Higher education embraces cloud computing just in time

Rising demand for remote learning plus growing student dissatisfaction equals colleges and universities rushing to cloud-based platforms.

Higher education embraces cloud computing just in time

According to Absolute Markets Insights, cloud computing in higher education is expected to grow 25.4% by 2027. This is expected to increase due to implementations of cloud-based solutions to reduce costs and improve productivity and efficiency. Oh yeah, to pivot just in time.

Those of you in higher ed or who track it perhaps have noted a few causes for concern lately.

First, there does not seem to be a significant discount for online remote learning compared to tuition that includes supporting classrooms and other structures that cater to in-person learning. Harvard University announced last year that when the first semester of the school year began, all course instruction would be done online. However, tuition for the full year would remain the same at $49,653. That could mean a $200K tuition bill that will likely be paid by a student loan that will take years to pay back—perhaps by a student who never set foot on the campus.

Second, students who are now learning remotely in traditional colleges and universities report in survey after survey that the quality of the learning experience has gone down. They also report that colleges and universities are ill-prepared for remote learning, and systems are primitive and difficult to use. Outages are common, and the paths of communication between student and instructor are often difficult to navigate.

A final issue is rising competition. The colleges and universities that were already either partly or completely online (typically leveraging cloud platforms) have had a head start of many years, and thus offer much better student experiences as well as lower tuition costs. They have pivoted to full remote learning without any changes or additional investment.

Competition can also come from online training companies that mostly support continuing education but could easily offer degree programs, in many cases leveraging the same content which is better than what you’ll find in higher ed.

So, cloud to the rescue…again? 

As somebody who was a college professor for many years, I’ve never been in love with traditional classroom learning, both as a student and an instructor. The experience is one-dimensional given that most online training is able to provide a much richer learning path and content. Students can learn at whatever pace is effective for them, as well as diverge from the course to dig into subtopics they find interesting.

The assumption is that many students will choose to return to a traditional classroom and dorm room, but many others will stick with remote learning because it is not only safer, but costs less, provides more choices, and offers a better student experience. You can understand how learning could accelerate for many, and perhaps student loan debt would drop to reasonable levels. 

Don’t think that I’m the only one who understands this. Higher ed leadership is rushing to the cloud, finally. For most colleges and universities, it’s to leverage cloud computing as an accelerator to adapt to students who are looking to learn differently, as well as to accommodate the pandemic considerations of 2020 and 2021.

My advice is to proceed with caution, understanding that a few bad calls will kill the transformation, cloud or not. Make sure to consider third-party services (such as remote learning managers that are now on-demand), content managers, registration systems, and many SaaS versions of systems that are perhaps in your data center currently. This may be a much faster path than migrating and operating existing software and databases in the cloud, considering that the new path is likely vastly different. I’m finding that about half of the existing higher ed systems are being replaced with cloud-based analogs.

I suspect that in five years many colleges and universities will go under—not from a lack of students but from not leveraging technology effectively soon enough. Motivated yet?


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