I have been a solution engineer in the higher education industry for the past 20 years, helping to define and scope technology solutions for institutions of all sizes. One aspect of higher education that has always impressed me is how willing faculty, staff, and senior leaders within universities are to share their research and experiences using a particular academic or educational technology with other universities. From time to time, I work with colleagues who are new to the higher education sector, and they are in a state of awe that universities are so willing to share their technology experiences with other universities. This kind of sharing does not happen in the corporate world, since sharing information about overcoming business issues is perceived as a competitive advantage. Essentially, what’s occurring when universities share their experiences is that they are creating knowledge networks. It is fantastic that this sort of information sharing and collegiality occurs as it benefits the universities involved in these conversations.
I do not necessarily have rose-colored glasses on when it comes to information sharing among universities. The perspective that university leaders and staff are willing to share their experiences does have its limits. During my doctoral work, I needed research sites to complete my dissertation, but I was not able to find universities within the U.S. that were willing to share information about how they opened an international branch campus. I think that the senior leaders I contacted about my project considered this information to be proprietary or that it gave their university a competitive advantage. My research demonstrated to me that there were limits to what types of information universities were willing to share. I co-authored a piece where we advocate for greater information sharing based upon my experiences asking university leaders to share their stories of how they opened foreign campuses.
There is an interesting dichotomy in higher education that while universities are generally willing to share information about how they have overcome their business challenges with other universities, sharing information and student data within their university and across departments has its limits or does not occur at all. In some universities I work with, there are large silos of data that prevent information sharing, or there is a culture where sharing data does not happen or may even be discouraged. Departments within a university may view the data that they collect about prospect students, current students, or alumni as “their” data and they cannot trust others at their university with it.
This approach to data siloing can occur for numerous reason. A particular department feels as if they have built a relationship with their constituents and they do not want others at their university to mishandle the relationships they have created, fostered, and invested in. Or processes may be in place where sensitive data about constituents should not be seen by other departments. There could also be a culture that simply does not encourage information sharing between departments. There may be several completely valid reasons for a department keeping “their” data close and not sharing with other departments. But equally, there may be very few good reasons for not sharing data about your constituents, which could ultimately benefit the entire university community.
There are opportunities within universities to share data in a controlled way and to change the perspective that a particular department “owns” the data about their constituents. One leader on this is Georgetown University, for example. In March 2018, Salesforce.org released Education Cloud, which allows universities to create a single view of their constituents using data collected by various departments within the university. Some customers I work with discuss wanting to know their constituents from birth to bequeath, and the Education Cloud enables universities to create a single view of the constituent throughout the entire constituent lifecycle.
Education Cloud facilitates the sharing of data across departments and the ability to create new knowledge networks within universities. Education Cloud enables universities to create a 360 degree view of their constituents, thus allowing university leadership to determine who within the university sees what information about their constituents, and to personalize their engagement with them. When the entire institution can access a single view of the student, the focus goes from collecting disparate student data to collectively driving student success from prospects to alumni. The ability to personally engage with constituents at scale differentiates universities as they reach out to perspective and current students, alumni, and a broader community of stakeholders.
Some Potential Benefits of Creating Knowledge Networks: The Connected Campus Vision
Let’s go back to the concept of creating new knowledge networks within a university. Recruiting prospective students generates a lot of information. Maybe a recruiter learns that a prospective student is high-achieving, but is a first-generation college student, low-income, works three jobs, and is the main provider for their family. Once the student matriculates, an advisor can access information about their students from a recruiting and admissions process that can benefit a student’s long-term success…if this information is shared with relevant colleagues. Having this information enables staff in student advising positions to personalize how they engage with this student during their first meeting and beyond, because they have clear picture of who this student is and what their needs are. Each time a professor, RA, or individual in student affairs meets with their students, they can document these interactions allowing others on campus to know and understand the latest information about their students. Education Cloud helps to build and foster these new knowledge networks within universities and can enable more meaningful interactions with students.
Education Cloud can also provide staff in alumni relations with important information collected while their alumni were students at their university. Undergraduate students will typically be on campus for four to six years. During their time on campus they take classes, and may participate in extracurricular activities, take a study abroad course, or have an internship. Understanding what your students did and the activities they participated in during their time on campus can be incredibly beneficial for advancement and alumni relations, who ultimately want alumni to give their time and money back to their university. The outreach to your alumni can be more personalized, because you have a wealth of information documented from the time the graduate was a prospective student and on campus. Education Cloud facilitates these new knowledge networks where constituent information can be shared across departments benefiting your university and its constituents. (Here’s a video from Dreamforce for more on that.) The sharing of information as students transition through the student lifecycle is seamless.
As I previously mentioned, the higher education sector is unique in that universities are generally open to sharing how they have approached problems and the solutions they implemented to overcome them. Salesforce.org has built and facilitates a customer-driven knowledge network called the Power of Us Hub, where universities, community colleges, K-12 schools, and nonprofit organizations share and discuss approaches to challenges they face in their organizations and how technologies like Education Cloud can help them overcome some of their challenges. This is a great resource for connecting with other universities to ask questions and share your experiences as you create these new knowledge networks within your university.
While technology platforms like Education Cloud can encourage the creation of these internal knowledge networks, it is not a panacea. Culture has to change within a university for the full benefits of the Education Cloud to be realized. Trust is a core value at Salesforce. Trust is what will break down silos at universities as departments begin sharing data and creating internal knowledge networks. Trust is what will make it possible to establish these networks and for them to thrive.
Ready to build a knowledge network at your higher education institution? Download the Partners in Education e-book and continue your learning journey.
About the Author
Brad Beecher, Ed.D, has worked in the higher education sector for more than 20 years, and has a doctorate in education with a focus on higher education administration. His research focuses on the internationalization of higher education, global education, and student success. He worked for a university as a staff member in a new department that operated as a start-up organization. This incredible experience sparked his passion for higher education. Brad has also worked for organizations that focused on serving technology needs for universities, as he does currently for Salesforce.org.