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Campus IT Budgets Down, Open Source Looking Up

Nearly half of public universities and public four-year colleges in the United States reported central IT budget cuts in fall 2008, according to new research released Wednesday by The Campus Computing Project. That's up significantly over last year. At the same time, open source software is looking more appealing to campuses, with about a fourth reporting a "high likelihood" that they will migrate to an open source LMS within the next five years.

The report, "The 2008 Campus Computing Survey," is based on input from high-level IT personnel at 531 public and private two- and four-year institutions. What it found were large percentages of institutions experiencing cuts in fall 2008, including 45.4 percent of public universities (up from 16.3 percent in 2007) and 44.4 percent of public four-year colleges (up from 16.7 percent in 2007). The report also showed that 22.8 percent of private universities saw budget cuts, along with 23.5 percent of private four-year colleges and 24.6 of community colleges.

"This new round of IT budget reductions come just as many campuses were beginning to recover from the budget cuts that marked the economic downturn during the first years of the current decade," said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, in the report. "The demand for technology resources and services continues to rise, even as the dollars supporting these resources and services are cut from institutional budgets."

Not unexpectedly, hiring and retaining IT staff is becoming a more significant concern for campus IT pros. While the No. 1 issue continues to be network and data security, with 20.3 percent of respondents citing that as the single most important IT issue for them, that figure is down significantly from a high of 30 percent in 2005 and also down from relatively high numbers in 2006 (29.5 percent) and 2007 (25.5 percent). Hiring and retaining IT staff this year was cited as the most important IT issue for 16.7 percent of respondents, up from 12.3 percent last year. Financing the replacement of aging hardware and software came in at No. 3 (statistically tied with "assisting faculty with the instructional integration of IT"), with 11.2 percent citing that as the most important issue, up slightly from 2007's 10.3 percent.

Incidentally, despite the decline of budgets and the decreased emphasis on security, the emergency notification industry has fared well this year on higher ed's dime. In every single category of emergency notification system components--from sirens to text messaging--deployments increased significantly over the previous year, anywhere from a low of about 10 percentage (sirens) points to a high of 30 points (text messaging).

As of the time of this survey (October 2008), only 5.5 percent of all campuses reported having no operational emergency alert system, compared with 25 percent at the same time last year. The highest percentage reporting no operational emergency alert system was community colleges, at 13.1 percent. The lowest was public universities, at 0 percent (i.e., every public university responding to the survey reported having some form of emergency notification system in operation).

The breakdown of emergency notification system components deployed as of fall 2008 across all institution types is as follows (figures rounded off):

  • Sirens: 35 percent;
  • PA systems: 38 percent;
  • Web site notifications: 81 percent;
  • E-mail notifications: 87 percent;
  • Text messaging: 76 percent;
  • Voice-mail to campus phones: 66 percent;
  • Voice-mail to off-campus phones: 41 percent; and
  • Voice-mail to cell phones: 49 percent.

Meanwhile, open source software is showing some significant progress in 2008 and is promising to make further inroads throughout the next five years, especially in the categories of learning management systems, content management systems, and electronic portfolios.

According to the report, "Blackboard remains the dominant LMS provider in higher education," but Blackboard's numbers are down from last year, with 56.8 percent identifying Blackboard as the campus LMS standard in 2008 compared with 66.3 percent in 2007. About 14 percent indicated that they have deployed either Moodle or Sakai (both open source learning management systems) as of fall 2008, compared with 7.2 percent in 2006. The largest percentage of current Moodle implementations was at private four-year colleges, at 23.7 percent.

Furthermore, 24.4 percent indicated a "high likelihood" of migrating to an open source LMS within the next five years; 15.3 percent reported a high likelihood of migrating to an open source content management system; and 12.9 percent said they'd probably be moving to an open source electronic portfolio system by 2013. Administrative systems did not fare so well in the open source realm. Intent to migrate to open source student information systems, financial systems, human resources systems, research management systems, and development systems within the next five years were each below 5 percent.

Other significant findings from the report included:

  • The software as a service (SaaS) model is looking up, with respondents indicating a high likelihood of moving to a SaaS-based LMS (18 percent), content management system (12.2 percent), or ePortfolio platform (11.1 percent) within the next five years;
  • 42.4 percent of institutions reported that they are migrating (or already have migrated) to an outsourced student e-mail service;
  • 54.7 percent reported that their institutions have a site license for an anti-plagiarism product; and
  • Across all institution types, some 67.6 percent of classrooms have wireless access.

Further information about the report, including a number of additional details, can be found on The Campus Computing Project's site here. An executive summary can be downloaded here.

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