Guest post by Michael Staton
Whether or not you’ve recognized it, there’s a battle for the student experience. And for the most part, Higher Ed professionals are on the sidelines and getting their ass handed to them.
Sites like Zinch, College Confidential and Unigo now increasingly own how students discover and perceive your school brand. Facebook Groups and Ning own student socialization and virtual orientation. Sites like uRoomSurf and Roombug now own how housing is allocated. MyEDU owns how courses are selected. Chegg and Bookrenter already ate your bookstore. Facebook now owns your events. Foursquare and Facebook own your places. Notehall, Koofers, and Quizlet own how your students study. LinkedIn now dominates career services and to some degree alumni-networking. As more and more services pop up, more and more of the student experience moves online.
Nearly all of these companies are not intent on serving the best interests of institutions. They are out to grow and expand. They already dominate much of the student experience. Chegg, for one, has already stated outright that they are out to own the student experience. They even just launched ways for students to choose and collaborate in their courses, after their acquisitions of Cramster and Courserank. The CEO, who largely led Yahoo’s acquisition strategy, said in a keynote address that change will start with the students, it will force change on institutions from the outside in. Professionals everywhere need to perk up to the fact that your organization is becoming increasingly irrelevant to whether or not students are getting a good education, as the student experience has been inadvertently outsourced to third parties that have no obligation to you or your colleagues.
Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure. It’s scary, of course. But technology companies that have traditionally served institutions, like Sungard, Oracle, Blackboard, etc have shown that they are relatively incapable of maintaining relevant products, much less innovating. Sure, they’ve worked, but they’re on an old and crumbling infrastructure, maintained by small and Precambrian engineering teams that are dominated and outnumbered by aggressive salesmen. They’re sales companies, they treat their products like cash cows, and they see institutions as sheep.
Institutions themselves need to own their own failure. They’ve had trouble keeping navigable websites. They’ve passed up innovators of all types in preference for the status quo. They’re scared of start-ups. They shun new possible vendors and find refuge in companies that have no understanding of higher education and are not prioritizing their needs. They dismiss student created software. They label instances of transformative forces as passing fads. They have extraordinary trouble making decisions of all kinds, and for the most part have extreme committee arthritis when it comes to technology adoption. My alarm isn’t just about technology adoption though, it’s about the fact that market forces and budget cuts are gnawing on education as we know it, and very few institutions seem capable of making tough choices that will allow them to shape their own destiny.
Michael Staton is the Co-Founder and CEO of Inigral. Follow him on Twitter at @mpstaton
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