Ed Tech Trends | CT 2014 Coverage

Using Technology To Transform Institutions as They Transform the Lives of Students

Technology executives have a key role to play in the future of higher education by helping colleagues use data to craft a story about the value of postsecondary education. And telling a story is important, Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), told attendees at the Campus Technology 2014 annual conference in Boston this week.

"I am from Alabama, and in the South we love stories," he explained. "We have so much data around us, but a story is what gives it context." For instance, he talked about the importance of the G.I. Bill as a great experiment in opening up higher education to the middle and working classes, as was the Higher Education Act of 1965. Millions of people were able to go to college and better themselves. "The work we do is noble," said Hrabowski, who has been president at UMBC for more than 20 years. "Where would we be without the education we received?"

He implored the IT executives to see themselves as thought leaders. People tend to question the value of what IT does, he said. "You do not want people to pigeonhole you as technologists. You are thought leaders who happen to be experts in technology."

Hrabowski used his relationship with UMBC CIO Jack Seuss as a positive example. He said it was important that his CIO report directly to him. "I wanted to send a message. There was nothing more important than making clear that technology is not separate but infused into the fabric of what we do," he added. "This expert in technology is at the table from the beginning and not as an afterthought."

In 2008, Hrabowski was named one of America's best leaders by U.S. News & World Report, which also ranked UMBC the nation's No. 1 "up and coming" university the last five years (2009-13). During this period, U.S. News also consistently ranked UMBC among the nation's leading institutions for "best undergraduate teaching."

Hrabowski suggested that as other countries make more progress on science and technology graduation rates, IT leaders have to move beyond issues such as mobility and enterprise architecture to assist faculty in using analytics to drive institutional change. "When we think about innovation, STEM is even more important than the rhetoric would suggest," he said. A very large percentage of growth in gross domestic product is owing to science and technology, he added, but the United States has far too few people doing well in science and engineering.

Hrabowski's research and publications focus on science and math education, with special emphasis on minority participation and performance, an area where UMBC has earned recognition for making progress. (UMBC also has established a Center for Women in IT. He noted that in the last few years there has been a 50 percent decline of women in computer science programs — from 36 percent to 18 percent. "Somehow America has not said this is unacceptable," he said.)

He rhetorically asked the audience what it means to be academically innovative. "It means that success is never final. We are always asking, 'What's next? We know we can be much better. We focus on the use of technology to redesign teaching and learning."

Noting how many students leave science and technology programs before completion, he said, "We even call first-year classes weed-out courses." If you ask a dean of sciences how may seats they are planning for the second year, they expect one-third to make it to the next year. Hrabowski is working to change that dynamic by reinventing curriculum and processes at UMBC. "The vets who went to college knew the world of tomorrow did not have to be the same as today. That was innovation." Today we can improve outcomes, he added, "if we change the way we do business. You have the ability to help campuses use technology to transform the institutions as they transform the lives of students."

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

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