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April 22, 2022 | Institutional data analytics

Data-Informed Decision-Making in Higher Ed—Despite the IT Labor Shortage

It’s a paradox. The pressure to answer questions about enrollment, student success, and financial planning is at an all-time high, pushing higher ed leaders to rely more on data analytics and technology. But implementing and maintaining that technology has become more challenging as institutions face a growing IT labor shortage.

How can colleges and universities keep up with growing data analytics demands while navigating a limited workforce? In this blog, we’ll discuss the labor challenges the industry is facing and share strategies that support data-driven decision making in higher education—even when your IT department is short-staffed.

What’s Causing the IT Labor Shortage in Higher Ed?

The IT labor shortage in higher education is caused by a few factors, including general shortages for tech workers across industries as we trend toward digital modernization - a trend that was sped up by the COVID-19 global pandemic that began in 2020. During COVID, colleges and universities have realized they need to modernize—and quickly. According to a 2021 survey conducted by EDUCAUSE, 44% of IT leaders in higher education are engaged in digital transformation efforts, and another 27% are developing strategies to modernize their systems. These figures represent a marked increase since 2019, when only 13% of institutions were engaged in this work.


Unfortunately, however, higher ed isn’t the only industry feeling the pressure to transform. The trend in digital modernization has triggered a higher demand for tech workers post-Covid, and the labor shortage is causing many employees to leave college campuses in search of higher pay in corporate America—often with telework benefits as part of their salary packages. “Working in higher ed has never been the shortest path to riches,” says Michael Boehm, chief information officer at Virginia’s Averett University. “In the past, maybe the fact was that you couldn’t pay as much as the private sector, [but] you could compete more with the fact that you offered flexibility…Now, you don’t have that edge.”


The end result? With limited budgets to replace IT positions in a highly competitive job market, many campuses are now experiencing a deficit of IT professionals at a time when they need them most.

How to to Drive Data-Informed Decision Making in a Tight Labor Market

While the IT labor shortage represents yet another hurdle for colleges and universities, it doesn’t have to signal the end of data modernization efforts. Thankfully, data-informed decision-making has always been about more than technology—and now is the time to rely on other tools and capabilities to drive your analytics efforts and support your IT staff. Here’s how:

  1. Invest in analytics and storytelling expertise
    While technology provides the backbone for data warehousing, non-technical staff members can interpret the data and explain the story. You need to invest in data analytics and storytelling expertise to interpret your findings, ask the right questions, and transform your data into messaging that everyone on your campus can understand. At a time when technical staff is in limited supply, it’s worth investing in analytics and storytelling capabilities across your campus.

  2. Leverage benchmarking tools for hiring and retention
    In a tight job market, it can be hard to stay competitive. Benchmarking tools allow colleges and universities to compare their spending in critical departments like IT to peer institutions. This comparison can provide valuable insights that, in turn, help attract top candidates. For example, at Auburn University in Alabama, higher ed leaders decided to invest more in IT spending after their benchmarking data indicated this was a target area for investment.

  3. Consider contracting
    Some universities are turning to contractors or technology partners to fill the gap. At the University of California San Diego, for example, CIO Vince Kellen sees contractors as a way to access top talent. “The top tech talent, they’re not necessarily seeking permanence in work,” Kellen told CIO magazine. “We recognize that the workers coming into the industry have a different mindset about this than 10 years ago, and we’re positioning our units to take full advantage of that.” Institutions that lean into this approach should consult with their HR and legal teams to ensure that they’re following state labor laws around contracted versus staffed employees

For Future-Ready Institutions, Data Is Critical

Colleges and universities today are under unprecedented pressure to deliver on their missions and maintain financial viability—which means institutions can’t afford to take the easy or cheap route if it compromises their ability to make data-informed decisions. To manage the staffing shortages, institutions will need to get creative, likely employing some combination of the three strategies above. Finally, institutions should consider partnering with an outside vendor who has deep expertise in implementation and analysis services. As a recent Inside Higher Ed article puts it, this would “keep core competencies in-house while outsourcing other functions to vendors who can provide solutions, support and services more cost-efficiently.”  

As higher ed leaders face the IT labor shortage, it’s important to remember that analytics is about more than just technology—it’s also about telling a data-driven, mission-focused story via experts dispersed across units and departments. With these strategies in your arsenal, you can build a data-savvy culture on your campus and ready your institution for the future—while supporting the hard work of your existing IT staff.


If you’re ready to tell your institution’s story through data and need a trusted partner to support you and your current IT staff -  HelioCampus is here to help. Check out our Data Analytics offerings to learn more.

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