We can all see that higher ed is undergoing significant transformation as it continues its mission amidst significant demographic shifts, student preference swings, workforce changes – and let’s not forget, a pandemic.

But instead of focusing on the current negatives and uncertainties, there are several positive aspects that deserve recognition. COVID-19 accelerated the push for change in higher education, and many institutional leaders are taking this moment as an opportunity for meaningful improvements.

5 reasons for higher education to be grateful in 2021

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, we’d like to highlight some of the ways higher education is transforming itself to deliver learners a more flexible, relevant, accessible and affordable educational experience. See our top five reasons for why college and university staff, faculty and students can be thankful this Thanksgiving.

1. Digital transformation is accelerating

Since the start of the pandemic, 97 percent of institutions said COVID-19 caused them to engage in some level of digital transformation. Colleges and universities are now recognizing that the only way they can meet revenue, pedagogical and operational challenges is by reshaping student experiences and business processes through digital technologies. Thanks to federal COVID-relief funding provided to higher education institutions, more schools were able to invest in some of these technology improvements.

2. Education delivery models are evolving

One thing is certain as we consider the post-pandemic landscape: Online learning isn’t going anywhere. Despite the challenges and shortcomings of emergency transitions to remote learning, the majority of students enjoy the flexibility and convenience it affords and want the option to keep studying online. Moving forward, the primary model for educational delivery is likely to be hybrid learning – specifically the HyFlex model. For institutions, online learning can provide a route to new markets and students, including adult learners who have decided to (or have been forced to) change career paths quickly due to the pandemic.

3. Information technology (IT) teams are playing a key role in student and institutional success

Technology is now embedded in every facet of the student journey. It’s changing how students learn, faculty teach and institutions operate. Since COVID-19, institutions’ dependency on technology ramped up substantially. From tech support to cybersecurity, today’s IT departments are supporting a rapidly expanding list of daily operations dependent on technology, while also focusing on strategic business initiatives to transform the institution. If your school still thinks its IT department is a cost center that can be cut and trimmed to save money, we recommend you read this.

4. Institutions are becoming more resilient

The COVID-19 pandemic required a massive operational shift, and schools have had to pivot quickly to make sure that their systems and staff can function in a remote environment. One way institutions have better enabled their operations to continue off campus is by transitioning and working on a modern cloud platform. Increased cloud migrations provide essential data backup solutions in case operational systems fail, enabling institutions to increase their efficiency, avoid system downtime and prevent data loss in case of emergencies.

5. The entire student lifecycle experience is now center stage

Over the past decade, student enrollment in higher ed has been decreasing, with the last two years seeing a total decline of 4.6%. As a result, institutions are taking a more student-centric look at the entire student experience – from marketing and enrollment to academics and student support services. While this transition has been happening gradually over the last decade, COVID-19 elevated its urgency. For example, online learning was typically considered an option. Now it’s turned into a requirement to accommodate student needs and preferences. But pandemic aside, higher education is simply no longer immune from students’ high expectations and preferences for simplicity, personalization, self-service, automation and customer service – and institutions are taking steps to meet learners’ needs and demands.

Higher education reimagined

The seeds for higher education’s current transformation were planted much earlier than the onset of COVID-19 – the pandemic just increased the germination speed of these seeds to create a discernable change in the landscape. Technology is now providing more of the foundation upon which institutions conduct core operations. By adjusting business processes and student experiences around this shift, institutions will be able to compete and deliver great educational value to students in the future. We believe that this is something we can all be thankful for.

Author: Elise Povejsil

Elise Povejsil is a former marketing manager (content and communications) for Collegis Education. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Conflict Studies from DePauw University.