Even before funding cuts and decreasing enrollment pools, colleges and university leaders 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.
Why Underfunded IT Departments Can Hurt Institutions
If you don’t make the proper investments in tech capabilities and staff, your IT department will have very little capacity for minor improvements, much less the ability to empower real, innovative change. Avoid these risks of underfunding IT at your school.
1. Increased risk of security breaches in higher education
Over the years, higher ed has become a prime target for cyberattacks. According to recent reports, 79% of institutions reported being hit by a ransomware attack in the last year — and over half of them paid to get their data back. And, maybe most shocking of all, the average cost of a cybersecurity breach at a college or university is now $3.65 million.
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 that aligns to the latest safeguard rules.
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.
Are outdated student experiences impacting your enrollment growth? Download our Rethinking the Student Experience infographic to review all the places technology makes or breaks your brand.
3. Decreased efficiency and productivity
Outdated or insufficiently maintained systems also present a big risk to daily operations. For example, if Wi-Fi 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. 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
Schools need to ensure their entire IT ecosystem meets consumer expectations and creates a technology-enabled student experience. That includes everything from strong on-campus Wi-Fi and single sign-on authentication (SSO) to online courses that are built for engaging students digitally. Last year 56% of higher ed administrators saw growth in online and hybrid course enrollment, while in-person enrollments stagnated or declined among traditional undergraduates. The flexibility of virtual learning clearly appeals to busy students and gives them more options to attend courses wherever they are and will be most successful.
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 Rethink Your IT Investments
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 risk 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.
Further, new technologies are emerging that threaten to upend the delivery of education once again, and schools must be prepared to adapt. The development of artificial intelligence tools is creating new opportunities and potential risks to review and monitor closely. A properly resourced IT operation is essential to ensuring that institutions are not left behind.
Download our Higher Ed Cybersecurity Landscape ebook to learn how to prevent cybersecurity attacks and keep hackers from shutting down your school.