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Higher Ed IT Budgets Take a Hit

Higher education IT budgets in the United States took another hit in 2009, with almost half of institutions reporting budget cuts this academic year, according to research released Wednesday by the Campus Computing Project.

The research was released in a report called the "2009 Campus Computing Survey," which compiled data from respondents representing 500 colleges and universities in the United States (public, private, two-year, and four-year) in October 2009. Researchers found that 48 percent of participating institutions have experienced IT budget cuts in the current academic year, dwarfing the 30.6 percent of institutions that saw budget cuts in 2008 and the 13.1 percent that saw cuts in 2007.

"These budget cuts play havoc with efforts to respond to the rising demand for IT resources and services," said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, in a prepared statement released to coincide with the report. "College and university IT units were just beginning to recover from the budget cuts that came early in the decade. No question that the current round of IT budget reductions has consequences for infrastructure, instruction, and support services for students and faculty."

Broken down by institution type, the vast majority of public four-year colleges (62.8 percent) and universities (67.1 percent) have seen IT budget cuts this year, while a smaller majority (56.9 percent) of private research universities also saw cuts. Community colleges have been the least impacted by cuts (36.9 percent), followed by private four-year colleges (41.9 percent).

Further, the percentage of institutions that are experiencing increases in IT budgets has declined in 2009 to 21.4 percent, down from 49 percent in 2008.

Also of note, the report found no clear winner in the category of "most important issue in IT." Previously, security had been cited as clearly the most important issue in IT. But in 2009, there was no one issue that received the bulk of votes for the single most important issue. The ones that came out on top were financing IT and upgrading or replacing network infrastructure, each of which came in at about 15 percent of the vote. "And five other issues--supporting online/distance education, upgrading ERP systems, IT staffing, instructional integration, and user support--each polled about 10 percent of the votes," according to information released by the Campus Computing Project.

Green said this lack of clarity indicates "institutional IT officers are fighting lots of 'digital fires' on their campuses."

Other findings from this year's report included:

  • 38.8 percent of respondents reported that their institutions have "reorganized academic computing" in the last two years, with 25.2 percent anticipating such a reorganization in the next two years and 15.8 percent saying they've already reorganized in the last two years and will do it again in the next two;
  • SImilarly, 34.4 percent reported reorganizing administrative computing, with 23.6 percent expecting to reorganize in the next 24 months and 14.8 percent having already reorganized and expecting to do so again in the next two years;
  • About a third of public universities and colleges, including community colleges, said they've seen benefits from federal stimulus funds, while only 18 percent of private universities and 5 percent private four-year colleges reported seeing any benefits;
  • Though security did not emerge as a top IT issue this year, 83.6 percent of campuses reported that they now use campus notification services.

Further information about the report, including additional results and ordering information for the complete study, can be found on the Campus Computing Project's site here. A detailed PDF with additional charts and graphs can be downloaded directly here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .

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