Higher Education’s 2020 Trend Watch and Top 10 Strategic Technologies

Implications: Knitting Together the Top 10 IT Issues, Strategic Technologies, and Trends

The list of the top trends and top strategic technologies can inform—but should not substitute for—a strategic plan or roadmap. IT leaders and professionals should always ensure that institutional strategy drives IT strategy and that IT strategy and architecture drive technology decisions.

To help readers act on these findings, we mapped the top 10 strategic technologies and both the trends that are most influential and those that are taking hold to the Top 10 IT Issues. Table 1 summarizes the four major themes of the Top 10 IT Issues—simplify, sustain, innovate, and drive to digital transformation (Dx)—and the individual IT issues, trends, and strategic technologies that most pertain to those themes. Consider conversations and planning sessions for each of the three themes, and explore the extent to which overall major trends and emerging technologies are playing out at your institution. Numbers in parentheses are the rankings for strategic technologies in last year's top 10.

Table 1. Matrix of issues, trends, and technologies

Top 10 IT Issues Theme IT Issues Trends Strategic Technologies
Higher education can no longer operate in growth mode. Institutions must do more with less by simplifying practices and working across the entire institution. At the same time, they need to rearchitect digital resources so data can inform decisions, supply the fuel for artificial intelligence to help predict and manage, and make possible new sources of value.
  1. Digital Integrations: Ensuring system interoperability, scalability, and extensibility, as well as data integrity, security, standards, and governance, across multiple applications and platforms
  2. Administrative Simplification: Applying user-centered design, process improvement, and system reengineering to reduce redundant or unnecessary efforts and improve end-user experiences
  • Simplifying administrative services and technologies
  • Shared services
  • Changing enterprise system architectures, integrations, and workflows
  • Institution-wide data management and integrations
  1. Uses of APIs (1)
  2. Institutional support for accessibility technologies (6)
  3. Blended data center (on premises and cloud based) (3)
  4. Mobile apps for enterprise applications
The IT organization can help the institution develop a sustainable approach to technology investments and also use technology to reduce or contain costs. That requires aligning IT investments with institutional priorities and developing a sustainable approach to funding the ongoing investments in technology that everyone knows are needed. As the value of data increases, information security risks and privacy concerns multiply. A sustainable strategy to secure data and protect privacy is essential.
  1. Information Security Strategy: Developing a risk-based security strategy that effectively detects, responds to, and prevents security threats and challenges
  2. Privacy: Safeguarding institutional constituents' privacy rights and maintaining accountability for protecting all types of restricted data
  3. Sustainable Funding: Developing funding models that can maintain quality and accommodate both new needs and the growing use of IT services in an era of increasing budget constraints
  4. Higher Education Affordability: Aligning IT organizations‚ priorities, and resources with institutional priorities and resources to achieve a sustainable future
  • Growing complexity of security threats
  • Privacy
  • Enterprise risk management
  • Financial uncertainty for the institution
  • Compliance environment
  • Campus safety
  1. Open educational resources (5)
  2. Security analytics
Institutions know they need to innovate to achieve a competitive advantage in today's complex marketplace. Simplify is about doing things differently, and innovate is about doing different things. Innovation today is centered on students.
  1. Student-Centric Higher Education: Creating a student-services ecosystem to support the entire student life cycle, from prospecting to enrollment, learning, job placement, alumni engagement, and continuing education
  2. Student Retention and Completion: Developing the capabilities and systems to incorporate artificial intelligence into student services to provide personalized, timely support
  3. Improved Enrollment: Using technology, data, and analytics to develop an inclusive and financially sustainable enrollment strategy to serve more and new learners by personalizing recruitment, enrollment, and learning experiences
  • Student success focus/imperatives
  • Data-informed decision-making
  • Declining enrollments
  • Changing demographics' influence on enrollments
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  • IT accessibility
  • Online and blended degree or certificate programs
  • Blending of roles and blurring of boundaries between IT and academic/administrative/research areas
  1. Incorporation of mobile devices in teaching and learning (4)
  2. Technologies for improving analysis of student data (7)
  3. Integrated student success planning and advising systems (10)
  4. Predictive analytics for student success (institutional level) (9)
Drive to Dx
The role of the CIO has never mattered as much. CIOs can help their institutions develop and attain digital transformation objectives if the institution is ready to involve them at the most strategic levels.
  1. The Integrative CIO: Repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner of institutional leadership in supporting institutional missions
  • Higher education's reputation and relevance
  • Institutional innovation strategy
  • IT as an agent of institutional transformation and innovation
  • Digital transformation


Where are your—or your colleagues' or staff's—learning gaps among these technologies and trends? Some gaps matter more than others. Lean on EDUCAUSE resources, communities, and events to come up to speed and help educate those around you.


Planning is the foundation for good execution. Be sure you have in place such basics as a roadmap, enterprise architecture, and IT governance. Some technologies in this report may be highly relevant but may require other, more foundational technologies. Pace and sequence your investments carefully to avoid costly mistakes.

Don't forget the broader environment in which you operate. Be aware of trends and consciously incorporate the most important into your IT strategy.

Use the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service to compare your progress with that of peer institutions and to find peers to learn from and possibly collaborate with. Get advice via EDUCAUSE Constituent Groups and at events.


Implement your IT strategy, paying careful attention each year to changing trends, technologies, and IT issues that may require adjustments or revisions to the strategy. As you meet your major milestones, communicate your successes to institutional leadership and to your staff. Celebrate your successes and learn from setbacks to continue forward momentum.

As your strategy matures, champion a new EDUCAUSE working group to work with peers to plan and design best practices and implementation guidelines.


Share what you know broadly across your institution. Help your staff come up to speed and gain perspective beyond their individual functions. Advance your influence by helping institutional leaders develop a realistic and hopeful vision for technology that will support institutional strategy and help achieve institutional ambitions.

If you are among the leading institutions in one or more areas, share your expertise and experience to help advance the entire field. Write articles or blogs for EDUCAUSE, respond to calls for proposals, teach at an EDUCAUSE institute, or simply indicate your general interest in contributing to the profession by completing the EDUCAUSE volunteer form.