AWS Public Sector Blog

How colleges and universities can benefit from a cloud data strategy

Higher education faces a complex set of challenges as it emerges from the pandemic years. In the United States, a decline in enrollment that began before the pandemic has worsened, with enrollments falling 3.2% from 2020 to 2021 according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and a startling 14.1% for two-year community. In the UK, thirteen universities were at risk of bankruptcy in 2020, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In Australia, universities may have lost up to $4.8 billion in revenue by the end of that year, with international student visa holders in Australia declining by 54% according to a release by Universities Australia.

Despite these pressures, higher education institutions are striving to provide education access to a broader and more diverse population. Leaders find they must think differently about supporting students through their educational journeys, personalizing the learning experience, offering more flexibility in learning modality, and better supporting students, including attending to mental health.

This is all to say that higher education needs to adapt effectively to rapidly changing circumstances. 78% of college and university presidents now view the pandemic as a catalyst for transforming their institutions, and 34% view it as an opportunity to “reset for growth,” according to a survey by Inside Higher Ed in 2021. And 52% specifically link these changes to speed, admitting that they need a governance structure that allows for quicker decision-making. The organizations and institutions that adopt and adapt to technology integration the fastest will be the ones who build the future.

At the core of this transformation is data. Data can be used to better retain students, foster diversity, support online and hybrid learning, manage facilities more sustainably, personalize learning experiences, achieve operating efficiencies, and advance student outcomes. But institutions have often found it difficult to use data in these ways because their data has been locked away in siloed databases that were excellent for operational processing but less suited to open-ended analysis: student information systems (SIS), learning management systems (LMS), and other operational- and compliance-oriented databases.

Data-informed educational institutions put data to work to improve mission outcomes, both by using data to drive a rigorous decision process and by making the data available for stimulating innovation and improving outcomes for students. The University of Maryville, a four-year institution in the US, solved their data silo challenge by combining academic data and student information, such as student profiles, course completion, housing, and financial aid information in an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data lake and they are using it to improve student outcomes. For example, this helps them automatically identify students who haven’t activated their Maryville accounts – necessary for beginning coursework – and send them reminders.

A leading Australian university discovered that 16% of the student population was at risk of dropping out, and designed intervention programs expected to improve student satisfaction by 14% and avoid revenue losses of up to $189 million. Alef Education, an education technology (EdTech) provider in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), collects 100 million data points each day through its learning platform to create a real-time dashboard on student progress and to trigger automated processes such as targeted support, automated assessments, and grading. Betha Sistemas, a Brazilian technology company, works with secretaries of education in Brazil to reduce the dropout rate. With their predictive model based on 17 variables from the students’ profiles, they were able to reduce attrition by 20% in the city of Bombinhas.

To make the most of their data in a fast-changing world, educational institutions need to bring nimbleness and flexibility to their data, the tools they use to analyze it, the questions they pose to their data, and the way they operationalize what they learn from the data. In turn, the data can help the institution become more nimble and able to face emerging challenges. Institutions need to maximize their data’s availability, subject to guardrails for privacy and confidentiality; offer faculty and staff the tools to explore data in unplanned ways and in ways that take advantage of the latest advances in analytics, such as machine learning; and be sure they have the expertise to interpret the data, both rigorously and creatively.

In my eBook, The Data-Informed Institution, I explain how educational institutions can use data to accomplish their critical objectives, and what changes they should consider to adapt and thrive in the digital world. The eBook includes examples of how other institutions have successfully used data and the cloud to support their missions and achieve student outcomes. Download The Data-Informed Institution now to learn how to build a cloud data strategy in six steps, make data accessible and meaningful for staff, steer your organization through culture and process change, and more.

Ready to learn more about using the cloud to digitally transform higher education? Visit the AWS for Higher Education hub, or reach out to the AWS Public Sector team directly.

Read more about AWS for higher education:

Subscribe to the AWS Public Sector Blog newsletter to get the latest in AWS tools, solutions, and innovations from the public sector delivered to your inbox, or contact us.

Please take a few minutes to share insights regarding your experience with the AWS Public Sector Blog in this survey, and we’ll use feedback from the survey to create more content aligned with the preferences of our readers.

Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz is an Enterprise Strategist at Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the author of The Art of Business Value and A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility. Before joining AWS he was the CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Service (part of the Department of Homeland Security), CIO of Intrax, and CEO of Auctiva. He has an MBA from Wharton, a BS in Computer Science from Yale, and an MA in Philosophy from Yale.