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University Business, Dec 2004

Are higher ed IT budgets on the rebound? It seems so.

There are glimmers of hope in the 2004 Campus Computing Survey, an annual effort of the Campus Computing Project. Only one-fourth (25 percent) of the 516 colleges and universities participating in the survey had their academic computing budgets cut, down from 41 percent the previous year.

Similarly, only one-fourth were hit with administrative IT budget cuts, compared to one-third, as reported in last year's report.

"There is recognition in some states that they have to put money back into the budgets," says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the project, and author of the annual survey that tracks two-year and four-year private and public schools. Green is also a visiting scholar at the Claremont Graduate University's School of Educational Studies.

Overall, almost half of the private colleges and universities participating in the survey say they have more money to spend on academic computing this year. About one-fifth of public IHEs report the same. Green notes another positive budget trend: there are fewer institutions, either 2-year or 4-year, that suffered mid-year IT budget cuts. This year the overall percentage is down to 20 percent, compared to 33 percent last year.

Administrative IT budgets took less of hit this year, adds Green. Again, only 25 percent of respondents say they have less money to spend on administrative IT, a significantly more hopeful statistic than last year's 42 percent.

Still, Green doesn't want to give the impression that it is entirely easy going for higher ed. The budget reprieve follows several consecutive years of cuts to IT spending, which means that there is a lot of catch-up to do.

CIOs are most concerned about network and data security. Instructional integration and enterprise resource management (ERP) upgrades follow closely as areas of importance. There is more money being spent on these areas. Close to 60 percent of survey respondents have spent more money on network technology this year and close to 40 percent are spending more on ERP systems.

As was true last year, IT directors continue to put "acceptable use" policies in place in the effort to curb illegal music and movie downloads. This year, 76 percent of all colleges and universities report having such policies, up from 66 percent in 2003. This is a clear sign that IHEs are responding to media concerns--and to the lawsuits filed against students using free P2P services. But Green adds that the emphasis on college transgressors has been overstated. "The media industry and the media devote disproportionate attention to college students as the primary source of digital piracy," he insists. The bulk of P2P users are not on college campuses.

There are more campus portals in place this year, according to the data. Almost two fifths (37 percent) of institutions reported having a working portal as of fall 2004, up from 28 percent last year and only 21 percent two years ago. These are being used to support everything from secure payment transitions, to course registration, to access campus information.

Green adds that respondents have an "affirmative ambivalence" about open source applications. While open source is commonly found in the "back room" campus IT infrastructure, directors still have long-term questions about open source and its ability to completely support complex operations.

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By James Martin, James E. Samels & Associates; The Johns Hopkins University Press; 2004; 273pp.; $45.

The average tenure for a university president has dropped dramatically over the past century or so, plummeting from more than a decade to somewhere around 5 years. This means that the typical college or university can continually expect to be working to acclimate a new president, helping to ease the transition of an outgoing president, or preparing for a presidential search.

Presidential Transition in Higher Education is a series of essays detailing the finer points of presidential change, from the role of the board to the use of an executive search firm to the changing role of the presidential spouse.

--Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti

Alumni associations have discovered the eGreeting. Case in point is Florida International University. Developed six months ago, the eGreeting program encourages alumni to send customized "Panther" e-cards.

So far, alumni are sending a total of 50 to 75 Panther greetings per month, says Sean Kramer, assistant director of alumni relations. The goals are driving return visits to the website and increasing membership. To date, FIU's alumni association has acquired 500 memberships via the eGreeting program and other online efforts.

As if studying for the GRE or LSAT wasn't enough, now college students are being asked to take another exam: the ICT Literacy Assessment. Designed to measure their computer literacy, the test evaluates students' ability to build a spreadsheet, compose e-mail messages, and conduct basic research. The test was developed by ETS, which will be distributing the exam to about 7,000 to 10,000 students this January.

The purpose of the exam is to "bridge the digital divide," says Teresa Egan, project leader for new-product development at ETS. "There has been great effort to ensure that every college student has access to technology. But it has become apparent that just having technology isn't enough. They need to be able to use it and communicate with it." Different institutions plan on using the exam differently. Some will test incoming freshman as a way to gage their computer smarts; others will test college seniors as a way to gage their marketability in the workforce.

The sluggish economy of the last four years may be showing signs of recovery, if campus career fairs are any indication. According to a sampling of colleges and universities nationwide, prospective employers are making more inquiries, attending career fairs in larger numbers, and approaching students much sooner during the final year in school.

"We're finally seeing the turnaround in the employment world that we saw the year before in the economy," says Carol Lyons, dean of Career Services at Northeastern University (Mass.). Lyons reports a 20 percent increase over last year in on-campus recruiters at the school's fall career fair.

The number of companies represented at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Ind.) Career Fair was up by 25 percent over last year. Kevin Hewerdine, director of career services and employer relations, says the improvement in hiring at Rose-Hulman mirrors the national trend. Hewerdine sees increased interest from Midwest manufacturing companies and computer science job prospects.

Elaine Stover, associate director of Career Services at Arizona State University, also reports an increase in the number of employers participating in the school's career events. "We had 183 organizations participate in Career Fiesta, our largest event," Stover says. "That's a 12 percent increase over fall 2003."

At Bates College (Me.) the trend is "upward and very active," notes A. Charles Kovacs, director of the office of career services. "The number of on-campus recruiters is up, received job listings up, student activity up, and we are seeing more and more juniors returning to campus with full-time job offers in hand from their summer internships. In essence, the chill seems to be off the hiring end of the economy."

Lisa Warren, assistant director of career advising and recruitment programs at the University of Dayton's Career Services Center, says participation in UD's on-campus recruiting program is up this fall, with 48 companies scheduled to visit campus between October and November. "You can just even feel that there are more opportunities than in the past," she says.

Nancy Paul, director of the Career Development Center (CDC) at Binghamton University (N.Y.) says, "The number of employers participating in our employee fair increased slightly, on campus recruitment for fall is up and we're still getting requests to schedule on-campus visits for November and possibly into December."

A multi-university project on open source software for collaborative education has led to the formation of the .LRN ("Dot-Learn") Consortium to promote development of an open source application suite currently used by a quarter million students and educators at institutions of higher education and research around the globe.

"The .LRN pitch is simple. The educational world is still figuring out how best to deliver e-learning, especially to external audiences," says Cesar Brea of the .LRN Board of Directors. While commercial vendors are adding zeros to their prices, .LRN is providing a suite of applications and a development framework that is free and open so IHEs can save dollars and have the flexibility for the innovations that will work, says Brea.

The project originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the Sloan School of Management uses it to support online activities for more than 10,000 student and faculty users.

"People use it for course management and online communities, as well as specific and unique applications such as survey tools, weblogs, and so on," says Brea.

At MIT, more than 100 courses and as many online communities use the .LRN environment for classes, testing, course management, and club communications--even alumni are now starting to use it. "This was an integral part of the vision--to allow the different stakeholders of the MIT community to employ a common set of tools to collaborate and participate," says Al Essa, CIO of the Sloan School and co-chair of the .LRN Board.

"The applications and development tools that make up .LRN have been in continual development for a decade, resulting in a robust collaborative education platform," notes Essa.

So why wait so long to form a consortium?

"The schools that are involved feel there is sufficient momentum to push more aggressively for further adoption of .LRN, so we can increase the viability and sustainability of the project, and increase the contributions that come back from the user community into the open-source core," says Brea.

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It's official. Pop culture has infiltrated our campus's classrooms. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte will offer a course this January titled "Examining 'American Idol' Through Musical Critique' while the University of Washington has already created an undergraduate business course titled "Management Lessons from 'The Apprentice.'" The course was debuted last spring. Tapes of the program were played and then used as grounds for discussion. Course lecturer Laura Schildkraut said the course served as a hook to engage students.

UNC students taking the American Idol course will watch the show twice a week and then rate contestants, while studying the history of the different musical styles presented. The final project will involve a paper on who should win and why. Jay Grymes, assistant professor of musicology at UNC, says the course will explore the craft of critiquing music performances.