IT Budget Cuts Slowing;
Campus LMS Strategies in Transition
The budget cuts that have wrecked havoc on college and university IT units and resources in recent years may be abating: new data from institutions participating in the annual Campus Computing Survey reveal that two-fifths (41.6 percent) of colleges and universities reported a budget cut in central IT services for the current academic year, down from fully half (50.0 percent) in fall 2009. Private/non-profit institutions fared better than their public counterparts: the proportion of private universities reporting IT budget cuts fell by more than half, from 56.9 percent in 2009 to 24.4 percent in 2010. Among private four-year colleges, the percentage reporting budget cuts fell from 41.9 percent last year to 31.9 percent this fall.
Although the percentage of public four-year colleges and universities reporting budget cuts also declined compared to 2009, the number went up for community colleges. Almost half (46.2 percent) of the community colleges participating in the 2010 survey reported budget reductions affecting central IT services, compared to 38.0 percent in 2009. In contrast, fewer public universities suffered IT budget this year than last (59.8 percent in 2010 vs. 67.1 percent in 2009), as did fewer public four-year colleges (46.6 percent this fall compared to 62.8 percent in 2009).
“The new survey data provide a modicum of good news about money: fewer institutions experienced budget reductions this year than last,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, the largest continuing study of computing, eLearning, and information technology in American higher education. “But the on-going financial pressures confronting campus IT 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 the need to invest in the campus IT infrastructure.” Green notes that the current round of budget reductions arrived just as campus IT units were just beginning to recover from the major budget cuts that came early in the decade. “No question that these budget cuts have affected instructional resources, and IT support services for students and faculty, and efforts to invest in the campus IT infrastructure.”
The 2010 survey data highlight the continuing transition in the higher education market for Learning Management Systems (LMS). The proportion of survey participants reporting that their institution uses Blackboard as the campus-standard LMS has dropped from to 71.0 percent in 2006 to 57.1 percent in 2010. Concurrently, Blackboard’s major LMS competitors have all gained share during this period. The percentage of campuses that use Desire2Learn as the campus-standard LMS is up five-fold, from 2.0 percent in 2006 to 10.1 percent in 2010. Moodle, an Open Source LMS, also registered big gains during this period, rising from 4.2 percent in 2006 to 16.4 percent in fall 2010 The numbers for Sakai, another Open Source LMS deployed primarily in research universities, have grown from 3.0 percent in 2006 to 4.6 percent in 2010.
“The LMS market is a textbook example of a mature market with immature, or evolving, technologies, and that’s a prescription for a volatile market,” says Green. “Blackboard’s announced plans to terminate support for its legacy LMS products have been a catalyst for many institutions to review the campus LMS strategy and to evaluate other LMS applications. This is now a competitive market and Blackboard’s major competitors are Desire2Learn, Moodle, and Sakai. All three have slowly but steadily gained attention, campus credibility, and market share in the past three years.”
Linked to the campus LMS strategy, more than two-thirds (70.3 percent) of the survey participants agree/strongly agree that “mobile [LMS] apps are an important part of our campus plan to enhance instructional resources and campus services.” However, the survey data indicate that mobile apps are in the early phase of campus deployment: as of fall 2010, a little more than an eighth (13.1 percent) of campuses have activated mobile apps; another tenth (10.1 percent) report that mobile apps are scheduled to go live at their institutions this current academic year (2010-11), while a quarter (24.8 percent) report that mobile apps are currently being reviewed by their institution.
"The campus interest in and movement to mobile apps reflects trends in the consumer market,” says Green. He cites data from Student Monitor’s spring 2010 survey of full-time undergraduates in four-year colleges indicating that 98 percent of students own cell phones and almost half have smart phones: “students expect their institutions to provide the kinds of resources and services they experience and enjoy as consumers. Mobile apps provide online access to instructional resources and campus services from the buttons on your smart phone.”
Also in the realm on instructional resources and services, fully three-fifths (60.5 percent) of the survey participants agree/strongly agree that “lecture capture is an important part of our campus plan for developing and delivering instructional content.” As with mobile apps, lecture capture is in the early phase of what will likely be widespread campus deployment: as of fall 2010, just 4.4 percent of courses make use of lecture capture technologies, up from 3.1 percent in fall 2008.
The survey data reveal that student activities on social networks can pose social problems for colleges and universities. Almost a sixth (15.4 percent) of campuses participating in the 2010 survey report a past year “incident” (cyberstalking; cyberbulling, etc.) linked to student activity on social networking sites this past year, up from less than a tenth (8.6 percent in 2006). Moreover, the proportion of campuses reporting incidents linked to social networking sites jumped dramatically in some sectors this past year, rising from 15.8 percent in 2009 to 27.3 percent in public universities and up from 13.6 percent to 20.8 percent in public four-year colleges.
“These rising numbers suggest it will be difficult for college and university officials to ignore the campus consequences of student behavior on social networks,” says Green. “Although Facebook and other social networks are not supported or sponsored by colleges and universities, the activities of individual students on these sites can have consequences for other students and for their institutions. Many campuses are likely to expand their user education initiatives as part of institutional efforts to address this issue.”
Senior campus IT officers appear bullish on the future of eBooks. Well over four-fifths (86.5 percent) agree or strongly agree that “eBook content will be an important source for instructional resources in five years,” up from 76.3 percent in 2009. Additionally, more than three-fourths (78.6 percent, up from 66.0 percent in2009) agree/strongly agree that “eBook readers (hardware) will be important platforms for instructional content in five years.”
“eBooks remain a much wished for, ‘ever-arriving’ technology in academe,” says Green. “The platform options, market opportunities, and enabling technologies for eBooks continue to improve.” But Green notes that for most students, eBooks and eTextbooks do not yet offer competitive alternative to used textbooks. “eTextbook development and pricing strategies are still evolving. Publishers still develop titles primarily for print, and then port print content into electronic formats. Consequently, eBooks and eTextbooks do not - yet- provide a compelling value proposition for most college students.”
The 2010 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 523 two- and four-year public and private/non-profit colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the questionnaire September and early October 2010.