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Higher education still slow to embrace benefits of big data

Richard Jones Archive

Using more advanced data analytics can have a profound effect on higher education. By gathering more information about students at colleges and graduate schools - including academic records, financial data and statistics on student retention and graduation - chief information officers at universities can learn to make better decisions that will guide more students from matriculation to commencement.

Many CIOs in education are reluctant to get on board with the big data movement. Despite the clear benefits that analytics offer, many stubborn IT leaders still aren't ready to make the transition.

Information Week recently reported on this reluctance, stating that despite the evolution of technology over the last few decades, many university officials have been slow to embrace it. Joy Hughes, who worked for over 25 years as an education CIO and was recently appointed to the Virginia Governor's IT Advisory Council, says there's been a backlash to her urgings for more data in education.

What's stopping them, you ask? There are several factors impeding the spread of the big data movement.

Lack of understanding
Some CIOs in higher education aren't fully aware of what big data is, or what it can do for their schools. They're certainly aware on some level that they could be collecting more information, but they lack clarity on what specifically they can do with it - improving financial aid, graduation rates, professor performance and the like. In addition, some CIOs are aware of the prominence of big data, but they suspect that the movement is nothing more than a passing fad, so they hesitate to get aboard.

Lack of funding
Some tech leaders know full well what can be accomplished with big data, but they don't have the money in their budgets to make it happen. It can be costly to go through all the required steps to implement more analytics - mining information, ensuring data quality, using analytical tools and employing executives to interpret findings. Not every school has the cash lying around to make its big data vision a reality.

Technology overload
Many new technologies are showing up in higher ed?ucation today - from cloud solutions, to mobile apps, to virtualizing data to long-distance learning. It's not uncommon for schools to become overwhelmed by all the possibilities and feel an urge to push something to the back burner. Often, analytics get left behind.

This may change in the years ahead - but for the moment, big data is a big omission from many university CIO's budgets.