Colleges and universities are making progress in using technology to attract high-quality faculty and improve student learning outcomes, but they need to better leverage technology in areas such as fund raising, alumni relations, and student retention, according to a recent survey of senior administrators at higher-education institutions nationwide.

In its 2004 “Higher Education Survey on Leadership, Innovation, and Technology,” Boston-based research firm Eduventures Inc. surveyed presidents, chief academic officers, and chief financial officers at 3,800 higher-education institutions in the United States to determine whether technology is enabling colleges and universities to attain their core strategic objectives.

The 432 survey respondents indicated that their top five strategic objectives are (1) enhancing teaching and learning, (2) improving student learning outcomes, (3) attracting and retaining faculty, (4) improving retention rates, and (5) improving fund raising.

They said technology is most helpful in helping them meet the following objectives: (1) enhancing teaching and learning; (2) improving institutional communication; (3) improving business processes; (4) enhancing the productivity of faculty and administrators; and (5) improving student learning outcomes.

“Respondents consistently list ‘enhance teaching and learning’ as the top strategic objective where technology has had–and is expected to continue to have–a profound impact,” which matches their No. 1 objective of educating students, said Eduventures Research Director Eric Bassett.

But respondents said technology is least helpful in meeting institutional objectives related to fund raising, student retention, and constituent relations management (CRM)–despite the stated importance of these objectives.

In some cases, Bassett said, schools with home-grown solutions for managing student and alumni relations will need to invest in better software to capture and leverage data regarding important prospects, donors, alumni, and friends. But it’s likely that the enterprise resource planning software used by many schools today already contains tools for tracking, managing, and reaching out to these key constituents, he added, saying it’s more a question of process than the need for the technology itself.

“It takes more than just owning the technology to achieve results,” Bassett said. “It also requires letting the process catch up with the infrastructure.”

Innovation often outpaces the ability of schools to make good use of these developments, he said. The next challenge for schools will be to take advantage of technologies that already exist to improve constituent relations.

Some schools already are doing this with some degree of success. Western Michigan University, for example, uses an innovative web-based communication program from a company called GoalQuest to increase freshman retention. WMU uses the program to deliver weekly messages to freshmen, addressing issues that affect first-year students as they adjust to their new surroundings. Simultaneously, the parents of freshmen receive key information about the first-year experience that aids them in supporting and initiating dialogs with their children.

Besides managing constituent relations, administrators continue to look to technology for help in improving business processes, enhancing the productivity of their staffs, and improving institutional communication, Bassett said. They also are increasingly looking for technology to provide innovation in the classroom and assist in the measurement of student outcomes.

But the cost of implementing these technology solutions remains the No. 1 barrier to schools’progress, according to the survey.

Higher-education institutions continue to seek ways to stem the ever-growing cost of academic and administrative technologies. Some institutions (32 percent of respondents) form consortia with other schools to share fixed costs, while other institutions work with outsourced service providers to accomplish IT-related tasks more efficiently, the survey indicated.

Links:

Eduventures Inc.

Western Michigan University

GoalQuest Inc.