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Mobility surges on US campuses; cloud technology lags

Colleges and universities have been aggressive in expanding campus mobility, but slower in shifting key systems to cloud computing, according to a new survey of IT in higher education.

Overall, roughly half of four-year universities and colleges offer mobile applications, typically up from about 30%-40% a year go, according to the 2011 Campus Computing Survey, the annual report by The Campus Computing Project, the largest continuing study of IT higher education.

More than half of public universities had launched mobile apps as of fall 2011 or will do so in the coming academic year, compared to one-third last fall, the report stated. Community colleges offering mobile apps jumped to 41% from 12% a year ago. Private universities with mobile apps reached 50% compared to 42% a year ago, while private four-year colleges rose to 44%, up from 25% a year ago.

“Students come to campus expecting to use mobile apps on their smartphones and tablets to navigate campus resources and use campus services,” said Kenneth Green, the project’s founding director. Another influence, Green said, is that today many more software vendors, with institutional, enterprise applications such as Learning Management Systems and ERP, “now offer mobile options for their campus clients.” Increasingly, at least client-side apps are free, lowering costs and increasing options for mobile deployments in the past 12 months.

But embrace of cloud technologies, by comparison, is much slower, according to the survey.

Just 4.4% of respondents say their campus has moved or is moving administrative ERP systems to the cloud, with 1.3% of public universities making the shift compared to 7.1% for private ones.

Just 6.5% have moved storage, archiving or business continuity services to the cloud. Somewhat surprisingly, just 2.4% of public universities and 6.6% of private universities have embraced the cloud for research activities and high-performance computing requirements.

In some areas, there is more progress. About 28% have shifted or are shifting Learning Management System applications to the cloud; 11% are doing the same with CRM applications, the survey found. According to Green, a key obstacle is “trust” or rather the lack of it. “Many campus IT officers are not ready to migrate mission-critical data, resources, and services to the Cloud Services offered by their IT providers,” he added.

The survey also found that 36% of campus IT groups were hit with a budget cut this year, though that’s less than the 42% last year, and the 50% in 2009.

More public institutions than private felt the ax. Fully 55% of public universities cut IT budgets for fall 2011, compared to 60% a year ago. Among public four-year colleges, 44% cut spending this year, almost identical to the 46% last year.

Among private, nonprofit institutions, 29% of private universities cut IT spending for fall 2011, about the same percentage as last year; 25% of private four-year colleges reported cuts this year, compared to 31.9% last year.

Green suggested the crunch will hit community colleges especially hard, as their enrollments have been surging since the economic crisis began in 2008. This year, 39% of these schools cut IT budgets, compared to 46% last year.

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