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New Report Examines, Advises on Higher Ed Trends

U.S.-based advisory, tax and audit firm Grant Thornton has issued its seventh annual report on "the state of higher education." Among its many topics of interest: preparing for social media risks, building quality into IT systems, outsourcing via a shared services consortium and preparing for disruption. The report's articles, which include general guidance, are developed by its practitioners working in the field at 200 colleges and universities on new projects and programs.

In the area of social media, Grant Thornton experts advised institutional leaders to prepare for the risks. As the report noted, schools that have "adequately prepared for the worst by putting into place proactive prevention strategies and response scenario action plans will be better off than those that simply wait and react." Among the components of an action should be coverage for how the communications department responds, escalation procedures and evaluation of actions "post-event," to keep the plan updated.

The report also recommended that schools use "independent verification and validation" to build quality into IT systems. IV&V, as it's referred to, is an objective third-party assessment of system development and the tools and processes used for that, a service that Grant Thornton consultants provide. Here, the advice emphasized the use of IV&V to evaluate the adoption and deployment of cloud services, especially those used in the most complex applications, such as enterprise resource planning and student administration. As the authors explained, customers can improve "the likelihood of success, as well as their return on investment" from cloud-based projects by adopting IV&V practices, such as validating that vendors are fulfilling the contract terms and delivering accurate information on project performance.

The section on outsourcing provided a mini-education in the use of college-created consortia to deliver specific services, such as finance, legal, HR and procurement. The report suggested that colleges and universities going this route "take an incremental approach" to outsourcing and begin by contracting with a managed services provider to augment internal staff expertise — even as they enter a consortium relationship.

In the area of disruption, the company warned that the "two greatest enemies" were "complacency and nostalgia." For example, the report pointed out, technological innovation is affecting "how students learn, travel around the campus and interact with others." Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are gaining ground on campus in numerous ways. And big data and analytics are also being positioned to "disrupt education." To exploit the opportunities inherent in these technologies, the authors added, higher ed needs to "develop a robust infrastructure that integrates formal, informal, workplace and mobile/online learning, better addresses diverse student needs and leverages information to drive decision-making."

"The State of Higher Education in 2018" is available with registration on the Grant Thornton website. The company has also produced an on-demand webinar that explains how to "capitalize on key trends and emerging issues."

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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