Colleges and universities are reeling from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with billions in lost revenue, higher-than-anticipated costs for instruction, and an increased need for financial aid following widespread job losses. Some institutions have hastened the return of on-campus learning in an effort to offset strained budgets. But even these decisions come at a cost — including expenditures for on-campus safety measures and COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Many institutions that chose to forego traditional, in-person learning in favor of online education modalities have invested time and resources upgrading outmoded campus infrastructures. From building more robust campus networks to training faculty and staff on new technologies, there are a number of upfront costs that come with a digital pivot.
While the pandemic has certainly presented a number of financial challenges for higher education systems, it isn’t here to stay. What is here to stay is the digital transformation this past year has necessitated, creating areas of efficiency that have permanently altered the face of all levels of education.
Why Invest in a Digital Pivot at Your Institution?
A recent Deloitte survey of business executives revealed that “investments in digital transformation are continuing to rise — at more than three times the rate of IT spending overall.” Businesses that pursue a digital pivot are confident that these initiatives will become self-funding, eventually resulting in a positive business impact and net revenue growth.
For educators, the decision to invest in a digital transformation will require upfront costs to create a reliable campus infrastructure and to place data at the center of daily processes for students, faculty, staff, and administrators. However, a digital pivot can substantially increase an institution’s return on investment and help contribute to larger efforts toward financial stability. The savings that result from a successful digital transition can far outweigh the initial expenses, and institutions can immediately reap the benefits of increased efficiencies.
Opportunities for Enrollment and Retention
As colleges and universities have closed their campuses to returning students, one of the largest financial losses is student room and board. But the switch to online learning is not without its benefits — shifting to remote instruction has allowed institutions to enroll far more students than they can usually accommodate on campus. In the Summer 2020 semester alone, Indiana University Bloomington saw record-high enrollment numbers in its online courses, up 22% from the previous summer. Although not all higher institutions are experiencing that same level of increase, this type of growth is more feasible when the institution has embraced a digital pivot and dedicated resources to supporting online, hybrid, and blended programs.
Student retention is particularly important to higher ed institutions looking to recoup funds lost in the remote transition. According to data from RPK Group, institutions can earn around $1 million annually by improving matriculation rates. Using ExamSoft’s Strength & Opportunity Reports to provide targeted student remediation, a chemistry course at University of North Texas decreased its Drop, Fail, Withdrawal rate by 27%, for an estimated savings of $63,000 a semester.
Savings and Efficiency with a Single Solution
Because there are many programs and departments with diverse needs at a single university, it can be easy to justify implementing different solutions for each. While it is true that some programs require tools and services specific to their academic focus, schools can end up overspending on multiple, program-specific solutions when a single, institution-wide solution would do. For example, ExamSoft is flexible and can be customized so that multiple programs with unique needs can all use it.
In the transition to a more sustainable funding model, some institutional leaders eliminated redundant or underutilized services, replacing them with holistic solutions that are essential to programmatic operations. Aside from cutting down on spending, implementing a campus-wide platform can help to combine otherwise isolated data. As noted by Ed Tech Magazine, colleges and universities need tools that can “drill through large demographic data sets to unearth dynamic trends,” thereby driving informed decision-making for the institution as a whole.
The Price of Unsustainable Practices
Higher education institutions across the globe are prioritizing campus-wide sustainability initiatives — not only to decrease the costs of printing and energy consumption, but also to reduce environmental impact. Certification exams are an aspect of education particularly ripe for digital disruption, as some are still administered in paper-based formats. One veterinary educator improved the format of veterinary specialty board-certification exams by switching to ExamSoft for digital assessment, eliminating printing costs and expediting the grading process.
Pre-pandemic, institutions had limited opportunities to conserve energy on campus. But as many colleges and universities have made the pivot to remote learning, they have also seen reductions in their environmental footprint. As more courses go digital and employees work remotely, the less schools have to spend on maintaining residence halls and offices. One college saved nearly $1 million in utilities expenses, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
Underutilized Campus Technologies
Many colleges and universities that choose to equip students with devices do so with the broad goal of supplementing student learning and supporting completion of assignments. The upfront costs and maintenance of these devices can be costly, and they are often used alongside educational resources they could easily replace — like textbooks or paper-based assessments.
To ensure a smart investment when supplying students with devices, institutions can employ device-compatible digital resources and require these devices in enough courses to offset the initial cost. England-based Leicester Medical School did just that, adopting ExamSoft’s scalable assessment platform to accommodate its growing student body and make better use of its 1:1 iPad program.
Time Lost to Inefficient Processes
Faculty and staff are invaluable to the colleges and universities they serve, delivering high-quality education, offering unique skill sets, and supporting institution-wide goals. But inefficient systems and solutions can prevent faculty and staff from directing their time and talents to the areas they are needed most.
Automated, digital processes can help faculty and staff more effectively allocate their time and resources, ultimately increasing the value they can bring to their institutions. Digital solutions are not intended to replace human contributors. Instead, the primary goal of implementing more efficient systems is to minimize employee workload so that they can devote more time to their areas of expertise, provide meaningful learning experiences, and better support the campus community.
Begin the Digital Transformation with ExamSoft
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