EDUCAUSE has released their list of the top-10 academic IT priorities for 2022. These annual lists always offer intriguing insights into the goals and challenges faced by IT staff in higher education within the US.
The 2022 list looks a lot different than previous lists EDUCAUSE has published. These differences shed light on how COVID-19 has fundamentally and permanently transformed the education industry, what lessons school IT teams have learned, and how they’re planning for the post-pandemic era.
Let’s look at EDUCAUSE’s list for 2022, what sets it apart from previous years, and what it can tell us about the state and future of higher-ed IT in the US.
What Has Changed?
The clearest takeaway from EDUCAUSE’s 2022 list is that academic IT priorities have changed considerably. This may seem obvious – these lists wouldn’t be necessary if IT priorities weren’t in constant flux. However, since the start of the pandemic, these priorities have transformed more than over the entire preceding decade.
Consider the chart below, which summarizes the results of EDUCAUSE’s academic IT priority lists from 2011-2020. As you can see, there was a degree of consistency to these priorities. Their importance fluctuated relative to each other, and occasionally a new one would enter the ranks. However, with few exceptions, it was some combination of the same general priorities in contention year after year.
Compare that to the lists EDUCAUSE has published since the pandemic began.
Their 2021 list (published in 2020) wasn’t even an actual top-10 list. Instead, to reflect the uncertainty of the time, EDUCAUSE published three top-five lists based on three possible paths through the pandemic – Restoration (attempting to get back to the old normal), Evolution (adapting and optimizing existing processes), and Transformation (using the disruption as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how things are done).
Still, there were some common priorities from the past ten years present on the 2021 lists (e.g. student success and funding/cost concerns). However, no such overlap exists in EDUCAUSE’s 2022 list. Gone are long-time staples such as student success, data management, and privacy. In their place are ten priorities unique to 2022.
What Does it Mean?
The differences between EDUCAUSE’s 2022 list and previous lists speak to how drastically COVID-19 has impacted the academic IT landscape. Over just two years, what was once a relatively consistent list of priorities has been completely rethought and transformed.
The 2022 list includes multiple priorities aimed at learning from COVID-19 and preparing for future crises. This is an extremely positive sign. School IT teams have no intention of forgetting the pandemic’s lessons, lapsing back into old practices, or growing complacent after the crisis passes. This should leave the education industry more resilient against future disruptions.
The list is also peppered with the word “digital” and includes transitioning to the cloud as a priority. This reflects the pandemic-driven need to enable remote education and off-campus access to resources. It also suggests an understanding that these digital transformations will – and should – endure even after the pandemic. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fifth priority on the list – “The Digital vs. Brick-and-Mortar Balancing Game.”
Prioritizing digital transformation and the shift to the cloud will bring benefits beyond enabling off-campus learning. Making more resources available digitally can also decrease schools’ reliance on campus labs, help control costs, and create a more convenient student experience. It’s an example of the pandemic incentivizing positive change that schools would have been wise to adopt anyway.