[Editor’s note: This post originally published on Optimal-Partners. For the full blog, click here.]
Most Higher Ed IT departments face similar challenges with budget restraints, hiring and retaining talented staff, and balancing the maintenance of existing systems with the need to implement emerging technologies. As if that weren’t enough, IT departments at state universities also run into a variety of specific problems that can further complicate how they operate. From a decline in state funding, to the needs of an evolving student base, there’s a lot that state university IT departments need to keep in mind, but there are ways to make edtech challenges easier. Let us walk you through some of those challenges so that your state university IT department can compete against Higher Ed’s most pressing issues on more equal footing.
1. The Complications of State Funding
While IT funding is an important issue at most Higher Ed institutions, cuts to state funding for higher education has caused additional problems for state universities. In 2013, 21 percent of public college and university budgets came from state funding, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. By 2014, combined state and local appropriations for higher education increased by 3% (adjusted for inflation) from a decade prior, but represented a 9% (adjusted for inflation) decline from 2007, according to a report from College Board. With this decrease in state funding, some state universities are relying on other forms of income to supplement their budgets. This only adds to the already difficult task of dealing with IT budget cuts that many universities are facing.
Solution: Although IT budgets have been a consistent issue, there are a few things that state school IT departments can do to lessen their funding woes. Educause’s Top 10 IT Issues for 2016 report suggests that the costs of continued maintenance should be factored into IT project funding models from the get-go. Adopting effective IT service management methods can help cut these costs and make more room in your budget. Ensure your department has the proper accounting systems and infrastructure to produce reports that outline your funding model and any financial outlook in ample detail. Conveying the importance of IT to institutional leaders is also key to securing more flexible budgets. Avoid overwhelming them with metrics and figures. Instead, communicate the value of IT as an essential part of the university’s ecosystem that is worth investing in.
(Next page: Edtech challenges for state universities 2-3)
2. Working Within the System
Working within a state university system comes with its own set of pros and cons that each affect IT departments equally. On one hand, state school systems provide IT professionals increased networking and knowledge transfer opportunities, as well as the chance to help one another during difficult implementations. At the same time however, working within the limitations of one’s state university system can provide additional hurdles for IT departments to jump through. Each new substantial IT implementation must be properly integrated into the affiliated universities’ IT ecosystem. Communication between state university IT departments can also be tricky, especially when those schools are on either side of the state. The larger the school system, the larger the impact those complications may have on the individual IT departments.
Solution: While collaboration between IT departments in a state university system is beneficial, it’s not always utilized to its fullest potential. To remedy this, you should create and maintain open communication channels with your affiliated IT departments: Arrange monthly meetings with the CIO’s in your system to discuss current difficulties, upcoming projects and ways to collaborate. Coordinate quarterly or biannual meetings between other IT staff across your university system. You may even want to establish an online forum for knowledge sharing and discussion across your system’s departments.
The Evolution of State School Students
Over the last few years, the “traditional” college student has begun to change. Increasingly more working parents, veterans, and returning students are pursuing Higher Education, many of them specifically attending state schools. With an influx of new students comes a variety of new needs and expectations that must be accounted for by university IT. For example, a non-traditional college student is less likely to live on campus and may have more responsibilities outside of school than their traditional counterparts. This changing user base may shift the focus of state school IT from the campus classroom to an elearning environment to attract students with children and day jobs. However, what’s more likely is a mixed approach between online and in-person learning opportunities to help accommodate the diverse student base that state schools attract, while also appealing to students just graduating high school.
Solution: An open and accessible channel of communication between your IT department and your student base is the most effective way to survey their specific needs and be able to react accordingly. Contrary to popular belief, students still prefer email as a primary form of communication with their IT departments. Social media and an IT blog are also effective ways to reach out to students. Ensure that your state university offers a variety of learning environments and educational technologies to support an increasingly diverse student base. This is key to staying competitive and keeping up with changes in student demographics.