Colleges and universities have made significant gains in deploying mobile apps over the past year according to the 2011 Campus Computing Survey, the largest continuing study of computing, eLearning, and information technology in American higher education. However, the new survey data reveal that campuses have been slow to move key operational and research functions to Cloud Computing and also document the continuing consequences of the budget cuts that have affected many institutions in recent years.
Colleges Go Mobile
Across all sectors of higher education, the 2011 survey documents big gains in the proportion of campuses that have activated mobile apps. More than half (55.3 percent) of public universities have activated mobile apps as of fall 2011 or will do so in the coming academic year, compared to a third (32.5 percent) in fall 2010; public four-year colleges also posted good gains (43.6 percent in 2011, up from 17.8 percent in fall 2010) while the numbers more than tripled among community colleges (40.9 percent this year vs. 12.4 last fall).
Private institutions also posted big increases: for private universities, the number deploying mobile apps rose to 50.0 percent from 42.2 percent in fall 2010; among private four-year colleges, the number was up by a third, from 25.2 percent in fall 2010 to 43.6 percent in 2011.
“Several factors explain these dramatic gains, “ says Kenneth C. Green founding director of The Campus Computing Project. “Colleges and universities are playing catch-up with the consumer experience. Students come to campus expecting to use mobile apps on their smartphones and tablets to navigate campus resources and use campus services. Also important is that compared to a year ago, more firms – both LMS and ERP providers – now offer mobile options for their campus clients.” Green adds that some technology providers now offer free mobile apps, which means that the options for and cost of going mobile have changed dramatically in the past year.
Slow Movement to the Cloud?
Despite much discussion in both the campus and corporate sectors about the operational and financial benefits of Cloud Computing, the 2011 survey data reveal that colleges and universities have been slow to move mission-critical operations to the Cloud. Just 4.4 percent of the survey participants report that their campus has moved or is converting to Cloud Computing for ERP (administrative system) services (range: from 1.3 among public universities to 7.1 percent for private universities). Similarly, just 6.5 percent have moved to Cloud Computing for storage, archiving, or business continuity services. And although Cloud Computing should offer significant benefits for research and high performance computing (HPC) activities, just 2.4 percent of public universities and 6.6 percent of private universities report migrating these activities to Cloud Computing.
Other Cloud services post slightly higher numbers. For example, more than fourth (27.8 percent) of the survey participants report that they have moved or are migrating their LMS application to Cloud Computing, and a tenth (10.9 percent) indicate that their institution is using Cloud-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) services.
“The major ERP providers have been slow to offer Cloud Services to their campus clients,” says Green Although the cost savings may seem compelling, “trust really is the coin of the realm: many campus IT officers are not ready to migrate mission-critical data, resources, and services to the Cloud Services offered by their IT providers.”
Mixed Data on Budget Cuts
New data from institutions participating in the annual survey reveal that a third (35.8 percent) of colleges and universities experienced a budget cut in central IT services for the current academic year, down from 41.6 percent last year and half (50.0 percent) in fall 2009.
The proportion of public institutions reporting budget cuts fell slightly in fall 2011, although the number that experienced budget cuts still remains significant. For example, just over half (54.7 percent) of public universities report budget cuts for central IT services for fall 2011, compared to three-fifths (59.8 percent) for fall 2010 and two-thirds (67.1 percent) in fall 2009. Among public four-year colleges, budget cuts declined slightly to 43.6 percent in 2011, compared to 45.8 percent a year ago and 56.9 percent in fall 2009. Two-fifths (39.0 percent) of community colleges experienced cuts in their budget for central IT services for the current academic year, compared to 46.2 percent in 2010 and 37.0 percent in fall 2009.
Private/non-profit institutions generally fared better than their public counterparts: one-fourth (24.9 percent) of private universities report IT budget cuts for fall 2011, about the same as a year ago (24.4 percent) but still well below the 56.9 percent posted in 2009. Among private four-year colleges, the percentage reporting budget cuts fell to 24.7 percent this fall, compared to 31.9 percent in 2010 and 41.9 percent in 2009.
“As was the case last fall, the new survey data provide a only modicum of good news about IT budgets: yes, fewer institutions experienced budget reductions this year than last,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project. “But the budget cuts continue for many institutions and the proportion of public campuses experiencing IT budget reductions remains high. The consequences are particularly daunting for community colleges where enrollments are exploding while the financial resources for IT services to support online and on-campus courses are eroding.”
Continuing Shifts in the LMS Market
The 2011 survey data also document an increasingly competitive campus market for Learning Management Systems (LMS). The proportion of survey participants reporting that their institution uses various versions of Blackboard (including Angel and WebCT) as the campus-standard LMS fell to 50.6 percent in 2011, compared to 57.1 percent last year and down from 71.0 percent in fall 2006. Concurrently, Blackboard’s major LMS competitors – Desire2Learn, Moodle, and Sakai - have all gained share during this period. Additionally, several new LMS providers, including Epsilen, Instructure, and Loudcloud, among others, are generating significant interest and beginning to sign some interesting campus clients.
“The campus LMS market remains 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 plans to retire legacy LMS products have been a catalyst for many institutions to review the campus LMS strategy and to evaluate other LMS applications.”
eBooks and Digital Content
Senior campus IT officers remain bullish on the future of eBooks. Nine-tenths (90.1 percent) of the survey participants agree or strongly agree that “eBook content will be an important source for instructional resources in five years,” up from 86.5 percent in 2010 and 76.3 percent in 2009. Additionally, more than four-fifths (81.7 percent, compared to 78.6 percent in 2010 and 66.0 percent in 2009) agree/strongly agree that “eBook readers (hardware) will be important platforms for instructional content in five years.”
“The platform options, market opportunities, and enabling technologies for eBooks continue to improve,” says Green. But he notes that for most students, eBooks and eTextbooks do not yet offer a competitive alternative to used textbooks. He cites a recent survey by Student Monitor in which a fifth of undergraduates opted for a used book priced the same as a new textbook, a rented textbook, or digital textbook, suggesting that many students see real added-value in a textbook that other students have already highlighted and annotated.
About the Campus Computing Survey
The 2011 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 496 two- and four-year public and private/non-profit colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the online questionnaire from September 16 through October 13th.