Why Higher Education Needs Identity for Efficiency and Shared Services

Higher education is facing major obstacles, putting pressure on institutions, of all sizes, to adapt. Shifting job markets, lifestyle trends, and student expectations have made flexible education options a necessity. While persistent threat actors continue to target valuable data, intellectual property, and regulated research. Simultaneously, institutions are expected to provide equitable educational opportunities and ensure limited funding is put to best use.

To meet these and other challenges, world-class institutions have implemented the concept of centralized, shared IT services across faculty, staff, and students. Done right, shared IT services can enhance user experience, improve student outcomes, and leverage economies of scale to reduce costs. Historically, establishing shared services has proven challenging for geographically distributed institutions with complex, often disparate legacy IT. But with modern identity management, it doesn’t have to be. 

Read on to learn how two higher education institutions have partnered with Okta to modernize their IT infrastructure and enable centralized shared services. 

University of Nevada, Las Vegas: An education in interoperability

Founded in 1957, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) is recognized as one of the nation’s top research universities. Each year, more than 31,000 students attend UNLV, and the university employs over 3,900 faculty and staff. 

Recently, UNLV launched an identity management modernization initiative to centralize services amongst different IT units around campus and to unify identities for students, faculty, and staff. After initial efforts, UNLV maintained an extensive legacy environment, containing several on-campus servers, over 50 SAML partners, and identity features that needed heavy development to deliver and support. Additionally, the university found its InCommon federation access was limited and did not fulfill the needs of researchers and scholars, who needed to work collaboratively with their colleagues across institutions. 

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for UNLV to discover a solution. As a member of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), UNLV had access to Okta, which was already integrated with Workday and shared across the entire system.

Since faculty and staff already “lived” in Okta (via the Workday integration), the university decided to simply add student identities into the footprint, uniting the entire campus under a central identity system. By centralizing its identity infrastructure, UNLV is eliminating a number of servers and migrating its SAML partners and federations to Okta. This migration not only reduces complexity, it also increases efficiency by allowing developers to make better use of APIs and Okta integrations.

Students, faculty, and staff are also reaping the benefits. Now, each cohort can access campus services and resources through a single login. This means all users enjoy a consistent and secure digital experience, regardless of their program or department. 

Benefits also extended beyond UNLV’s immediate campuses. “With Okta, we also now have interoperability with NSHE, which means we're able to move users back and forth between the campus and the system,” says Jesse Taylor, Manager of Identity Middleware Services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

And, due to this new interoperability, there are possibilities for further innovation. “In the future, if a class is being taught at another institution, we could have an agreement with that institution to allow students to use their existing identity to instantly access that class,” says Taylor. “It is a valuable capability and a great service to students who are using all the resources available to them to meet their educational aspirations.”

“With Okta, we also now have interoperability with NSHE, which means we're able to move users back and forth between the campus and the system.”
— Jesse Taylor, Manager of Identity Middleware Services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Technical College System of Georgia: an education in scalability

Each year, the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) offers skilled work training to approximately 320,000 students across 22 colleges and 88 campuses. Initially, each college had its own Blackboard instance with modern identity and security solutions. But resources and instructional capacities were confined to individual colleges and campuses. To ensure all students, alumni, and staff had secure cross-campus access to essential courses, resources, and information, TCSG needed to consolidate its identity systems and share services across the system.

To fulfill the vision of shared services, TCSG launched its eCampus initiative which allows students from across Georgia to mix and match online courses from all TCSG colleges. It also provides access to all student services through a single portal. 

By partnering with Okta, TCSG was able to migrate the identities of all students, faculty, and staff into one central store—regardless of location or campus—then ensure secure, seamless access to the eCampus portal. “We needed a solution that could provide system-wide deployment with enterprise-level service,” says Steven Ferguson, Chief Information Officer at TCSG. “Okta and the Professional Service team met that need in record time—it was done in six months. We've never worked that fast before.”

By breaking down the silos between colleges, TCSG was able to leverage instructional capacity to increase course availability, drive enrollment, and gain administrative efficiencies. All of these benefits directly helped TCSG achieve its goal of increasing opportunities for students and improving graduate outcomes. 

Interested in learning more about TCSG? See the full customer journey here.

“We built a platform, mirroring the shared services model that is common in IT, to leverage the instructional capacity of all TCSG’s colleges to create learning opportunities for students regardless of where they live.”
— Steven Ferguson, Chief Information Officer at Technical College System of Georgia 

With the right identity and access management partner, any higher education institution or system can experience a seamless transition to a shared services model. For the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Technical College System of Georgia, that partner was Okta. 

Ready to find out how your institution could benefit from shared services? Check out our Okta for Education solution page to learn more.