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4 Ways To Augment Campus IT Budgets

Here's a handful of places CIOs will want to explore as they move their IT infrastructure projects off of the drawing board this year.

It's no secret that the budget crisis and lagging economy have impacted higher education budgets. Tuition and fee revenues have both taken hits, as have property taxes, federal stimulus programs, and a host of other sources that institutions have traditionally relied on to fund new projects.

As funding sources have dried up, the need for better and newer information technology has picked up momentum. Caught in this "perfect storm," IT directors are in tight spots as they struggle to balance the need for servers, campus-wide WiFi, networks, and e-mail systems against shrinking budgets and dwindling outside financing sources.

"Not only are budgets getting smaller, but everyone's favorite funding programs are in danger of getting cut or disappearing completely," said Greenville, SC, independent grant writer Ron Flavin. "Schools are going through the process of preparing grant proposals only to find out that the programs aren't even going to be funded."

To avoid this frustration and keep your own IT projects on track in 2012, consider one or more of these funding sources: 

1. Look for grants that multitask. Agencies are pretty specific about how their grant dollars are used, but that doesn't mean you can't stretch the investments to reach a larger audience. A grant aimed at helping a specific population of students (those in need of assistive technology equipment, for example) may benefit the entire campus.

 In 2011, for example, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College won a $2 million Department of Education Title III grant meant to help institutions better serve Native American students. The money allowed the school to develop three new online degree programs, hire four new staff members, install and maintain a high-quality streaming video system, and purchase single-channel encoders, Cisco switches, a media server, a storage server, and wireless network cameras.

2. Tap all levels of ED. When seeking out good grant sources for institutions of higher education, Flavin said, his first stop is always the Department of Education.

"It tends to be the most stable funding source," he said, "with the most opportunities."

ED's application process is less stringent than other awarding agencies, according to Flavin, who advised CIOs to explore both state and federal education department grant options when seeking IT infrastructure funding. This is particularly important because some of the programs "pass through" to the state level, said Flavin, and aren't available directly to schools from the federal department.

Also consider grant opportunities that are targeted to certain types of schools. One ED grant targeted at community colleges, for example, states that 40 percent of the total funds can be used to support technology infrastructure.

Interlude: Look to the Cloud for Savings

Desirable for their low start-up costs and rapid implementation, cloud-based applications have gained significant momentum in the educational environment. The trend will continue as colleges look to squeeze maximum benefits from every dollar spent on IT infrastructure.

And while the cloud doesn't "rain" infrastructure dollars, it can help institutions reallocate dollars that would have been spent on software and equipment. After reviewing its purchase-and-install and cloud-based lecture capture options, for example, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges of Olympia, WA, selected the latter in 2011. Cable Green, director of e-learning, said the decision to move into the cloud was primarily based on the fact "that it required no additional hardware investment on our part."

3. Develop and license apps. Populated with talented technology professionals and students, today's college IT departments are well equipped to become licensors of innovative applications and other tools. By adopting a business mindset, those departments can help generate funds with the technology that they're already using successfully.

Jeffrey Olsen, summit producer for New York-based event producer CraigMichaels Inc., pointed to Purdue University's Hotseat application as a good example of how schools can monetize their proprietary apps. Hotseat allows students to interact with their classmates and faculty using Twitter and text messages. "Purdue is monetizing a few different apps by sharing them with other universities," said Olsen. "It's like having a built-in revenue generator for an IT department looking to boost its infrastructure funding."

4. Form relationships with IT manufacturers. Price breaks, pilot and beta equipment, and corporate grants are just a few of the financial perks of forming long-term relationships with IT manufacturers. Dell, Apple, Intel, and Oracle are just a sampling of the major manufacturers that are known for forming ties with the higher education environment. Also check out the grant opportunities offered by these vendors, said Olsen, who added that he sees research grants as a viable source.

"Apply for a research grant, and you may wind up with some free IT infrastructure components on top of the funding that comes through," he said. "That equipment will be in place long after the research is done."

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