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  • Top Risks of Underfunding Your College’s IT Department
2023-01-18T16:37:38+00:00January 18, 2023|

Top Risks of Underfunding Your College’s IT Department 

Determining how much to fund their schools’ information technology (IT) departments is an important issue facing higher ed leaders. Even before increasing inflation and decreasing enrollment pools, colleges and universities were feeling the pinch to reduce IT costs and soften the strain on their budgets.

However, as institutions consider their options for long-term sustainability, they must stop thinking about their IT departments as a cost center that can be cut and trimmed to save money. Instead, IT must be viewed as a strategic partner for generating revenue and enabling innovation within the university ecosystem, as well as maintaining a favorable reputation as a school of choice.

Technology is now embedded in every facet of the student journey. It’s changing how students learn, how faculty teach and how higher ed institutions operate. IT will play a key role in the transformation of higher ed, and IT professionals should be at the core of envisioning how tech can enable their school’s futures. (Our IT readiness assessment can help you understand how your school’s technology measures up.)

5 Reasons Underfunded IT Departments Can Hurt Institutions

If the proper investments aren’t made in tech capabilities and staff, schools’ IT departments will have very little capacity for minor improvements, much less the ability to offer transformational benefits. Read on to learn the top five risks associated with underfunding higher ed IT departments.

1. Increased risk of security breaches

Over the years, higher ed has become a prime target for cyberattacks. Most concerning has been the rise of ransomware attacks. Schools are made vulnerable to these attacks by using old technology, or unpatched and unsupported software and operating systems. This aging IT infrastructure, coupled with vulnerabilities from widespread remote learning, unsecured Wi-Fi connections and untrained user networks, has raised the level of cybersecurity risk to an unprecedented level. Falling victim to a cybersecurity breach poses risks to a school’s reputation as students question whether their information will remain safe within its systems. To minimize risks, higher ed leaders must invest in reoccurring upgrades to software, hardware and the network, as well as a robust cybersecurity strategy.

2. Increased costs (or loss of revenue)

Many institutions are using outdated, legacy software and operating systems. This can be expensive to maintain, creating unnecessary overhead costs. Additionally, technologically outdated campuses risk losing students because they don’t offer the digital experiences that consumers expect. If a school’s technology — or its IT support team — is unreliable, unsecure or offers a poor experience, students may leave. In these cases, technology not only undermines the initiatives of the school but directly impacts its bottom line.

3. Decreased efficiency and productivity

Outdated or insufficiently maintained systems present a big risk to daily operations. For example, if WiFi goes down on campus, or students and faculty are unable to access the LMS and SIS, business and educational operations can come to a halt. Or, if tech systems are left outdated and can’t connect with each other, faculty may spend too much time uploading files and running processes manually, and IT teams may spend most of their time patching and maintaining on-premise systems.

In addition, if a school’s data backup solution is out of date and the systems that help keep it secure fail, then there’s a higher chance of losing student data altogether. And finally, school staff will find it very hard to analyze data to inform institutional decisions if a school is running multiple software systems that aren’t configured to work together. To increase efficiency, avoid system downtime and prevent data loss, higher ed leaders should consider migrating their data center to the cloud.

4. Lower IT staff retention rates

The typical higher ed IT department tends to be understaffed, underfunded and overworked. Over the last year, IT teams have become around-the-clock, on-call operators who are working hard to facilitate uninterrupted learning by managing IT infrastructure, providing access to VPNs and resolving all other incidents. To keep up with the increasing demand, IT departments must be adequately staffed to act quickly and perform in a way that satisfactorily represents their school’s brand. Without proper staffing and compensation, IT professionals are likely to burn out as their morale drops.

5. Missed potential for student success and engagement

Today’s students are digital natives who expect technology to be integrated into their learning environments — whether online or in person. Schools need to ensure their entire IT ecosystem creates a technology-enabled student experience. That includes everything from strong on-campus WiFi and single sign-on authentication (SSO) to online courses that are built for engaging students digitally. Many schools are adopting HyFlex courses, which allow students to choose to attend class in person or online. This option gives students the flexibility to work around busy schedules and attend courses wherever they are and will be most successful, which supports student retention and persistence efforts.

Additionally, to be successful, students need to be able to get the help they need when they need it. IT departments need to invest in help desks that offer robust services to support students wherever they are. This includes solutions like resource databases and 24/7 live support that can help students with everything from printing and logging into a class, to assisting with accessibility issues.

It’s Time to Properly Invest in Information Technology

College and university IT departments oversee an essential resource that impacts every student, faculty and staff member. As the demand for tech-enabled education experiences grows, higher ed leaders can no longer get away with underfunded, understaffed and overworked IT departments. The schools that understand the importance of prioritizing and funding their technology initiatives will be better prepared to meet evolving student expectations and deliver high-quality experiences.

Find out how your campus tech measures up by taking our short IT readiness self-assessment.