Follow the Money
It was some three decades ago, during the Watergate era, that Deep Throat
told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward he had to “follow the money”
to understand the scandal. But long before Watergate, public policy professors
and analysts knew that money reveals a lot about organizational behavior and
Following the money that colleges and universities spend on computing and information
technology has always been difficult. But years ago, the organization of computing
into highly centralized academic and administrative units followed traditional,
indeed rigid budget models that offered some opportunity to track core IT expenditures.
Today, however, computing and information technologies are ubiquitous across
academe. Engineering and English professors exchange informed opinions about
product preferences. Engineering and English departments also purchase lots
of their own technology—computers, software, servers, and other stuff—often
independent of the traditional “central” campus computing centers.
I’ve long maintained that we would need a small team of forensic accountants
to know just how much any college really spends on computing and information
technology. We might also need a team of forensic HR specialists to determine
just how many people on campus are doing IT work—ranging from operations
and management to systems, security, and user support.
But now we have a new resource from the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service to help us
understand more about the structure and complexity of campus IT operations.
EDUCAUSE launched the Core Data Service to collect and provide benchmarking
data about IT budgets, staffing, organizational structure, and related issues.
The target audience was campus CIOs; indeed, since June, CIOs at institutions
participating in the original survey had access to the data to create custom
reports comparing their institutions to self-selected peer institutions in the
Core Data Service database.
But the new EDUCAUSE Core Data Service Summary Report, out this month (www.educause.edu/coredata),
presents these data to a larger audience audience—faculty, administrators,
policy analysts, researchers, and others outside of campus IT offices who are
interested in IT issues on their campuses and across the academic community.
Drawing on data from 561 U.S. colleges and universities and 65 universities
outside the United Core Data Summary Report offers many interesting (and some
will say surprising) insights into money and personnel matters affecting campus
IT operations. For example, across all sectors of U.S. higher education, personnel
expenditures account for about half of the budget of centralized campus IT organizations.
In contrast, colleges generally spend about 80 percent of the total campus budget
The report reveals that IT budgets vary dramatically across sectors, depending
on how the budgets are measured. Research universities spend almost three times
more on IT per FTE student than do community colleges. However, and somewhat
surprisingly, when IT resources are measured in terms of FTE faculty expenditures,
the variability is significantly less, shrinking to about 50 percent more per
FTE faculty in research universities than in community colleges.
Another interesting number in the report involves the funding for professional
development in IT organizations. Across all sectors, from community colleges
to research universities, the FTE professional development expenditures are,
as stated in the report, “surprisingly consistent” at about $1,000/FTE.
Less surprising is that the Core Data Report confirms with a number what many
have known from experience: A significant portion of campus IT spending comes
from the budgets of academic departments and operating units, including research
labs. This “independent” money—independent of central IT operations
and budgets—ranges from about 30 percent of total campus IT spending in
research universities to about 10 percent in community colleges. In other words,
academic departments and operating units spend a lot of their own money on information
The new report also documents the degree of campus dependence on student workers
in IT operations, particularly IT user support. Across all sectors, part-time
student employees represent about half of the total FTE support personnel for
instructional technology, user support services, and public help desks that
serve students, faculty, and staff.
Finally, the report documents the age of—and rapidly aging—administrative
software that remains a core component of the campus infrastructure. Across
all sectors, large numbers of institutions remain dependent on student information
systems and financial software developed or purchased more than a decade ago.
This aging software was not designed for a Web-centric world and would seem
ready for immediate replacement. However, the budget cuts and financial problems
currently affecting most institutions will force many campuses to defer or delay
replacement for a few more years.
The new EDUCAUSE Core Data Summary Report warrants a wide reading, and not just
among individuals in the campus IT community. It provides both interesting and
useful information. And future editions of the report will be even more valuable
because of the emerging trend data.
As much of the campus discussion about money and technology is often based on
sum ergo expertise, the EDUCAUSE Core Data Summary Report is an important contribution
to better, more informed planning campus efforts. It should also help inform
the continuing, informal hallway conversations and more formal policy discussions
about a broad set of key IT issues that affect American colleges and universities.
[Editor’s note: Casey Green will co-anchor a special Ahead
of the Curve broadcast session, “An Open Discussion About Open Source”
from the Syllabus fall2003 conference in Cambridge, Mass. on December 8. For
updates, visit www.syllabus.com.]