College IT officials: Show us the money … please

Funding topped the list of IT officials' concerns as college budgets stagnate.
Funding topped the list of IT officials' concerns as college budgets stagnate.

Technology funding in higher education will remain flat or decrease for the “foreseeable future,” according to an annual education technology report released June 10, as campus IT officials said funding was their top concern over the past year.

The survey of 424 campus technology decision makers shows that administrative systems, computer security, teaching and learning with technology, identity and access management, and disaster recovery also were among the top 10 most pressing issues.

EDUCAUSE, a higher-education technology advocacy group, conducted the survey, which was sent to nearly 2,000 college IT officials. The survey had a 22-percent response rate, according to EDUCAUSE.

IT leaders at research universities and community colleges alike have bemoaned the dwindling technology funds available during the economic downturn that started almost two years ago. Much of the discussion at EduComm, an education technology conference held June 7-9 in Las Vegas, centered on how campuses can stretch shrinking IT dollars with innovative technologies.

The EDUCAUSE report said that stagnating IT budgets might present an ideal “time to turn this issue completely on its head.”

“That is, rather than bemoaning insufficient funding for present and planned IT services and initiatives and trying to find the best ways to seek increased funds, perhaps the time has come for IT leaders to accept the level of funding for technology as a given and begin to work with others on campus to determine what services can be offered within the allocated budget,” the report said. “Rather than seeing the perceived (or real) lack of funding as a problem, perhaps IT leaders can see it as an opportunity to engage with other campus leaders in a meaningful discussion about priorities.”

Survey respondents ranked administrative and information systems second on their list of top concerns, although few respondents ranked this topic among those with the “potential to become more significant,” meaning technology chiefs are largely comfortable with their schools’ administrative computing.

“In other words, these systems are clearly of strategic importance to CIOs, consume much of their time, and are one of the largest expenditures in the IT budget, but they are generally viewed as stable operations…” the report said.

The increasingly sophisticated scam eMail campaigns flooding college faculty and students’ in-boxes is one reason security has remained near the top of IT department concerns, according to EDUCAUSE.

“Higher-education communities that once faced mass mailings about lottery winnings are now dealing with harder-to-recognize, more targeted scams, such as fake requests for funds using the name of a known faculty member and describing a seemingly believable issue with overseas travel,” the report said.

Security breaches can be costly: A report recently released by the Ponemon Institute, a Michigan-based independent research firm focusing on data protection, said that data-breach incidents “cost U.S. companies $204 per compromised customer record in 2009.”

Campus IT departments’ ability to adapt to new technologies made the list of top-10 concerns, ranking seventh overall.

Students’ growing use of internet-ready phones such as the iPhone or BlackBerry, and the acceptance of cloud computing-based services such as Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Live@edu—a trend largely borne from colleges’ declining technology funds, and the desire to outsource the management and upkeep of large systems—are two developments IT officials hope their institutions can adapt to.

New technologies taking root among students and faculty members “not only impact traditional IT support models but also challenge deeply rooted institutional policies, business processes, and operational practices,” according to the report.

IT decision makers have reason to worry about higher education’s ability to adapt to changing technology. Fewer than half of students who responded to a national survey from 2009 said their professors are using instructional technology.

The study also revealed a jump in the percentage of students who use technology to prepare for college classes. Eighty-one percent said they used computers, social networking, and other tools to study, marking an 18-point increase from 2008, according to CDW-G’s “21st Century Campus Report,” which was released last fall.

Forty-five percent of students said technology was “fully integrated into their curriculum,” a 9-percent decrease from last year.

Only three out of 10 students and two of 10 faculty members surveyed said colleges and universities were “preparing students to successfully use technology when they enter the workforce.”

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