Report: Campus technology budgets on the mend

Community colleges are lagging behind other institutions in higher education's economic recovery.
Community colleges are lagging behind other institutions in higher education's economic recovery.

Campus technology chiefs are still seeing their department’s budget trimmed, but in far smaller numbers than in 2009, as a nationwide survey suggests that higher education is slowly beginning to recover from the national economic downturn that has downsized IT staff and shelved programs in recent years.

About four in 10 campus technology officials reported budget cuts this fall, down from 50 percent in 2009, according to the 2010 Campus Computing Survey, published by the Campus Computing Project, an organization that examines technology’s role in colleges and universities.

The news is even better for private, nonprofit colleges and universities, where only 24 percent of campus technology officials saw their budgets slashed this year, compared with 56 percent in 2009.

Private four-year schools that reported IT budget decreases dropped from 41 percent in 2009 to 31 percent this year, according to the web-based survey, which included 523 respondents.

The positive trend didn’t extend to community colleges, however. Almost half of respondents from two-year schools said their campus technology budgets had been reduced—a marked increase from 2009, when 38 percent reported IT budget cuts.

Growing enrollment numbers complicate the persistent fiscal problems of community colleges. A survey released last spring by the League for Innovation in the Community College and the Campus Computing Project revealed that about two-thirds of respondents from community colleges saw enrollment increases of at least 10 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, said the latest report provided a “modicum of good news about money [in higher education],” while showing that IT decision makers on most campuses likely would continue to face tough times.

“The ongoing financial pressures confronting campus [technology] budgets continue to play havoc with the efforts of campus IT leaders to respond to the rising demand for IT resources and services, and the concurrent need to invest in the campus IT infrastructure,” Green said in a statement.

The 2010 Campus Computing Survey also tracked the slow but steady migration away from learning management system giant Blackboard, which remains the industry leader by a wide margin. Seven in 10 colleges said they used the Blackboard platform in 2006. That number dropped to 57 percent this year, and the survey shows Blackboard’s competitors are gaining a foothold among IT decision makers.

The number of campuses that use the Desire2Learn learning management system has jumped from 2 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2010. The open-source learning management system Sakai also has seen gains—although minor—over the past four years, according to the survey.