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Educause Workforce Study Sheds Light on Higher Ed IT Demographics, Job Skills and More

A new report from Educause on the IT workforce in higher education has uncovered plenty that we mostly already knew — there are more men than women in the job, IT employees are getting older, and these jobs are primarily held by White people — and some things we didn't know: The number of jobs in higher ed is on the rise, systems administration is the position that's most often added, and effective communication is the top business skill linked to success.

The survey, last done in 2016, drew responses from 1,592 people in the Educause database, including 15 percent who are CIOs, 47 percent who are managers and 38 percent who are part of IT staff. Those individuals represented all 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, as well as 35 countries besides the United States. A total of 815 colleges and universities were represented. Data collection took place in April and May 2018.

Breakdown of higher ed IT professionals by ethnicity

Breakdown of higher ed IT professionals by ethnicity. Source: Educause Workforce Study 2019

Among the demographic findings shared in "The Higher Education IT Workforce Landscape, 2019" were these:

  • While women make up 43 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, they compose 38 percent of the overall higher ed IT workforce. The number of female managers has increased to 38 percent, a 25 percent jump over the previous two years.
  • College IT workers are getting older. In fact, Baby Boomers (those born before 1965) and Gen Xers (those born between 1965 and 1979) are overrepresented in the higher ed segment, according to the survey, and Millennials (1980 to 1995) are underrepresented by two-thirds. The median age of 50 among survey participants is eight years older than the typical U.S. worker. Just 6 percent of higher ed IT staffers are younger than 30, and the median staff age has risen by four years, to 47.
  • Fully eight in 10 higher ed IT people (83 percent) are White, exceeding that of the U.S. civilian IT labor force (70 percent). Among those who leave their jobs, the survey found that men of color were more likely to leave their positions due to "unfairness" (cited by 40 percent of respondents); men and women of color were twice as likely to have experienced "stereotyping" compared to White or Asian men and women; and women of color were passed over for promotion more than any other group (mentioned by 33 percent).
  • The share of higher ed IT people who identify as LGBQ is "practically twice" as large as the general population. As the report explained, "Among our survey respondents in 2018, 5 percent self-identified as [lesbian or] gay, 3 percent as bisexual, 1 percent as queer, and another 1 percent as another sexual orientation" compared to 4.5 percent of U.S. adults in the general population who self-identified as such.
  • While 8 percent of IT workers in higher ed reported having been diagnosed with a disability or impairment, that's less than half of the 19 percent reported for the entire population of employees in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2017.

For those institutions that would like to broaden the diversity of their ranks, the survey report offered some guidance:

  • Advertising jobs "more broadly" and "beyond known networks";
  • Doing blind reviews of candidates' resumes;
  • Maximizing the number of people who interview candidates "to reduce the impact of any single individual" on the final hiring decision;
  • Developing a mechanism or approach to allow for "anonymous candidate reviews" and assessment of "interrater reliability"; and
  • Extending the same offer package to all candidates.

In the area of the general health of the IT sector for higher ed, the survey reported a bump in hiring between 2016 and 2017, "denoting the largest climb since 2012." The gains were "modest": 24,200 new positions. The parts of the IT organization where the most hiring took place were networking and IT security, and the most frequently added positions were these, in ranked order, accounting for a quarter of jobs added in the past year:

  • Systems administrator;
  • Project manager;
  • Programmer;
  • Network engineer;
  • Network administrator; and
  • Business analyst.

As far as job skills, those emphasizing business topped the list over technical and management expertise. Almost every respondent (97 percent) said effective communication was "very" or "extremely" important at every organizational level. No. 2 was the ability to manage relationships within the institution.

The Educause researchers found that higher education tended "to grow its own leaders." "Once IT employees begin working for a college or university they tend to stay for a long time, especially as they rise through the ranks," the report noted. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of staff, over three-quarters (79 percent) of managers and four-fifths (81 percent) of CIOs said that the job they held immediately preceding their current one was in higher ed. And large majorities in each grouping also previously worked at their current institutions. CIOs were an exception; a small majority (53 percent) said that they'd come from another institution prior to joining their current one. However, among new CIOs, two-thirds reported being promoted from within their current schools. Based on that data, the report suggested that "CIOs may need to move out if they hope to move up."

How do higher ed IT leaders spend their days? Managers said they spend half their time managing IT operations (compared to 40 percent for CIOs); 20 percent "planning and innovating" within their organizations (compared to 10 percent for CIOs); and 10 percent doing the same outside of IT (compared to 15 percent for CIOs). Both sets of roles spend equal amounts of time in HR/staffing/professional development (10 percent) and serving the larger IT profession (5 percent), most often through presentations or contributing to or writing articles.

The report and related materials on the results are available with Educause membership or registration through the Educause website.

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