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Higher Ed Slow To Shift to Digital Experiences

Public universities could really use some help in sorting out how to use their digital content, technologies and practices to do a better job of interacting with their "customers" — students and families. Likewise, they're making glacially slow progress on meeting the expectations of prospective students. Those findings come out of a sponsored survey that examined the current state of content management practices in higher education.

The project was undertaken by Digital Clarity Group (DCG), a consultancy that works with organizations to improve their "customer experiences." The research was sponsored by five companies interested in capturing some piece of the digital business of higher ed: Adobe, Acquia, Manifesto Digital, OmniUpdate and Verndale. DCG researchers spoke with digital content leaders at 16 institutions, as well as representatives from eight service providers and seven vendors.

According to "Digital Transformation in Higher Education," delivering "experiences" to education customers — above and beyond publishing content — remains "aspirational" for public universities. For example, people involved in content development — web managers, marketers and other decision-makers — know they should be doing more to engage prospective and current students. But they're simply "overwhelmed by the everyday tasks associated with maintaining their university's current web presence," said co-author Marianne Kay, DCG analyst, in a prepared statement. "They find it difficult to evolve from content publishing to digital storytelling." As the report noted, "They recognize the growing need, and they want to be able to respond. But cultural, organizational, and technology obstacles are significant."

Where institutions have figured out how to enhance their digital capabilities, for the most part, the progress is occurring within "pockets of change rather than at broader levels."

While schools turn to service providers to implement technology solutions for content management, they're "largely underused and undervalued," according to the report. Service providers are most often engaged at a departmental level and "hampered by narrow scopes and tight budgets." Frequently, they serve as extended staff.

The report stated unequivocally that universities won't take action on improving their digital experience management until they see a distinct drop in the "quantity and quality of students enrolling" in their schools. By then, the authors noted, they'll be "playing catch-up."

The report is freely available on the DCG website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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