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A Look at the EDUCAUSE COVID-19 QuickPoll Results: IT Budgets, 2020–2021

In March, colleges and universities were among the first institutions shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, halting in-person classes, urging students to move out of dormitories, and canceling campus events. For Fall of 2020, higher education institutions are divided on the best course forward, with some going remote for the foreseeable future, others planning to return to campus for a shortened semester, and many pursuing a dual-model that combines remote and in-person learning.

No matter what plan a college or university implements for the upcoming semester, institutions will continue to rely on digital alternatives for academics, activities, and operations. Educause compiled QuickPoll results for IT budgets in 2020-21 year, offering a glimpse at how colleges and universities will balance digital demand with financial obstacles.

Early data on some institutions IT Budget planning shows that most colleges and universities are preparing for cuts and that many options will be considered, as per Educause. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, higher education institutions face unprecedented financial challenges, from enrollment uncertainty, weakened endowments, and risks to multiple revenue streams, according to the New York Times.

Related Blog: How The Department of Education Is Distributing Higher Ed  Stimulus Funds

Colleges and universities have already had refund millions of dollars for housing or meal plans, are struggling to pay faculty or staff, and incurring high costs from the move to remote education. In March, colleges and universities received $14 billion in CARES act funding from the federal government to weather shutdowns and transition to digital learning, but the funds might not be enough to prevent cut or tightened budgets.

IT budgets will likely reflect the unilateral financial difficulties higher education is facing. However, IT departments face a unique challenge, in that during the response to the pandemic this spring, higher education departments relied heavily on information technology teams to pivot to remote teaching or work. New investments are likely needed to facilitate IT’s critical role in the next phase of education amid the pandemic, but institutions will be weathering an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Thus, IT leaders will be tasked with delivering expanded access to digital services across departments while managing institutional expectations for cost reductions, as per Educause.

What Do Educause Quick Poll Results Show?

Educause broke down IT budget data, but the resource outlines several key institutional contexts to consider.
  1. Educause noted that context matters. IT budgets don’t necessarily reflect an institutions overall resources or or priorities, and are more influenced by expected enrollment or potential scenarios for the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
  2. Most higher education institutions are anticipating a decline in enrollment, but few have a reliable estimate. Only four in ten institutions surveyed could supply data on enrollment drops, and of those who did provide an estimate, 86% a further decrease as the semester gets closer.
  3. Approximately half (57%) of institutions are preparing for two or more possible scenarios in the fall. The most commonly reported scenario predicts some version of face-to-face learning with social distancing and additional accommodations for high-risk students or teachers who would prefer to stay off campus in the fall. 

Poll researchers also had respondents to list top seven priorities for institutional budgeting versus IT budgeting. For the most part, these seemed to be aligned, for example, the top three priorities guiding both institutional and IT budgets are student and staff safety or health, student success, and reducing spending. However, some departmental priorities diverged slightly, with IT teams focused on online teaching excellence while institutional leaders cited attaining enrollment targets.

Related Blog: How Colleges and Universities Are Communicating With Incoming  Students
Even with aligned goals for the upcoming 2020-21 academic year, most respondents are anticipating IT budget cuts. Almost three-quarters (72%) are preparing for cuts in the IT institutional budget for the upcoming academic year. One-quarter are currently not preparing for any changes (16%) or are expecting an increase (8%). Respondents are relatively uncertain, given the unclear logistics of Fall 2020, what the cuts will be like, but four in ten respondents are preparing for a cut between 5% and 25%. Meanwhile, another 19% are anticipating cuts between 10% and 30%, while remaining respondents are relative outliers expecting either major budget slashing or an increase in IT investment.

IT Budgets and Campus Safety

Respondents are planning to cut IT budgets strategically, as the COVID-19 pandemic has required additional IT spending to move classes and work online, and institutions will continue to have this need in the fall. Many IT teams plan to reduce spending on less urgent services, such as in-classroom tools, and redistribute funds toward remote learning needs, such as cloud services and online platforms. Adjustments are expected, especially for public universities, which face a dual crisis as state budgets get smaller as well. IT departments are looking for tools that allow them to be nimble, and achieve university-wide goals in both in-person and remote settings.

Related Blog: What Fall Semester 2020 Will Look Like Across Universities
IT leaders and campus safety managers can collaborate to leverage technology to protect the campus community, even amid major budget changes. Administrators can drive the most value out of campus safety technology by bundling tools. For example, derive even more value form a high-capability mass notification system by pairing it with a campus safety app. The app serves students, faculty, and staff whether they are on or off campus - in addition to providing a direct line to campus safety teams, the tool includes a comprehensive directory of resources. Students can use the app to find out how to take advantage of counseling resources, academic advising, or other critical resources. 

Leveraging a campus safety app willl also allow campus safety to increase situational awareness, even amid hybrid or remote learning. App users can use an anonymous two-way tip texting tool to inform safety teams of any concerning behavior or situations from the campus community. Campus managers can continue to increase the reach of their safety technology, pairing a mass notification system with a campus safety app, meaning that budget allocations will continue to offer investment returns. 

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Mary Kate McGrath
Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.

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