IT Budgets Are Down - Again!
For the second time in the current decade, campus IT officers are struggling to deal with the rising demand for IT resources and services even as their budgets have experienced significant cuts, often followed by mid-year budget recissions. Almost half (48 percent) of the institutions participating in the 2009 Campus Computing Survey report budget cuts for the current academic year, compared to less than a third (30.6 percent) in 2008 and just 13.1 percent in 2007. Concurrently, the proportion of campuses reporting increased funding for central IT services fell from 49 percent in 2008 to 21.4 percent in 2009. Public institutions have been hardest hit by the current cuts: fully two-thirds (67.1 percent) of public universities reported budget cuts for central IT services for 2009, as did almost two-thirds (62.8 percent) of public four-year colleges. In contrast, just over a third (36.9 percent) of community colleges experienced central IT budget cuts this year. Among independent institutions, more than half (56.9 percent) of private research universities and two-fifths (41.9 percent) of private four-year colleges also reported reduced resources for central IT services for the current academic year.
“These budget cuts play havoc with efforts to respond to the rising demand for IT resources and services,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, the nation’s largest continuing study of computing, eLearning, and information technology. “College and university IT units were just beginning to recover from the budget cuts that came early in the decade. No question that the current round of IT budget reductions has consequences for infrastructure, instruction, and support services for students and faculty.”
The budget challenges confronting campus IT officers are reflected in the annual polling about the “single most important IT issue confronting my campus over the next two-three years.” In past years the polling provided a clear “leader” - an issue that might garner the votes of a clear plurality of the respondents. In the early part of the decade, survey respondents identified the instructional integration of information technology as the single most important issue confronting their institution over the next two-three years. More recently, IT security concerns emerged as the leading issue among survey respondents. However, in 2009, two issues – financing IT and the replacement/upgrade of the campus network each received about 15 percent of the votes of the survey respondents. And five other issues – supporting online/distance education, upgrading ERP systems, IT staffing, instructional integration, and user support – each polled about 10 percent of the votes.
“The absence of a clear ‘single most important issue’ in the 2009 survey suggests that institutional IT officers are fighting lots of 'digital fires' on their campuses,” says Green.
Budget cuts may also be a catalyst for reorganizing IT units. Almost two-fifths (38.8 percent) of the survey respondents report that their campus has reorganized academic computing in the past two years. Another fourth (25.2 percent) anticipate the reorganization of academic computing in the next 24 months. Moreover, fully a sixth (15.8 percent) of the survey respondents indicate that their campuses did reorganize academic computing in the pasty two years and expects to do it again in the next two years! The numbers are similar for administrative computing units: 34.4 percent have reorganized, 23.6 percent expect to reorganize, and 14.8 percent have done it once and expect to do it again.
Some campuses have found a little relief from budget cuts in the federal stimulus funds. Approximately a third of the survey respondents from public universities, public four-year colleges, and community colleges report that “federal stimulus funds will help sustain IT resources at my campus.” However, their counterparts in the private sector are less sanguine about the benefits of stimulus money: less than a fifth (18 percent) of CIOs in private universities and just 5 percent of IT officers in private four-year colleges report any benefit from stimulus funds. “While the relief is welcomed at many institutions, the short-lived federal stimulus money is not a long-term solution to the need to maintain IT budgets and to retain IT personnel,” says Green.
The survey indicates that campuses continue to invest in notification systems. A new item on the 2009 questionnaire reveals that more than four-fifths (83.6 percent) of campuses participating in the survey contract with commercial firms for campus notification services, often software and services that integrate and facilitate concurrent voice, text, and email messages to students, faculty, and staff. Yet as noted in last year’s Campus Computing Report, the effectiveness of these systems is probably limited by the fact that most campuses (73.5 percent) have an “opt-in” registration policy for the notification service, i.e., students, faculty, and staff must register for the service.
The 2009 survey data point to small gains in the number of campuses that are in compliance with the broad terms of the P2P provisions of the Higher Education Act of 2008. For example, 84.2 percent of public universities report that as of fall 2009, they “have developed plans to effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material,” up from 80.0 percent in 2008. But beyond the mandate for plans, campuses may have opted to wait for the recently announced HEA regulations on P2P ahead of developing institutional policies or committing funds in response to actual or inferred federal mandates. In this instance, just a third of private research universities (32.6 percent, up from 23.8 percent in 2008) report that “current campus plans [to stem P2P] include the use of a variety of technology-based deterrents,” as mandated by the HEA legislation. More challenging for most campuses will be the mandate from the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) to “offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property” given the demise over the past year of many of the commercial music services that were targeting the campus market and offering institutional licenses. Moreover, as noted in the 2008 Campus Computing Report, compliance with the P2P mandates cost real dollars: for 2009, public universities estimate that they will spend, on average, more than $62,000 to address P2P compliance, compared to more than $78,000 in private universities, $28,000 in public four-year colleges, and approximately $13,000 in private four-year colleges and community colleges.
Campus IT officers seem somewhat bullish on the future of eBooks, according to the 2009 survey. Fully three-fourths (76.3 percent) agree or strongly agree that “eBook content will be an important source for instructional resources in five years.” Moreover, the survey numbers are fairly consistent across all sectors from community colleges to research universities. However, the survey respondents appear slightly less confident about the role of eBook platforms: just two-thirds (66.0 percent) agree that dedicated “eBook readers will be important platforms for instructional content in five years.”
About the Campus Computing Survey
The 2009 Campus Computing Survey is based on survey data provided by senior campus IT officials, typically, the CIO, CTO, or other senior campus IT officer, representing 500 two- and four-year public and private/non-profit colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the questionnaire in October, 2009.