College CIOs could retire en mass over the next decade.

College CIO academy: Translate the ‘techno babble’

College CIOs could retire en mass over the next decade, creating a huge challenge for educational technology leadership.

The sometimes indefinable role of a college’s chief information officer has become clearer for six campus technology staffers after a week of eight-hour days learning, among other lessons, how to communicate with higher-ups and manage dwindling IT budgets.

The college staff-turned-students attended Excelsior College’s first Center for Technology Leadership (CTL) program at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., where educational technology experts led classes on topics ranging from how to lead a campus technology department to understanding local, state, and federal rules and regulations.

This month’s program had nine attendees. Tuition for the week-long program was $2,500, and students stayed in the National Labor College’s dormitories.

A CIO academy designed specifically for higher education could be timely for campuses that might struggle to find a qualified IT director over the next decade.

Nationwide research conducted by Wayne Brown, vice president of IT at Excelsior, an online school, and executive director of CTL, shows that nearly half of college CIOs plan to retire in the next 10 years, and many campus technology staff who want that top role aren’t sure how to get there.

“For aspiring CIOs, we want to offer them a realistic look at the job and see, first of all, whether they want to do it or not,” said Brown, whose research showed the majority of people filling IT director spots in higher education are more than 51 years old. “If their answer is yes, then we want to help them build a network of like-minded people they can reach out to.”

The educational technology leadership program includes an entire day dedicated to communication, teaching aspiring college CIOs to “translate the techno babble” for presidents, provosts, and chief financial officers who control the campus purse strings.

A lack of communication, Brown said, “is the one thing that can really drive us into a ditch,” creating tension between the IT department and the rest of the university.

CTL student Kurt Ashley, systems and networking director at Albion College in Michigan, said the educational technology leadership program has clarified, among other points, what decision-making power a college IT director should have.