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Technology Issues: Colleges, Universities and the State of Technology Finances

Technology Issues: Colleges, Universities and the State of Technology Finances

Many institutions, particularly mid-tier, private schools, are facing increasingly difficult financial situations. This is because of lower enrollment, retention and graduation rates, as well as growing pressure to deliver greater “value” to students.

As finances deteriorate, institutions are forced to pursue a different path for long-term viability.  Alternatives include establishing financially based partnerships with complementary institutions; joining multi-institution consortia; or merging with another school. Some have already taken action to pursue such efforts. For example, last January, Champlain College, Middlebury College and Saint Michael's College announced plans to form a consortium to reduce costs associated with purchasing supplies and services common to all three institutions.

On the surface, these new models appear to force IT departments to cut back. But is that the right thing to do? Consider the exponential growth of technology usage at institutions. This includes wired classrooms, smart residence halls and distance facilities, such as MOOC. Much of this is outside the control of the central IT department, so cutting their budget will only create problems with systems availability and will likely annoy faculty, staff, students and other constituents.

I believe that few outside of central IT understand the extent of technology usage and dependence at most institutions. Therefore, IT must step forward to help university leaders and trustees understand institution-wide technology usage, spending and considerations besides lowering costs. 

Here’s a recommended action plan to do so:

-IT brings together a working team of departments that spend on technology to examine school-wide spending. The objective is to articulate the importance of and the expected growth of institution-wide technology-related spending.

-In a series of working sessions, each department describes its current and planned spending, as well as the value their spending decisions bring. Spending should include costs related to people (salary and fringe), capital/equipment, annual service contracts and other major investments. 

The culmination of this effort is the creation of a report on current and near-term tech spending and value derived across the institution, which is shared with leadership and trustees. Ideally, the president becomes an advocate and ensures technology spending isn’t indiscriminately cut regardless of the future of the institutions. 

Like it or not, technology is burgeoning at colleges and universities. If the IT and departmental leaders don’t articulate the spending and value to the institution, don’t be surprised if uninformed decisions to cut that spending are made.

Johnson is senior director of strategic intelligence at Atrion Networking Corporation, where he’s responsible for market analysis and growth strategies. Robert is a veteran of the IT industry having held executive positions with CGI Inc., Deloitte Consulting and Digital Equipment Corp. 


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