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IT Issues in Education: A Decade in Review

Kumiko Saito
November 26, 2019
Featured Image - Person using laptop, with network and graphs stylized

EDUCAUSE recently released their top-ten list of IT issues in education for the year 2020. These annual lists shed light on the biggest concerns and highest priorities of IT teams in higher education.

Since 2020 marks the end of the decade, this seems like a good time to look back on past lists and analyze how academic IT priorities have evolved.  Here are three significant lessons from the past ten years of EDUCAUSE top-ten lists.

Security Reigns Supreme

One clear takeaway from the past ten EDUCAUSE lists is the critical importance of security. Information security has owned the number-one spot on these lists since 2016.

It’s no mystery why security is such a huge concern for academic IT teams. Studies have identified education as the least-prepared industry to handle cyberattacks (SecurityScorecard, 2018) and as one of the most popular targets of such attacks (Malwarebytes, 2019). There have been countless examples of the consequences of this combination. The University of Calgary had to pay $20,000 to the perpetrators of a ransomware attack in 2016.  An incident in Alabama delayed the start of classes by over ten days for an entire school board. Louisiana was forced to declare a state of emergency as a result of cyberattacks against three of its school boards. According to ZDNET, over 500 schools in the US were hit by ransomware attacks in the first nine months of 2019 alone.

Clearly, cyberattacks pose a very real threat to educational institutions. For that reason, it’s no surprise that security has been the top priority of academic IT teams for so long – and why it’s likely to remain at or near the top of the list.

Funding is in Flux

Educational institutions are notorious for needing to operate under tight budgets. IT teams are no exception to this rule. This explains why issues related to funding and affordability have been fixtures of EDUCAUSE’s top-ten lists over the past decade.

Priorities related to funding have appeared on every EDUCAUSE list since at least 2011, when “Funding IT” took the number-one spot. Its ranked importance has fluctuated over the years, but it has always made the top ten. Not even information security has been such a consistent staple of these lists.

This is an area where the exact language used in EDUCAUSE’s list is revealing. Words like “strategic” and “sustainable” are almost always used to qualify these concerns. This suggests that school IT teams are still in the process of developing or refining their respective funding models – best practices in this area have not been finalized yet. This, in turn, suggests that funding-related issues, like security-related issues, will continue to make EDUCAUSE’s annual list for the foreseeable future.

Students Matter

When one thinks about who is responsible for helping students succeed, most of them probably think of professors, teaching assistants, or financial aid departments. So those who don’t work in the field may find it surprising that student success has been one of the top IT priorities in education over the past decade.

Judging from EDUCAUSE’s annual lists, it seems that the importance of IT’s role in fostering student success was discovered abruptly. After not appearing at all in the 2011 or 2012 lists, it shot straight to second place on its first inclusion in 2013 and rose to the top spot the following year. It’s slipped to spot six in EDUCAUSE’s most recent list, but that’s after seven straight years in the top five.

IT’s ability to help students succeed is often underestimated. They can work with faculty to ensure that students have access to the best software and other tools for their fields of study. They can streamline systems to make everything from paying tuition to transferring between classes as simple for students as possible. EDUCAUSE’s lists reveal that school IT teams are increasingly seen as having an active role to play in all phases of the student experience – from encouraging enrollment, to improving academic outcomes, to retaining students all the way to graduation.

* * *

Information security, sustainable funding, and student success have been clear academic IT priorities over the last ten years. But these are just three of the more prominent trends. There are certainly more to be found in the last ten years of EDUCAUSE top-ten lists (such as the decreasing emphasis on IT workforce planning and the meteoric rise of privacy as an IT priority).

See the graph below for a sense of what other IT priorities have made these lists and how they’ve evolved over the past decade. And if you want to dive deeper, you can read the past ten EDUCAUSE lists for yourselves through the links at the bottom of the page.

IT Priorities: 2011-2019

IT Priorities from 2011 to 2019

EDUCAUSE Top-Ten Lists

2011  –  2012  –  2013  –  2014  –  2015  –  2016  –  2017  –  2018  –  2019  –  2020

Kumiko Saito
November 26, 2019

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