Campus Computing Looks Ahead: Tracking the Digital Puck

Legend has it that when Wayne Gretsky was asked why he was so successful as a hockey player, he responded by saying that he always tried to skate to where the puck was going to be, not to where it was.

The notion of the "digital puck" as a metaphor for information technology in higher education seems appropriate: Sometimes the puck moves very fast, sometimes slow, and its movement is often erratic. Moreover, there are lots of people and institutions that always seem to be chasing the puck—sometimes going to where the puck was, sometimes trying to anticipate where the puck is going.

A continuing source of information about the direction of information technology in higher education is the 12-year-old Campus Computing Project (www.campuscomputing.net), the largest continuing study of information technology on American campuses.

Data from the Project's 2002 Campus Computing Survey provide interesting insights into where information technology has been in sectors of higher education, and also where it is going. More than 630 two-year and four-year public and private colleges and universities participated in the 2002 survey. The typical survey respondent is a campus chief information or chief technology officer.


Portals and the Puck
The good news from the survey is that U.S. colleges and universities are making steady progress in developing and deploying campus Web portals. Just over one-fifth (21.2 percent) of campuses participating in the Survey report that they have a "single/initial sign-on campus portal" up and functioning as of the fall of 2002. Another one-fifth (20.4 percent) report that their campus portal is "under development" or being installed in the current academic year. Just under one-third (29.5 percent) indicate that portal issues are now "under review/discussion" at their institutions, while a similar proportion (29.0 percent) say there was no portal planning or related activities at their institution.

For all practical purposes, the campus conversation about Web portals began roughly four years ago. Consequently, the 2002 survey data suggest that Web portals are finally making the transition from an abstract concept into a real institutional service. Moreover, the campus investment in portals can (and should!) be seen in the broader context of a new commitment to enhanced institutional services across all sectors of higher education.

Other data from the 2002 survey reflect the campus commitment to Web portals. For example, one-fifth (24.9 percent) of the campuses participating in the 2002 survey currently have a strategic plan for portal services; another third (32.7 percent) are now developing these plans. Survey respondents rate "providing a campus portal for Web-based student services" at 5.5 out of 7 in importance (with 1 being not important, and 7 being very important). That is up from 5.3 in 2001 and 5.2 in 2000.

eCommerce and eService Challenges
Data from the 2002 Campus Computing Survey also reveal gains in eCommerce and eService on campus. About two-fifths (40.5 percent) of the nation's colleges and universities can now process credit-card payments from their campus Web sites, up from 27.6 percent in 2001, and more than double the number from 2000 (18.6 percent). In contrast, just 5.1 percent of the campuses participating in the 1998 survey could process credit-card transactions from their Web sites. More than two-thirds (70.9 percent) of institutions participating in the 2002 survey report that their campus Web site offers online course registration, compared to just over half (55.4 percent) in 2001, 43.1 percent in 2000, and 20.9 percent in 1998.

Although the 2002 survey data show some significant gains on a number of key eCommerce and eService measures across all sectors of higher education, the campus community is still playing catch-up on a number of issues. For example, consider the wide array of electronic commerce and electronic service options routinely available to students and faculty in the consumer and corporate sectors. Banks, credit-card companies, and other consumer product firms eagerly pursued tens of thousands of students who began classes in fall 2002. Many of these students—freshmen in college dorms, commuter students on campus once a week, and executive MBA students attending weekend classes—routinely use the Web to check their credit-card and bank balances on the Web, pay their telephone or cell phone bills, or order books, clothing, CDs and DVDs.

Yet students at many campuses do not have access to parallel, Web-based campus services: online transcripts, course registration, financial accounts, or campus bookstores. In this respect, the campus community is still roughly two years behind the consumer sector in many of its eCommerce and eService offerings.

Other data from the 2002 survey support the notion of a lagging eCommerce/eService infrastructure. One key indicator: This year's survey respondents rated campus capacity for eCommerce 11th on a list of 12 technology infrastructure metrics that include network and telecommunications services, user support services, online instructional resources, network security, and IT training for students and faculty.

The Budget Challenges
Adding to the eService/eCommerce challenges ahead are the budget cuts underway across all sectors of American higher education. The 2002 survey provides very clear indicators of major budget cuts and declining technology spending during the current academic year.

About one-third (32.6 percent) of the institutions participating in the 2002 Campus Computing Survey show a decline in the academic computing budget at their campus for the current academic year, compared to just under one-fifth (18.0 percent) in 2001, and about one-eighth (11.4 percent) in the 2000 survey report. Budget challenges were the most pronounced in public universities, where this year budget cuts affected well over half the institutions (55.5 percent), compared to 27.9 percent in 2001, and just 11.8 percent in 2000.

Similarly, the 2002 survey data reveal a downturn in spending on administrative computing. As above, almost one-third (31.0 percent) of the 2002 survey respondents report a decline in the campus budget for administrative computing, compared to one-fifth (18.3 percent) in 2001, and one-eighth (11.7 percent) in 2000.

Another indicator of troubled technology funding is the growing number of campuses reporting mid-year budget cuts. Fully one-fifth of the 2002 survey participants report mid-year budgets cuts this past year, up from 8.0 percent in 2001, and 5.3 percent in 2000. Again, public universities were most affected by the mid-year reductions. In 2001/02: Well over two-fifths (45.2 percent) experienced mid-year IT budget cuts, compared to just 13.1 percent in 2001 and 10.9 percent in 2000. The mid-year budget cuts in public universities average 3.4 percent in the academic year 2002, compared to 4.3 percent in 2001, and 2.9 percent in 2000.

A final indicator of declining technology budgets for the current academic year (2002/03) is reflected in purchasing plans. Across all sectors, four key purchasing indicators—purchasing by academic units; purchasing by administrative units; institutional purchases of desktop/notebook computers; and purchases of network servers—show declines in the percentage of campuses reporting "increased purchases." Likewise, a greater number of institutions report "reduced purchasing," compared to the 2001 and 2000 survey data.

Although unfortunate, these cuts should not be surprising, This downturn in technology funding in higher education comes at the end of a seven-year span in which campus technology budgets increased dramatically during mid- and late-1990s. More than 40 states have moved from budget surpluses to deficits in the past two years. Consequently, many states have made dramatic cuts in funding for higher education, often accompanied by large increases in tuition. For example, the College Board reports a huge 9.6 percent increase in tuition in public four-year colleges and universities for fall 2002 (College Board, 2002), well ahead of inflation rates. Under these circumstances, IT budgets are an easy and obvious target.

Yet the survey data indicate the IT budget cuts do not reflect a simple "cut across the board" strategy. Rather, data suggest that campus investments in upgrading or replacing administrative and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems will continue, even as other parts of the IT budget may suffer. Indeed, less than one-tenth (8.4 percent) of the respondents report budget cuts affecting ERP software and services. In contrast, one-third (33.8 percent) of the respondents report a budget increase for ERP software and services, while almost three-fifths (57.9 percent) report no change in their ERP budgets. Additionally, less than one-fifth (17.7 percent) report their institution delaying or deferring ERP replacement or upgrades.

Although the majority of the survey respondents seem somewhat optimistic that budget cuts will not have dire consequences for technology initiatives on their campuses, many IT officials are clearly concerned. Almost one-third (31.9 percent) agree or strongly agree that budget cuts will "severely impede efforts to enhance eLearning." And just over one-fourth (26.4 percent) "agree/strongly agree" that budget cuts will "severely impede/interrupt ERP upgrade/replacement efforts."

As in the past years, survey respondents across all sectors of higher education continue to identify "assisting faculty to integrate technology into instruction" as the single, most-important IT issue confronting their campuses "over the next two or three years." Roughly one-fourth (24.3 percent) of the 2002 survey respondents cite instructional integration as the key IT issue for their institutions in the coming years (compared to 31.5 percent in 2001, 40.5 percent in 2000, and 29.6 in 1997). "Upgrading, replacing administrative/ERP systems" ranks second in 2002, jumping from one-eighth (12.6 percent) of the respondents in 2001, to almost one-fifth (18.9 percent) in 2002. In public and private universities, survey respondents rank ERP issues as the top technology concern for their institutions (31.4 percent in public universities and 31.3 percent in private universities), replacing instructional integration which was the leading issue in past years.

Going Mobile
The survey data reveal that wireless networks are an increasingly important issue across all sectors of higher education. Just over one-third (34.7 percent) of campuses report that they have a strategic plan for wireless networks, up from one-fourth (24.3 percent) in 2001. About one-third (32.1 percent) report the strategic plan for going wireless is currently in development.

Roughly two-thirds (67.9 percent) of the institutions participating in the 2002 survey report that they have functioning wireless LANs, compared to half (50.6 percent) in 2001, and 29.6 percent in 2000. Another one-eighth (12.7 percent) report that wireless LANS will become functional this year. Exactly one-tenth (10.0 percent) of the survey respondents indicate that full-campus wireless networks are up and running at their institutions as of fall 2002, compared to 6.2 percent in 2001, and 3.8 percent in 2000. An equal number (9.5 percent) report that their institutions will become fully wireless during the coming academic year (vs. 6.6 in 2001 and 3.8 percent in 2000). Across all sectors, the 2002 data suggest that wireless services cover just under one-fifth (18.3 percent) of the physical campus at those institutions reporting wireless networks, compared to 10.9 percent in 2001.

Not surprisingly, survey respondents across all sectors identify network security as a critical issue for their campuses (score in 2002 is 6.5 on the 1 to 7 scale of importance), compared to 6.4 in 2001 and 6.2 in 1999). Additionally, the survey data suggest that network security may have improved slightly over the past year as survey respondents rate their "network security against hackers and virus attacks" at 5.0 (1=poor; 7=excellent), compared to 4.9 in 2001.

The 2002 survey reveals that course management systems (CMS) continue to gain popularity as a key resource for instruction. Almost one-half (47.5 percent) of the respondents indicate that their institution has a strategic plan for deploying course management tools. More than four-fifths (82.1 percent) of the participating institutions have already established a "single product" standard for course management software, up from roughly three-fourths (73.2 percent) in the 2001 survey, and 57.8 percent in 2000. The 2002 survey data also indicate that more than one-fourth (26.5 percent) of all college courses now use course management tools, up from 20.6 percent in 2001 and almost double the level in 2000 (14.7 percent).

The CMS data are interesting as they reflect the arrival of course management tools or learning management software as a core component of the institutional instructional infrastructure. Both the percentage of classes that use CMS resources and the number of institutions that have established a campus standard for a CMS product continue to rise.

The 2002 data also reveal progress on compliance with the Americans with Disability Act. Fully three-fifths (60.4 percent) of the campuses participating in this year's survey report that their institutions have ADA-compliant Web pages, up from 49.3 percent in 2001.

Taken together, these data and other information from the 2002 Campus Computing Survey reflect a digital puck that is moving in many directions: toward a continuing campus concern for instruction and instructional infrastructure, a new focus on administrative systems, and real pressures on IT budgets.

References

College Board, "Trends in College Pricing, 2002." New York: The College Board, October 2002 (www.collegeboard.com/ press/cost02/CBTrendsPricing02.pdf)

Green, Kenneth C. "Campus Computing: The National Study of Information Technology in American Higher Education (Annual, 1990-2002)". Encino, Calif: Campus Computing. (www.campuscomputing.net)

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