The 2012 Campus Computing Survey

The 2012 Campus Computing Survey

A Mixed Assessment on the Effectiveness of Campus IT Investments

New data from fall 2012 Campus Computing Survey offer a mixed assessment about the effectiveness of institutional investments in information technology.  The new survey also confirms big gains in the proportion of institutions that are activating mobile apps and services for their students. Additionally, the 2012 data document the continuing decline in the number of campuses that have experienced IT budget cuts as a consequence of the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Campus IT Investments

A new question on the 2012 Campus Computing Survey reveals that senior campus IT officials offer a very mixed assessment about the effectiveness of various institutional investments in information technology.  For example, three-fifths view the institutional investment in IT for library resources and for administrative information systems to be “very effective,” while just over half(55.2 percent) cite the investment in IT for on-campus instruction as “very effective.” In contrast, less than a fourth (22.7 percent) view the IT investment in “data analysis and managerial analytics” as very effective.  Among CIOs at research institutions, only a two-fifths (41.7 percent) at public universities and a third (32.6 percent) in private universities assess current IT investments to support research and scholarship as “very effective.”

“These new data suggest that CIOs recognize the need for their institutions to extract more value from the continuing and significant dollars their campuses invest in information technology,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Survey. “Although colleges and universities are doing many things well with IT, for many campus officials the return on the institutional investment in information technology often falls short of both expectations and need.” 

The numbers on the effectiveness of campus IT investments become even more striking when compared to the data from two national surveys of college and university presidents and provosts that Green conducted for Inside Higher Ed in 2011.  Taken together, the three surveys reveal that many presidents and provosts are less sanguine about campus IT investments than their IT officers:  just 42.1 percent of presidents and 50.0 percent of chief academic officers view the IT investment to support on-campus instruction as “very effective,” compared to 55.2 percent of CIOs.  Although 61.5 percent of CIOs report the institutional investment in administrative information systems to be “very effective,” only 39.0 percent of presidents and 33.4 percent of provosts offer a similar assessment.  Interestingly, CIOs offer a lower assessment about effectiveness of IT investments to support campus analytical efforts: just 22.7 percent of CIOs view the investment in IT to support data analytics as very effective, compared to 28.6 percent of provosts and 37.7 percent of presidents.

Green says that this gap in the assessments of IT effectiveness among presidents, provosts, and CIOs could be explained in several ways: “For some campus officials these numbers reflect unfulfilled expectations, while for others it could be that both technology advocates and technology providers have frequently over-promised and under-delivered.  And in other instances it may well be that institutional IT officers have failed to communicate the effectiveness of IT investments at their campuses.”  Green adds that whatever the cause, campus IT advocates, IT officers, and technology providers "must acknowledge and attend to the issue of technology effectiveness."

More Colleges Go Mobile

Across all sectors of higher education, the 2012 survey documents another year of big gains in the proportion of colleges and universities that have activated mobile apps.   Three-fifths (60.2 percent) of the campuses participating in this year’s survey have activated mobile apps as of fall 2012 or will do so in the coming academic year, compared to two-fifths (41.5 percent) in fall 2011 and 23.1 percent in fall 2010. Across sectors, public universities lead the move to mobile: more than three-fourths (77.8 percent) report active or impending mobile apps for fall 2012, compared to 67.5 percent for private universities, and a range of 50-60 percent for public and private four-year colleges and also for community colleges.

“Several factors explain these continuing gains, “ says Green.  “Colleges and universities are clearly playing catch-up with the consumer experience.  Students come to campus with their smartphones and tablets expecting to use mobile apps to navigate campus resources and use campus services.  Also important is that compared to two years 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 also means that the costs of going mobile have changed significantly in recent years.  

Fewer Campuses Experience Budget Cuts

The 2012 data indicate that just over a fourth (27.0 percent) of the surveyed institutions experienced cuts affecting the current (A/Y 2012-13) budget for central IT resources and services, down from more than a third (35.8 percent) in fall 2011, 41.6 percent in 2010, and fully half (50.0 percent) in fall 2009.

Among public institutions, about a third of universities, four-year campuses, and community colleges reported reductions in the central budget for IT fall 2012, down dramatically from 2011, when more than 54.7 percent of public universities, 43.6 percent of public four-year colleges, and 39.0 percent of community colleges experienced central IT budget cuts.

Private/non-profit institutions continue to fare better than their public counterparts: 16.3 percent of private universities experienced central IT budget cuts this year, compared to one-fourth (24.9 percent) in fall 2011 and 56.9 percent in 2009.  Among private four-year colleges, the percentage reporting budget cuts fell to 18.3 percent, down from 24.7 percent in fall 2011 and 41.9 percent in 2009.

“The new data offer some generally good news, as fewer institutions experienced IT budget reductions this year than last,” says Green.   “But the IT budget cuts continue for many and the proportion of public campuses experiencing IT budget reductions remains high, about a third across all sectors.” Green cites the rising demand for an array of campus IT resources and services – mobile apps, high speed wireless, IT user support services, instructional design assistance for faculty teaching online, and IT security, plus the need to refresh an aging campus IT infrastructure – as major sources of pressure on campus IT budgets, and by extension, major challenges for campus IT leaders.

Small Gains in Cloud Computing

Despite the continuing discussion in both the campus and the corporate sectors about the operational and financial benefits of Cloud Computing, the 2012 survey data show only small gains in the movement of mission-critical campus operations to the Cloud.  Just 5.9 percent of the survey participants report that their campus has moved or is converting to Cloud Computing for ERP (administrative system) services, up from 4.4 percent in 2011 (range: from 10.2 percent for private universities to 2.1 percent for private four-year colleges).Similarly, just 9.8 percent have moved to Cloud Computing for storage, archiving, or business continuity services as of fall 2012, compared to 6.5 percent last year.   And although Cloud Computing should offer significant benefits for research and high performance computing (HPC) activities, just 8.3 of public universities have migrated these activities to the Cloud as of this fall, compared to 6.6 percent in 2011; among private universities, 7.0 percent report cloud-based HPC activities, compared to 1.1 percent last year. 

Other Cloud services post higher numbers.  This fall almost two-fifths of the survey participants (38.1 percent, up from 27.8 percent in 2011) report that they have moved or are migrating LMS applications to Cloud services, while a sixth (16.6 percent, up from 10.9 percent last year) indicate that their institution is using a Cloud-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) application. 

“The gains on Cloud Computing posted this year should be encouraging to both campus IT leaders and to technology providers,” says Green, although he notes that the major ERP providers only recently begin to offer Cloud-based services to their campus clients.   Even as the performance benefits and cost savings of migrating to the Cloud appear 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.”

Continuing Shifts in the LMS Market

The 2012 data also document an increasing 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 44.8 percent in fall 2012, down from 50.6 percent in 2011, 57.1 percent 2010, and 71.0 percent in fall 2006.  Concurrently, Blackboard’s major LMS competitors – Desire2Learn (11.1 percent in fall 2012), Moodle (20.1 percent), and Sakai (6.1 percent) - have all gained share during this period. Additionally, Canvas by Instructure has emerged as an aggressive new competitor: 4.6 percent of the 2012 survey participants report that their institution has selected Canvas as the campus-standard LMS application, up from zero percent just three years ago.

“The campus LMS market remains a textbook example of a mature market with immature, or evolving, technologies, and that’s a prescription for both volatility and competition,” says Green.   “Two-thirds of this year’s survey participants report that their campus is or will soon begin a review of the institutional LMS strategy, affirming the assessment that higher education can be a very volatile market for LMS providers.”

About the Campus Computing Survey

The 2012 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 542 two- and four-year public and private/non-profit colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the online questionnaire from September 20 through October 26.