of this in a cost effective manner, the CIOs of future higher education institutions will have to be experts in brokering of the various available services. These services could be ones offered by large cloud vendors, consumer electronics companies or by other institutions of higher education. Creating the ideal ecosystem will mean navigating through the myriad of solution providers all vying for the same business. A successful CIO in this new environment will not be one who is enamored by the technology but rather the one who understands and prioritizes the needs of the institution as it works on growing in a consumerized environment.