As emerging technologies continue to influence the way institutions are managed, effective partnerships on campus become imperative for success. Enrollment management and technology teams must work together to overcome the growing challenges facing higher education by using technology to champion their university’s mission. By doing so, institutions are equipped to optimize operations, streamline efficiencies, and shape student outcomes. Yet, the bottom line is we have the technology but we have historically neglected to enable and promote successful partnerships institution-wide.
In recent years, higher education has experienced a shift towards encouraging these partnerships but obstacles still remain. During my career, I have witnessed occasions in which lack of partnership has contributed to unsuccessful prospect and retention campaigns; derailed IT’s ability to optimize operations; and produced unnecessary tension leading to an “us vs. them mentality.” On the other hand, I have also seen successful partnerships that have efficiently implemented systems like Intelliworks CRM, resulting in record-breaking applications and admissions numbers.
This reminds me of a presentation I did last spring with our AVP of Enrollment Management and Marketing. During the presentation, we polled our audience to discern whether or not enrollment management and technology professionals believed these partnerships existed on their campuses. Our findings were as expected: 23 percent responded "Yes," 42 percent responded "Sometimes," and 35 percent responded "No."
Why the lack of collaboration?
This stems from misunderstanding institutional vision and how relationship building can ensure this vision is upheld. Whether it is a new marketing campaign targeting adult learners or an analytics project forecasting long-term completion rates, almost every enrollment management initiative launched includes technology in some form. But, this doesn’t automatically define enrollment management initiatives as technology projects that should be governed by technical staff. This manner of thinking is a widespread mistake influencing the effectiveness of campus IT teams. A successful implementation should always be simple, student-focused, and driven by enrollment management.
Technical leadership should embrace the enrollment management vision as their own and vice versa. This could be improving enrollment and retention numbers year-over-year or integrating technology into campus decision-making processes. Whatever the case, our role as CTO or CIO requires comprehension not only of trends and strategies in IT but also those impacting the success of our peers throughout the institution. Now, more than ever, both enrollment management and technology teams must understand the business of higher education and commit to developing partnerships that drive student outcomes and improve institutional effectiveness.
How to inspire better partnerships
Effective partnerships are at the heart of all university objectives. If a particular initiative does not have a foundation of partnership between teams, launching and supporting successful projects will be difficult.
Any enrollment manager or technologist can tell you that implementations do not happen without a few hiccups. Establishing effective partnerships will deliver on setbacks in a much more cohesive way and ensure the implementation is successfully executed. Partnerships create mutual respect and empower divisions to work out issues while providing reassurance that each member has the best interest of the institution in mind. Most importantly, partnerships facilitate communication, preventing breaks in the progress of an implementation.
At Embry-Riddle, we have built successful partnerships by thinking outside the traditional box and by instilling transparency and collaboration into our implementation game plan.
- Identify key stakeholders and coordinate a kick-off meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page. During this meeting, stakeholders should share their vision and plan accordingly. This includes determining how teams will communicate throughout the implementation process.
- Democratize the conversation by holding regularly scheduled follow-up meetings that provide routine status updates and open the implementation for acknowledging success, critiques, and new ideas.
- Critical components of the implementation should be documented to provide a clear picture of what the project involves. Recording factors like milestones, timelines, risk assessments, funding, and third party resources will help identify methodologies that may contribute to the success of future implementations.
- Celebrate success together, not just after launch but throughout the entire process. Something as simple as a team outing can create opportunities for team building and establish rapport.
- Report to all parties involved on critical metrics and share your implementation story with other departments across campus. Highlighting successful partnerships will inform future decisions and encourage other divisions to do the same.
Throughout implementation and beyond, departments and their leaders should challenge each other by exchanging ideas and addressing valid concerns constructively. This will make sometimes-difficult conversations much easier and streamline efficiencies.
Campus culture is the key to successful partnerships
At the end of the day, shifting campus culture is the best method to inspire better partnerships across the university. However, it is also the most difficult. What it comes down to is people; people who embrace collaboration, proactive communication, innovation, and a genuine respect for others as well as the mission of the institution.
Leaders who set the tone of collaboration by publicly stating and enforcing expectations will be the most successful. This includes transforming the way campus projects are viewed in how they relate to technology. The organizational structure and services provided by IT as it was a decade ago are not necessarily relevant today. Though technology is more sophisticated, it is no longer as complex as it once was. Acknowledging campus partnerships as a vital part of an institution’s vision and strategy supports consistency, impacts efficiencies, and nurtures student success. Campus leaders can embrace partnerships in the following ways:
- Update jobs descriptions to reflect the importance of soft skills essential to building successful partnerships.
- Incorporate collaboration expectations into new employee onboarding and orientation.
- Provide and support professional development opportunities such as cross-training sessions and networking socials.
- Sponsor staff events that recognize effective deployments and the partnerships that made them possible.
Technology is progressing; accessibility to technology is progressing, and so must the way we lead and partner on technology initiatives. Our students are too important to have it any other way. If higher education can evolve in how we work together, innovation will come along more naturally.
Becky Vasquez, is chief technology officer at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Worldwide Campus.