The Intersection of Technology & Data in Higher Education: Transforming the Role of Chief Data Officers


The rapid advancements in technology, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), are catalyzing significant changes in higher education. This evolution is profoundly influencing the role of Chief Data Officers (CDOs) like myself, who are now at the forefront of integrating these technologies into institutional strategies. This post will explore a bit of how AI and ML are reshaping higher education and the pivotal role CDOs play in this transformation.

Expanded Role of CDOs in the Era of AI and ML

  1. Integrating Emerging Technologies: CDOs and CIOs are increasingly tasked with integrating cutting-edge technologies like AI and ML into the university’s data infrastructure, ensuring these tools are effectively utilized across various departments. One of the first steps in integrating AI and ML is to assess the current data infrastructure’s capability to support these technologies. CDOs must evaluate whether existing hardware and software can handle the increased computational load and whether the data is in a format that AI and ML algorithms can use effectively. With the introduction of AI and ML technologies, data governance becomes more complex. CDOs must ensure that data management practices are in place to maintain quality, security, and privacy. This includes establishing clear policies for data access and use, which is where we are now. The CDO plays a crucial role in fostering a culture of innovation within the university, which means encouraging experimentation with AI and ML and sharing success stories.  One such success story involves using AI to help with an SQL query I was stuck on a few weeks ago.  I spent 2+ hours on the query and it just wasn’t there.  I put what I had in an AI tool, added what I was trying to do, and sure enough, I had it.  I was floored.
  2. Advanced Data Analytics for Institutional Research: With AI and ML, CDOs can delve into more complex data analysis, providing deeper insights for institutional research, which can influence policy-making and strategic directions. AI and ML algorithms can process and interpret complex datasets much faster than traditional methods. This enables an institution to draw insights from data that includes not only structured information but also unstructured data. Using historical data, CDOs can employ ML models to predict future trends such as student enrollment, retention rates, and potential faculty recruitment needs. These predictions help in making informed decisions about resource allocation and strategic planning.  This is what I have started to build over the last 6-8 weeks. Implementing advanced data analytics requires significant investment in technology and talent, which can be a challenge for some institutions, thus why it’s a slow process for me right now as we are in the middle of a save-to-serve campaign and we are doing what we can with what we have at the present.

Transformative Impacts of AI and ML

AI and ML are drastically reshaping various aspects of higher education, including academic advising, recruitment, resource allocation, and research.

  1. Revolutionizing Academic Advising and Recruitment: AI systems can process vast amounts of student data—including grades, course preferences, engagement levels, and feedback—to provide personalized academic advice. Such systems can suggest courses, majors, and career paths that align with a student’s performance and expressed interests, but one should be careful of bias and privacy. By recognizing patterns that typically lead to academic struggles, AI can help advisors intervene early with at-risk students. It can alert advisors to students who may need additional support, enabling targeted assistance to improve outcomes. AI can also analyze historical data and current market trends to predict enrollment patterns and applicant behavior. This allows institutions to tailor their recruitment strategies to appeal to the right candidates and allocate resources to the most effective recruitment channels.
  2. Optimizing Resource Allocation: By analyzing financial and operational data, AI can assist CDOs, CFOs and other leaders in optimizing resource allocation, ensuring that university resources are utilized effectively. AI can analyze years of financial data to identify spending patterns and suggest areas where efficiencies can be improved. It can forecast future financial scenarios under different conditions, helping CDOs plan budgets that reflect the institution’s strategic priorities. By monitoring operational data, AI can help pinpoint inefficiencies in the university’s day-to-day operations, from facility management to energy use, and recommend changes to optimize the use of resources.
  3. Enhancing Research Capabilities: AI and ML can significantly augment research capabilities, from analyzing complex datasets in scientific research to exploring historical trends in humanities. I and ML excel at analyzing large and complex datasets that would be unmanageable for humans alone. In scientific research, this can mean faster identification of patterns and correlations that could lead to breakthroughs in various fields. AI can automate routine research tasks such as data collection, sorting, and preliminary analysis, freeing up researchers to focus on the more creative and interpretive aspects of their work.

Addressing Challenges and Ethical Concerns

  1. Building a Data-Driven Culture: CDOs face the challenge of fostering a data-driven culture within their institutions, which involves training staff and faculty to understand and use data effectively.  Another huge challenge to everything I have mentioned herein is the infrastructure and budget.
  2. Ensuring Data Literacy: As data becomes central to university operations, ensuring a high level of data literacy among all stakeholders becomes essential.  Yes, I have said this before, but it cannot be said enough.
  3. Governance and Compliance: With increasing data, ensuring governance and compliance with regulations like GDPR and FERPA is critical.

Looking Towards the Future

  1. Embracing Cloud Technologies: The shift towards cloud computing is here, and CDOs along with CIOs will play a crucial role in overseeing this transition, ensuring data security and scalability.
  2. Predictive Analytics in Decision-Making: The future will see predictive analytics becoming a standard tool in decision-making processes, with CDOs guiding these initiatives.
  3. Building Ethical AI Frameworks: Developing frameworks to ensure the ethical use of AI in higher education will also be key to their success.


The integration of AI and ML in higher education is not just a trend but has already become part of a huge transformative shift that is redefining the role of Chief Data Officers. As technology continues to evolve, CDOs are increasingly becoming strategic leaders, guiding their institutions through this new era. Their role in harnessing the power of data and technology is pivotal in shaping the future of higher education and making institutions more efficient, informed, and innovative.

To the future with AI and data!

Brian M. Morgan
Chief Data Officer, Marshall University

Recent Releases