AV Smarts

Benchmarking Higher Ed AV Staffing Levels — Revisited

As AV-equipped classrooms on campus increase in both numbers and complexity, have AV departments staffed up accordingly? A recent survey sheds some light on how AV is managed in higher education.

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Have you ever met an AV support department whose members feel like they're well-staffed, are 100 percent caught up on all projects, are easily able to satisfy the support demands of the campus community, and have plenty of free time to plan for future classroom installs? No? Me neither. AV support folks are always stretched thin and pulled in many different directions. With classroom AV technology in its heyday — active learning classrooms, VR/AR and collaborative technology pushing us way past standard "hang and bang" classroom projects — the increased level of classroom AV design and installation coordination inevitably results in backend staffing and support burdens.

Back in 2014, I set out to establish a benchmark for AV department staffing levels across higher ed institutions. I created an online survey asking about the number of AV-equipped spaces supported by respondents' departments, as well as staffing levels across all typical higher ed AV design and support positions. I ended up with 61 responses to the survey, but in the years that followed I've received numerous requests from schools asking to see the results. The survey is constantly discussed in online forums, and AV staffing levels remain an area that technology managers struggle with. I wrote about the 2014 survey results in the September 2016 Campus Technology article, "A Benchmark for AV Support Staff."

Fast forward to 2018, and it seemed like a good time to revisit this AV staffing survey with a "reboot." I teamed up with audiovisual consultancy The Sextant Group to release a new survey that not only examines how AV department staffing levels have changed since 2014, but also expands on the topic with some additional questions. Together with John Cook and Craig Park from Sextant, I set out to discover if schools have beefed up their AV department staffing to keep up with increased demand and system complexity, or if AV departments are still being stretched thin. Are schools still adding AV-equipped spaces on campus, or have we hit a plateau where every space that needs an AV system already has one? What are departments' average operating and capital budgets? Are common AV design and installation tasks handled with in-house staff or outside consultants/contractors? Are schools using AV management platforms like Crestron Fusion, Extron GlobalViewer Enterprise, etc?

The 2018 survey reboot received 109 responses from four countries and 39 U.S. states. The average number of students attending the respondents' schools was very much in line with the 2014 survey: 12,588 undergrads and 2,723 grad students.

The 2014 survey had a limited number of questions, but we made sure to ask the same questions again in 2018 to establish some trends. The number of supported AV-equipped spaces (classrooms and non-academic spaces) in the 2014 survey was 200, while in 2018 we saw that number jump up 23 percent to 245 AV-equipped spaces — pretty significant growth. Just when you think that all spaces on campus that need AV systems have them, we see a 23 percent increase over just four short years.

Digital signage locations more than doubled from 2014 to 2018, with the average in 2014 being 16 digital signage locations, compared to 37 locations in 2018. The digital signage trend doesn't seem to show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

The big result from the 2014 survey was a ratio of AV-equipped spaces to full-time AV management/design/support staff. I needed to find an easy metric that higher ed AV technology managers could apply to their department when assessing their staffing levels. It's obviously not a number that should be used as an ideal goal for staffing levels, but rather as a benchmark against peer institutions. In 2014, that ratio proved to be 43:1. No wonder so many AV support folks felt overworked: That's a lot of rooms to worry about through the design, installation and support process.

Since we saw a 23 percent increase in the number of AV-equipped spaces on campus from 2014 to 2018, you're probably wondering if staffing levels increased accordingly. The answer to that question is no. While FTE staffing levels did increase by 20 percent from 2014, the 2018 ratio of AV-equipped spaces to full-time AV staff was 47:1.

I think we can all agree that new AV system installs have a much higher degree of complexity compared to AV systems five or 10 years ago. The obvious culprits are active learning classrooms that employ multiple displays and matrix switching backends, and conferencing systems of varying complexity being installed in big and small rooms all over campus. But even if today's standard basic classrooms are offering the same presentation functionality as they were five years ago, the backend AV technology running those systems has still increased in complexity. We're trying to push very high resolution video signals around the room; copyright-protected digital content is coming into play; there are myriad BYOD devices and connectors that need to be supported; and we're making a strong push to connect our AV devices to the enterprise network for monitoring and troubleshooting. This increase in AV system complexity just adds to the system design, installation and support burdens placed upon an AV department. Without an increase in FTE staff beyond what we're seeing, there's just no way that AV support can truly flourish on campuses.

Today we're reopening the survey to continue to gather data about AV staffing levels, and we'll periodically tabulate and publish the results for those that participate. Visit www.AV-Survey.com to take the survey. If you would like to request the full 2018 AV staffing survey results, including average AV department budgets, staffing levels by position, breakouts by public/private/community colleges and small/medium/large schools, please send an e-mail to me (mike@tomeiav.com) and to Craig Park from The Sextant Group (cpark@thesextantgroup.com).

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