by Gordon Freedman

This is the second in our two-part series on Bursting the Campus Technology Bubble. Read Part One here. This article is abridged, and the full original article can be found at

A New Twist: Three Column Strategic “Campus Value Accounting”

At the center of the technology and data twister problem is the fact that all technology and data work on campus is inherently tactical. Currently, it is about fitting technology solutions to administrative offices and academic departments, rather than to a strategic framework that guides campuses at a higher level for their whole mission delivery.

The campus mission is a blend of service, administration, and outcomes—all of which need to live within a budgetary reality that projects attendance realities.

If the focus is on one-off licensing of multiple solutions (times ten), the end service is not likely to fit what is needed to attract and retain students, as well as bring costs down and service regional and national employers.

There should be inherent mission guidance from the president and trustees that gates the fusion of technology and mission to the delivery of services and return on investment.

Three-Column Accounting 

One approach to explore is a strategic value accounting system, a three-column system. This way of thinking about whole-campus management could evolve to simultaneously manage the qualitative aspects and the quantitative realities for three meta-categories:

  • Student: Bring all student-facing solutions into a single accounting approach on quality and cost.
  • Administration: Examine programmatic duplication and personnel reduction via new solutions.
  • Outcomes: Constantly evaluate the student, alumni, and labor outcomes of the institution.

We will explore each of these categories in further detail below.

Student: The Central Focus

In column one, Student, all the costs associated with managing that student can be analyzed and reviewed for redundancy, costs, and effectiveness. This column could have an owner on campus.

There has to be an overall equation that starts with students before they arrive on campus, that includes information and counseling during the recruitment period; and then, without a drop-off in intensity, continues once the student sets foot on campus (or starts online).

The solutions that are important to students must be bundled from one access, feedback, progress entry, and continuation point. The campus student app can and must evolve to be like apps in the rest of the world. Student isolation is the condition to mitigate. 

Also, from a data collection point of view, if the student’s consumption of services is collected in one spot, these data are more reliable and holistic than “spying” on that student or inferring their activity with a variety of student success tools, without involving the student directly.

Administration: The Connection Between Students, Faculty, and Labor Outcomes

In column two, Administration, all the overhead expenses need to be evaluated for consolidation, including the production of new core technologies that consolidate in the cloud, through APIs, and gauge the connection between the Student and the Outcomes.

Higher education is top heavy, and at the same time everyone generally works hard within their programmatic areas. However, like the Student column, the Administrative column is generally managed through ERP solutions (HR, Finance, Payroll, etc.) that manage the campus budget, spending, resource allocations, and analysis. Again, this is just a modern version of old ledger-ware. It should be modernized and serve multiple masters via data and API.

For those who manage campuses, provide governance, state funding, and accreditation, a dedicated ROI category needs to be part of the institutional strategic framework.

Outcomes: It is Time for Two-Way Program and Labor Outcomes Data

In column three, Outcomes, the question of relevance and connection of the institution’s services to students, academic field, and regional economics has be accessible and accounted for. The question of relevance and where students go after graduation is slowly becoming a strategic issue, as it should be. Whether a liberal arts campus is preparing a student with a solid foundation for many careers, or preparing students for certain STEM careers—where those students end up is critical to account for the efficacy of higher education institutions.

There is one company, Emsi, that is superb at showing where alumni end up in the economy. Their economic tracking solution is largely used to guide community colleges, helping them determine their occupational programs.

Such economic modeling solutions could easily be adapted to orient campuses and their programs, directly support students and advisers, and point to outcomes that are making a difference for alumni and the economy.

Outsiders Heading Inside

At least two large external players are moving into campuses with increasing commitment and expenditures on sales and marketing. There are others as well. These outside companies have several things the incumbents do not. The operate on corporate cloud-level enterprise systems with rich APIs that manage an actual well-connected ecosystem of sub-services, that are not separate integrations.

However, the problem with huge outside firms coming in as solutions for higher education is that they are generally ignorant of the history and functions of existing campus solutions, and what they actually do well from a service perspective. These companies generally do not commit to R & D to become a next-generation solution. They are largely sales-driven to the point that there are no internal offices trying to model or understand complete campus needs, nor to develop the type of thought leadership that could help lead campuses to experiment until they are comfortable in a new world of data.

The most aggressive and directed of these companies are Salesforce and Workday. Their solutions are compelling but to scale in utility, outcomes, and ROI, a lot more will be needed.

Salesforce provides customer relations management solutions (CRM) to 150,000 corporate and government clients globally with annual revenues nearing $10 billion. This scale dwarfs anything in the education space. CRM systems initially tracked salespeople’s activity. Today, the company is the underpinning for tracking people—employees, customers, clients —across all their activities in a corporate, health, or government enterprise. When it comes to higher education, this means Salesforce wants to own the student journey from recruitment through attendance to alumni. This type of system creates an expensive, though reliable, overlay on top of multiple campus systems. However, the solution does not remove the mess of existing, incumbent technology. The company is still a distance away from understanding the nuances of education institutions as a whole or showing an inclination to learn more, though they service singular functions well.

Workday is akin to Salesforce but provides a different kind of solution. The founders of both companies came from Oracle, and in the case of Workday, the PeopleSoft solution was acquired by Oracle. Workday has now gone far beyond the roots of PeopleSoft by entering the top end of cloud computing to manage HR and finances across client organizations. At about one-fourth the size of Salesforce, Workday has a promising data-rich, API-driven replacement for the traditional SIS, to which it can link its world-class financial and HR solutions.

The Bottom Line

Notwithstanding the distance these and other solutions outside the campus technology bubble have to go, their value propositions are appealing and many campuses are looking for outside strategic cloud services to work alongside their incumbent and aging solutions. However, without strategic foresight and experimentation there is no guarantee that such systems will change the retention, dropout, relevance, and cost issues.

Simply making choices in technologies, new or old, will not fix the problems confronting higher education institutions—larger strategic dialogues are needed. Flying cars might not be here yet, but vehicle technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Higher education needs to catch up and evolve in order to provide the service that is expected by learners, faculty, and employers.

About the author:

Gordon Freedman is President of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation (, a California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to transforming 20th century education into 21st century learning and workforce development. Freedman founded NLET to create an organization that looks three to five years into the future, acting as a broad social, research and organizational platform for the alignment of education and training with the technology of the knowledge economy and youth culture. The nonprofit has received federal and foundation grants in partnerships with universities, community colleges, school districts and research institutes. Freedman also manages Knowledge Base, LLC, a consulting firm established in 1998 to provide services to institutions, publishers and education technology companies. Freedman formerly served as Vice President Global Education Strategy, Blackboard Inc, during its growth from 100 million dollar in annual revenue to an exit at 1.4 billion dollars. During his tenure, Freedman traveled to 19 countries examining learning models and policy strategies, launched the Blackboard Institute and provided thought leadership for the company globally.

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