Higher Education: It’s Time to Digitize

How forward-thinking institutions will prepare for the future of education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Chris Byers


The American online learning market will grow by a CAGR of nearly 20% and more than $33 billion from 2021 to 2026, according to a Technavio study. That growth makes sense given today’s (and tomorrow’s) Generation Z student population. These students are technology natives, many growing up with tech in their hands. They increasingly want digital and hybrid experiences and expect everything they consume—higher education courses and administration included—to have efficient, digitized processes. 

‘These students are technology natives, many growing up with tech in their hands. They increasingly want digital and hybrid experiences and expect everything they consume—higher education courses and administration included—to have efficient, digitized processes.’

In a growing digital economy, institutions themselves will need digitization, too. Digitization will enable organizational growth by minimizing repetitive tasks and inefficient processes and reducing costly human error. 

But is the industry ready to cater to tech-savvy students and enable growth by embracing modern practices? Not according to new research from Formstack’s State of Digital Maturity report. In fact, only 2% of education institutions are considered ‘optimized’ organizations, those that have streamlined all internal and external processes reaching the highest levels of digital maturity. 

If higher education institutions want to engage with modern learners and capitalize on the growing online learning market—or even be relevant in 2026—they must digitize.

Here’s how forward-thinking institutions will prepare for the future of education:

Institutions will foster innovative cultures

While educational institutions are often on the cutting-edge of research, they too often fall behind in operational change and innovation. But institutions that are buried in paper processes and inefficiencies will quickly lose their competitive edge. 

On the other hand, the most forward-thinking institutions will learn to embrace change and adapt to market opportunities, welcoming out-of-the-box ideas that encourage transformation and a new level of operational efficiency. They will encourage staff to experiment with new digital tools and adopt a mindset of continuous improvement that will set them up for future success.

Paper will be a thing of the past

Unnecessary paper forms and wet signatures frustrate students, faculty, and staff and slow institutional progress.

Next year, innovative institutions will replace paper-based methods with digital workflows that improve:

  • Efficiency: digital forms, documents, and signatures will enable faster and more user-friendly processes.
  • Security: digitization will make documents both accessible and secure.
  • User experience: minimizing paper documentation will provide users with on-demand service and seamless experiences.
  • Data accuracy: removing manual data entry will reduce repetitive work and decrease human errors.

Student and employee experience will be paramount

If high education institutions want to gain an advantage over their digitally immature competition, they will spend the next year adapting to internal and external demands for digitalization.  

The first step will be to understand that manual processes negatively impact the customer experience. Of course, frustrations will change as institutions digitally mature. So, higher education leaders will use data to frequently evaluate and continually improve the digital customer experience. 

Automation will decrease repetitive tasks and churn

As some higher education organizations digitally mature to improve the user experience, they will put particular focus on automation. Automating workflows can remove everyday inefficiencies and relieve users—specifically employees—of mindless, unfulfilling busy work. 

Institutions working to retain employees with streamlined processes must identify the pain points dragging down the employee experience. Once this data is collected, leaders will better understand the employee experience and can select the appropriate digital tools that automate otherwise unpleasant processes.

Tech barriers will disappear

Digitally optimized higher education organizations will be prepared to capitalize on business opportunities. 

Organizations positioning themselves for agility will audit their tech stacks. They will identify which digital tools eat away at the IT department’s time, divest in less valuable tools and invest in the solutions that help the institution adapt and scale. Successfully digitizing institutions will welcome new tools and expand tech stacks by making the tech purchase process easy.

No-code tools will empower employee autonomy

As forward-thinking institutions proactively add to their tech stacks, they will prioritize no-code solutions and tools that address multiple issues. No-code tools will allow employees without tech expertise to customize their own workflows, bypassing often stretched-thin IT teams and avoiding bottlenecks and delays. In the meantime, technology solving various issues at once will provide more strategic, integrated solutions than siloed, one-off investments. 

If higher education institutions want to engage the best and brightest students and employees today and in the future, they must spend 2023 accelerating their digital initiatives. After all, transformational cultures, digitized and automated processes, superior experiences, and cutting-edge, no-code technology are quickly becoming table stakes. 

Chris Byers is CEO of Formstack, a secure workplace productivity platform, where he has helped scale the company to more than 25,000 customers and 320 employees worldwide. Previously, he led investor relations and financing for a regional healthcare firm, where he raised more than $100M annually to fund operations, construction, and the purchase of medical equipment. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


    Leave a Comment

    %d bloggers like this: