kid in puddle

Moving from College and University Siloed Systems to Shared Multi-Institutional Services


For over four decades I have been involved with initiatives to share data and digital services across learning enterprises, activities and outcomes both here in the US and around the globe. At AcademyOne, this work has seen slow and steady progress, even though at times it feels like we are chasing Don Quixote’s wind mills.

Increasing student completion rates, is not simply another “institutional centric” initiative. Given the growing population that intersects with multiple institutions, experiential learning and formal training, there is a growing cost in serving the access, transfer, assessment, comparability and articulation of learning achievements. Efforts to bridge institutional data and services through national and international associations, partnerships and cooperatives has been, to be blunt, inconsistent though increasingly needed. Most of Academy One’s business has grown from our client’s need to share institutional data resources so that prospective students and guidance could be offered as they compile their learning record and attempt to complete degree requirements across a number of institutions. Here is a specific example of that need.

Back in 2016, Tennessee approached AcademyOne to incubate their state-wide push for TNReconnect and reverse transfer. The Governor’s goal was to push for degree completion improvement state-wide elevating Tennessee to 55% by 2020. At the time, Tennessee was ranked 49th out of the US States in degree completion according to SHEEO. Instead of deferring to the institutions to go it alone and to build their own methods, they choose to team with AcademyOne to implement methods and approaches that could streamline a shared multi-institutional portal, shared repository, shared services and unifying workflows spanning institutional boundaries. AcademyOne developed a software solution to collect, aggregate and process data from 13 community colleges, 9 state universities, 5 private institutions and the State’s longitudinal database Since 2016, the partnership across technology and academic policies has awarded over 3,000 associate degrees making it one of the most successful reverse transfer initiatives in the country.

Similar to email transports like POP3, SMTP and IMAP, we have evangelized the need to support cross walking digital service protocols across independent or loosely connected institutions. We have participated in the development of data standards, services and methods with SIFA, PESC, IMS, InCommon, RS3G and most recently the Groningen Declaration. Within each, we have advocated for transaction payloads, terminology and definitions to support the interchange of learning activities and outcomes derived. It’s not the destination, but the journey getting there that is marked by events, snapshots of data and the reflection on the journey. With the growth of special interests – mostly governments - driving shared services and data models across a nation’s educational assets, the mapping of methods into one, universal form is growing more and more complex. Which means, we need to step down to the lowest common method of bridging across pockets of diverse transports, protocols, repositories and services.

In all, most of the Academy still struggles with supporting external calls for well-formed measures across and within organizations worldwide so that the benefits of higher education could be better reflected, conveyed, compared and understood everywhere. Even in the UN and UNESCO, most of the countries report the enrollment and completion statistics uploading spreadsheets that are manually compiled across their system. The Academy in general, has been more inclusive, supportive and productive as governance, funding models and public policy have moved closer together on the need to support a digital means of working across boundaries and policies. The answer is not simply defining the end-points or what a degree is worth or what a badge may mean. That concentration does little to help address the self-interests, the commerce and business processes woven into the Academy.

Other industries have created and support the data services necessary to exchange information to support their workflows and services though, often stimulated by business reasons or improved logistics. Airlines, banking, health care and automotive are filled with examples. Given the rising benefits of using data to support in decision making, services and request/response, the rise in shared data services simply follows or mirrors market driven interests and the benefits offered to its participants or members. In other words, we need to follow and establish how the technology can align with the self-interests – and broader perspective of what is in it for the institution – and how they can better serve their constituents.

Back to the future in 2019, across the education landscape, we are more disjoint now than ever before. The governance, funding models, strategies, the legacy of not-invented here syndrome and the lack of will to overcome self-interests, further burdens addressing student mobility across the Academy.  We are still in the dark ages moving most information around with paper supported flows and documents – or bridging data systems with extracts and imports – rather than digital on-demand services or document exchange that could facilitate operational improvements, lower cost and plain simply improved outcomes from having to reduce the time delay, complexity and mistakes.

As our digital era continues to evolve, we are hopeful more institutions will recognize the need to address student success beyond traditional boundaries and silos that have served standalone purposes.  AcademyOne is here to help.   Explore the potential of shared multi-institutional services as you too seek to improve student success.   It will save not just costs and effort, but allow your instittion to be more agile and in tune with the needs of today's learners as they bridge learning experiences, leverage achievement, address requirements and the success they seek.

Explore AcademyOne's higher education solutions, products and servicesContact us to discuss your ideas, challenges and opportunities.