• July 26, 2021

IT Spending and Staffing: From Pandemic to Post-Pandemic

Sarah Knapp
  • by Sarah Knapp

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities to make quick decisions with very little guidance or information on how to safely operate their institutions. Many of the game plans that came out of these decisions would not have been possible without the support of these institutions’ Information Technology staff. IT was required to not only begin working virtually themselves, but also support the transition for the entire faculty, staff, and student bodies.

Nearly a year and a half later, colleges and universities are eager to get back to “normal” and the higher education IT world is wondering what that means. Only July 22, members of the Propeller team attended the Educause webinar IT Spending & Staffing: From Pandemic to Post-Pandemic. Moderated by Leah Lang at Educause, the panelists were asked to respond to data from the Educause Analytics Services Core Data Service (CDS) 2020 results.

The CDS allows IT professionals to use data to answer important questions like, “how do my resources compare?” and “who are my technology peers?” This data helps institutions implement practical measures for budget, planning, and staffing. With more than 1,000 institutions participating, readers are able to determine important ranges for central IT resources. 

During the webinar, Lang reviewed some of the key takeaways from the CDS 2020 results. One new change for this year’s survey was the inclusion of asking participants to think about the future rather than just concrete numbers. Of those future data points, most participants reported that they expect a decrease in spending while a smaller number of college participants anticipate increased IT spending for FY 2021. Public university participants reported that they expect a more permanent impact on IT budgets and spending while participants from community colleges reported that they expect only a temporary impact. One webinar attendee pointed out that the data point did not determine whether or not “impact” signified positive or negative change. 

In the Q&A portion of the webinar, panelists were asked to speak to specifics of what colleges and universities are spending their IT budgets on. Panelists agreed that many institutions are finding value in increasing enterprise infrastructure in projects like ERP and CRM structure. They are finding that these initiatives provide better access to data to do things proactively moving forward. 

Cathy Bates, VP of Vantage Technology Consulting Group, emphasized that a lot of schools have funds available to them that they previously did not from federal initiatives like the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) Grant Program and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). These programs are helping to fund initiatives that ordinarily are not considered in yearly budgets. 

Claire Gilbert and Charlie Moran of Moran Technology Consulting emphasized the need to support existing IT staff and also plan for the inevitable need for new employee recruiting. Colleges are expecting a great deal of transition with longtime staff retiring or looking to switch chairs within the college. Colleges and universities are also seeing a higher rate of staff departing for the private sector without having to relocate. Where many colleges have historically been the primary employer in an area, this is no longer the case with many private sector companies allowing more permanent remote employment options. 

When asked what the panelists have seen in terms of virtual learning expenditure, Bates and Moran agreed that the smartest schools are considering what works best for each course rather than leaving the benefits of virtual learning behind in a post-pandemic world. Moran emphasized the need to figure out what the right modality for a course is and suggested that we’ll see more and more hybrid models. Bates highlighted unique benefits that came from the 100% virtual learning models schools were forced into over the course of the pandemic. For example, colleges have long struggled with ensuring student-athletes do not fall behind due to athletic travel schedules. Similarly, study abroad programs often mean that students are unable to get a full schedule and therefore fall behind. Both scenarios are risks to retention and graduating on time. With virtual learning options, students can be more supported. 

In wrapping up the virtual learning conversation, Leah Lang stated, the “all-or-nothing days are over.” 

For the presentation slides and session recording, please click here. 

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