The 2013 Campus Computing Survey

The 2013 National Survey of Computing and Information Technology

Campus IT Officers Affirm the Instructional Integration of IT as Their Top Priority, Offer Mixed Reviews on IT Effectiveness and Outsourcing for Online Education

New data from fall 2013 Campus Computing Survey reveal that CIOs and senior campus IT officers view instructional support and IT service issues as their top technology priorities over the next two-three years. The survey participants also offer a mixed view about the effectiveness of campus IT investments.  And as a group, campus IT officers are not sanguine about MOOCs or outsourcing campus efforts to expand online programs as viable instructional strategies or as effective revenue strategies for their institutions.

Campus IT Priorities

Four-fifths (79 percent) of the CIOs and senior campus IT officers who participated in the fall 2013 survey report that “assisting faculty with the instructional integration of information technology” is a very important institutional IT priority over the next two-three years.  Three-fourths (73 percent) also identify “providing adequate user support” and “leveraging IT resources to advance the student success/student completion agenda of my campus” as top priorities.

“Viewed in aggregate, five of the seven issues identified by 60 percent or more of the survey participants as ‘very important’ IT priorities focus on technology based services, rather than pure technology issues,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project. “The instructional integration of IT, user support, mobile computing, online education, and leveraging IT for student success are all service issues that support larger institutional goals and priorities.”  Green notes that across sectors, the ranking of IT priorities are also fairly consistent. “Although the numbers may vary by sector, there is a clear message in the new survey data that the top campus IT issues are really about enhancing and expanding IT services.”

Assessing the Effectiveness of Campus IT Investments

The focus on IT services becomes even more interesting when viewed in the context of how campus IT officers assess the effectiveness of campus investments in information technology.  Two-thirds (67 percent) view the campus IT investment to support library resources and services as “very effective,” followed by administrative information systems (64 percent), on-campus teaching and instruction (62 percent), student services (54 percent), and academic support services (51 percent).  In contrast, just a fourth (25 percent) cite the IT investment to support analytics as very effective, followed by alumni activities (27 percent), development efforts (31 percent), and online courses (42 percent). The numbers regarding the effectiveness of IT investments to support research and scholarship understandably vary by sector, highest in universities (almost 50 percent) and lowest in private four-year colleges (30 percent).

“These data suggest that CIOs and senior campus IT officers assess the effectiveness of IT investments at their institutions as ‘okay to good,’ but not great,” says Green. He acknowledges that across almost all campuses there have long been great expectations for the role of technology in instruction and campus management, and that both technology providers as well as campus technology advocates and evangelists may have contributed to unrealistic expectations about how quickly an investment in IT could deliver expected gains in instructional outcomes or institutional performance and productivity. “A key challenge for IT leadership is to communicate the effectiveness of IT investments, both to senior campus officials and also to faculty,” says Green.

MOOCs and Online Education

CIOs and senior campus IT officers are not overly optimistic about MOOCs – massive, open, online, courses – as a viable strategy for instruction or for revenue.  Just over half (53 percent) agree that MOOCs “offer an effective academic model for the effective delivery of online education” while less than a third (29 percent) view MOOCs as offering “a viable business model” for campuses to secure new revenue from online courses.

Yet even as senior IT officers are not sanguine about MOOCS, which may be offered by a consortia elite institutions (edX, created by Harvard and MIT) or for-profit firms (such as Coursera and Udacity), the 2013 data reveal that a small but significant number of campuses are contracting with third party providers for various services (recruitment, curricular development, student services) to help develop or expand their online programs.

In aggregate just under a fourth (23 percent) of the campuses that participated in the 2013 survey report some sort of outsourcing for their online programs, ranging from 34 percent in public universities to 11 percent in community colleges.  However, here as with MOOCs, senior campus IT officers are not upbeat about outsourcing: less than half (45 percent) agree that outsourcing offers a viable instructional strategy for their institution’s online efforts while just a third believe that outsourcing provides a viable revenue strategy for their institution’s online activities.  The clear exception to these numbers is among IT officers in private universities: more than half (54 percent) view outsourcing some aspects of online education as a viable instructional strategy, while three-fifths (62 percent) view it as an effective revenue strategy.

More Colleges Go Mobile

The 2013 survey documents another year of solid gains in the proportion of colleges and universities that have activated mobile apps. Four-fifths (79 percent) of the campuses participating in this year’s survey have activated mobile apps as of fall 2013 or will do so in the coming academic year, compared to three-fifths (60 percent) in fall 2012, 42 percent in fall 2011, and 23 percent in fall 2010. Across sectors, private universities lead the move to mobile: 95 percent will be up on mobile apps by the end of the current academic year, followed by 93 percent of public universities, 85 percent of public four-year colleges, and approximately 70 percent of both private four-year institutions and community colleges.

What explains these gains in going mobile?  “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,” says Green. Also of note is that senior campus IT officers now report that tablets and smartphones have higher priority in their IT planning activities: 86 percent cite tablet devices and 82 percent note that smartphones will be “very important” in IT planning over the next two-three years, compared to just 62 percent who cite laptop computers.  The focus on mobile devices in IT planning, says Green, “suggests that IT leaders are following the ‘Gretsky rule’ and are skating to where the digital puck is going.”

Fewer Campuses Experience Budget Cuts

The 2013 data reveal that almost a fourth (24 percent) of the surveyed colleges and universities experienced reductions in the Central IT budget this past academic year, down from 27 percent in the 2012 and compared to a third (36 percent) in fall 2011, 44 percent in 2010, and fully half (50 percent) in fall 2009.   Concurrently, almost two-fifths (37 percent) reported increases in the Central IT budget this year over last versus 33 percent in the 2012 survey.

Among public institutions, about a fifth of universities and four-year colleges suffered central IT budget cuts this past year, down from a third in the 2012 survey.  This year as last, about a third of community colleges reported cuts in their central IT budget.

Private/non-profit institutions continue to fare better than their public counterparts: just 8 percent of private universities reported Central IT budget cuts this for fall, compared to 16 percent in 2012, a fourth (25 percent) in fall 2011, and 57 percent in 2009.  The number for private four-year colleges was virtually unchanged (19 percent in 2013 vs. 18 percent in 2012), but still down from 25 percent in fall 2011 and 42 percent in 2009.

“Compared to the first years of the Great Recession, the survey data offer some generally good news about IT budgets, as fewer institutions experienced cuts this year than last,” says Green.   But he notes that IT budget cuts continue for many colleges and universities and that about a sixth (17 percent) reported mid-year cuts, about the same as in 2012. 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

The proportion of campuses reporting a strategic plan for Cloud computing rose to 27 percent in fall 2013, up from 24 percent in 2012, 21 percent in 2011, and 9 percent in 2009. Just 7 percent of the survey participants report that their campus has moved or is converting to Cloud Computing for ERP (administrative system) services, compared to 6 percent in 2012 and up from 4 percent in 2011 (range: from 15 percent for public four-year colleges to 4 percent for public universities.)

Although large proportions of CIOs and senior IT officials acknowledge that “Cloud computing offers a viable strategy for campus ERP applications” (63 percent), and that “Cloud computing will play an increasingly important role in our campus ERP strategy” (66 percent), the survey data suggest the longer term movement to Cloud-based ERP applications over the next five years will be very slow: just a tenth expect that their institution will be deploying Cloud-based development, financial, or student information systems by fall 2018.

About the Campus Computing Survey

The 2013 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 451 two- and four-year public and private/non-profit colleges and universities across the United States. Survey respondents completed the online questionnaire from September 6 through October 9.