The Biggest Challenges in Higher Education?

Chief Technology Officer Cynthia Haynie shares her perspective.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

As Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Campus Management, Cynthia L. Haynie is responsible for creating and leading the company’s technology vision and strategy as a global provider of solutions for higher education.

Cynthia’s 25 years of software development experience encompasses leadership of global resources for product research and development, involving both new products and the migration of complex enterprise software systems.

Her early career was with Martin Marietta and IBM, where Cynthia led engineering teams to support the Department of Defense and NASA initiatives. Most recently, she served as Chief Technology Officer at SolArc, Inc., a global provider of commodity trading and risk management solutions. Prior to SolArc, she served in various executive capacities at Rome Corporation, a venture-funded start-up company, and Caminus Corporation, a public company acquired by Sungard, both of which provided trading and risk management software solutions serving the highly regulated energy sector.

Cynthia holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Texas A & M and Masters degrees in Information Systems from Denver University and Technology Management from Pepperdine University.

Campus Management is a leading provider of cloud-based SIS, CRM and ERP solutions and services that transform higher education institutions. Today, more than 1,100 institutions in over 30 countries partner with Campus Management to transform academic delivery, student success, and operational efficiency. Campus Management is the 2018 Microsoft Global Education Partner of the Year.

How has your career evolved into your current role as Chief Technology Officer, and what past highlights inform your current approach? 

Cynthia: I began my career in structured development and held multiple Vice President of Development and CTO roles before entering the higher education tech world and becoming CTO of Campus Management. Before Campus Management, I worked at the Department of Defense, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA), and various start-ups to mid-size companies, primarily complex ERP and TCRM software for the Energy market. I’ve been lucky to have great senior leadership that has helped me understand the business and it’s needs to inform the technology direction for innovation and growth.

You mention that higher education technology is your toughest challenge despite your career in aerospace and defense—could you expand on that? 

Cynthia: It’s interesting – in aerospace and defense, we were developing technology for a clear-cut audience and mission. In contrast, in higher education, we’re developing for a much broader group of higher education institutions with sub-segments including the overall institutions and their constituents of prospects, students, faculty and staff. My role at Campus Management focuses on where value can be driven by technology to enable growth opportunities for both the broader higher ed institutions group as well as these sub-segments based on their nuanced needs. This focus is then overlaid with an eye on overall technology direction, product direction, cloud momentum, AI and machine learning, etc. Think about how students interact (GenZ), vs how Faculty and Staff interact (GenX), vs how Alumni (baby boomers) interact, and as a software vendor you must continue to innovate, while understanding your audience.

Looking around, CIO/CTO is a pretty male-dominated position – your perspective on this? 

Cynthia: I’ve been doing this a long time, and while I encountered some gender bias early on (sometimes extreme), I now believe it is more about demonstrating confidence, capabilities, skills, knowledge, experience, and an ability to interact at all levels as a technologist. You might compare this dynamic to finding incredibly talented younger people in senior leadership roles. There may be an initial skepticism based on gender or age but displaying confidence and competence will likely win over most of those doubters in short order – provided you execute.

As you’re meeting with higher ed leaders including CIOs and CTOs, what are you hearing that are their biggest challenges today? 

Cynthia: Earning a seat at the President’s or Provost’s table is one of the toughest challenges that we hear about from C-suite higher ed leaders. CIOs and CTOs are typically viewed as leading a cost center effort rather than having an impact on improving enrollment or retention rates. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to translate innovations into programs that help significantly decrease higher ed costs. The key is to take the time to understand the business side of higher ed goals and then demonstrate how specific technologies can enable them. CIOs/CTOs need to turn the tables to show the value, both in innovations to decrease costs and increase throughput (admissions, retention, etc.). You need to really understand the business and the drivers to be able to contribute to both the top and bottom line. Many institutions have had to shift to running as a business, so the same principles apply.

‘You need to really understand the business and the drivers to be able to contribute to both the top and bottom line.’

Also new technology must be adopted as part of a centrally-managed IT strategy to flexibly meet the ever-changing and fast-paced business needs of institutions. Many CIOs and CTOs are shocked when they take a technology inventory and discover how many standalone and duplicate legacy systems are in their IT environment, as well as the presence of “shadow IT” with cloud systems or apps that are running in specific departments without any overall security oversight from their institution.

Congratulations on your honors in The EdTech Awards 2019 program, where Campus Management (CampusNexus Platform) was named a Cool Tool Award finalist for Best Higher Education Solution. What does this honor mean for the people working hard behind the scenes at Campus Management?

Cynthia: Thank you, our team is very proud that CampusNexus was recognized as a finalist for the Cool Tool Awards as it validates the feedback we’ve been receiving from our customers. It also confirms why the platform was designed – to offer a comprehensive approach to driving targeted success across the full student lifecycle, From recruitment and enrollment through every phase of campus engagement confirming development of in-demand skillsets that align with post-graduation careers is critical to today’s higher ed institutions.

On to a broad question: What is technology’s role in education? What makes you say that? 

Cynthia: Overall, institutions must continuously evaluate their approaches to recruiting and retaining students and evolve to remain competitive. This means gaining a thorough understanding of what is needed to attract the right types of prospective students, as well as fostering a strong student engagement environment with personalized communication and the ability to act on relevant data. They must be able to relay the value of the education and degree opportunities they are providing. Technology is integral to making this happen, as automation and data analytics put the right information into the hands of leaders, faculty and staff who drive elevated student engagement and outcomes. And as the business of higher education changes, the technology needs to be flexible enough to adapt to new business requirements, while still providing the fundamentals of mission critical systems (security, reliability, consistency, auditability, etc).

‘…as the business of higher education changes, the technology needs to be flexible enough to adapt to new business requirements, while still providing the fundamentals of mission critical systems…’

And now a very broad question: What is the state of higher education today? 

Cynthia: It’s been rapidly changing over the past several years, and seems to be starting to settle into its new cadence. During the past five to seven years the traditional student demographic (18-24, on-campus, 4-5 year degree program) has changed to become what we previously thought of as non-traditional (adult learners, non-term based, online). Now there is much more emphasis given to expanding to on-line learning, global reach, experience based education (co-ops, internships), credentialing, etc. What I don’t have a great answer for is how much of this has changed due to the availability of the enabling technologies, or how much has the shift influenced the rapid technology innovation in ed-tech?

Higher Education should be a right and not a privilege, just like basic education, and I feel that is the direction we are headed, enabled by technology to make it more available and affordable for broader access.

Higher ed is slower to adopt new technologies than many other industries—in your experience – true? What do you see as the next big thing in higher ed w/ regard to tech or emerging tech, or surrounding issues? 

Cynthia: Yes, and we see this being as much of a cost challenge as anything else. IT teams are shrinking, and CIOs are being tasked to do more with less. The next major shift, which is already in play, is that many institutions are moving toward a cloud-only tech approach. While largely seen as a positive thus far, adoption has been slower in some segments of the market.

Another real opportunity lies in augmented analytics. We partner closely with Microsoft to deliver top-quality analytics solutions, and this is fueled by AI and machine learning. The concept of the “citizen developer” or “citizen data analyst” has come out of this – meaning that AI and machine learning tools can enable anyone to analyze data without needing a computer science degree or a deep understanding of predictive analytics algorithms. With this capability, business-focused higher education professionals such as admissions officers can then slice and dice data more meaningfully, e.g., more accurately recruit students with certain attributes. They can also drill more deeply into unique data sets that may be helpful for fostering a student’s long-term success at their institution by using prescriptive analytics for planning and advising.

Your thoughts on AI and Machine Learning in education? How about blockchain? Any other thoughts on technology in education? 

Cynthia: As mentioned above, AI and machine learning provide an effective way to simplify the use of data analytics for institutions. And moving forward, it will be the only trusted way to execute analytics at scale.

Also academic credentialing via blockchain (every degree, certification, honor) should be added to the record and attached to/owned by the student, not the institution. This opens up a new global opportunity for education and training and could expand the breadth and depth as well as the quality of skills and knowledge of the workforce.

Anything else you’d like to add or emphasize that we covered or didn’t cover concerning higher ed, tech, or anything else for that matter? 

Cynthia: Just going back to the discussion around Analytics. There is increasing opportunity for us to further leverage what we have learned from the commercial world (think Amazon and Google), in terms of learning more about an individual or group of individuals, in this case a student or prospective student and how they think, how they learn, what they are influenced by, what motivates them, etc. to help us create enabling tools, techniques, and technologies for institutions so they can focus on outcomes of attracting, retaining, and success.

Student-centricity via providing what the students want, and how they want to consume it correlated with what prospective employers or the general market needs so they have the knowledge and skills to be successful in their chosen field, profession, or service.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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