Oct 20 2011

EDUCAUSE 2011: Mobile Apps Proliferate on College Campuses

The 2011 Campus Computing Survey exposes big gains in mobile-app deployments but slow progress in the cloud.

Mobile and cloud computing are hot topics of discussion among higher education IT professionals these days, but the speed with which these technologies are being incorporated into the campus experience varies widely. As the newly released 2011 Campus Computing Survey reveals, the proportion of public and private universities, public and private four-year colleges, and community colleges that have activated mobile apps jumped significantly over the past year. And yet, these same institutions have been remarkably slow in moving their mission-critical operations to the cloud.

The annual survey of CIOs, chief technology officers and other senior campus officials is conducted by The Campus Computing Project, the largest continuing study of the role of computing, e-learning and information technology in U.S. higher education. The project’s founding director, Kenneth C. Green, presented key findings from this year’s survey in a Thursday morning session at EDUCAUSE.

Nearly 500 respondents completed the survey online between Sept. 16 and Oct. 13. Questions covered a wide range of topics, among them mobile and cloud adoption; the continuing consequences of the IT budget cuts that have plagued institutions of all types in recent years; learning management systems and e-books; IT security; the value of IT for instruction; and strategic and disaster recovery planning.

Although the number of respondents was “down a little from last year,” Green said, it’s notable that 80 percent of this year’s reporting campuses also participated in the 2010 survey.

Mobile on the Move

Across all sectors of higher education, institutions have embraced mobile apps en masse. Roughly 55 percent of public universities had activated them as of fall 2011 (or intend to do so in the coming academic year). By comparison, just a third of these institutions reported similar progress in 2010.

Public four-year colleges and community colleges also reported big gains in this area. Among public colleges, mobile-app deployments jumped from 17.8 percent in 2010 to 43.6 percent in 2011; adoption by community colleges increased from 12.4 percent in 2010 to 40.9 percent in 2011.

More private institutions are going mobile as well. Private university deployments rose from 42.2 percent in 2010 to 50 percent in 2011, and private four-year college deployments increased from 25.2 percent in 2010 to 35.6 percent in 2011.

“Several factors explain these dramatic gains,” Green wrote in a report summarizing the survey findings. “Colleges and universities are playing catch-up with the consumer experience. Students come to campus with their smartphones and tablets expecting to use mobile apps to navigate campus resources and use campus services. Also important is that … more firms … now offer mobile options for their campus clients.”

Wherefore Art Thou, Cloud?

At the same time, the 2011 Campus Computing Survey found that cloud computing’s high profile within the higher education IT community belies its actual implementation. The following percentages of survey respondents reported that their campuses had made no effort to move these core operations to the cloud:

  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications: Just over 80 percent
  • Learning management systems applications: Approximately 50 percent
  • Customer relationship management applications: Roughly 70 percent
  • Research and high-performance computing activities: Just over 80 percent
  • Storage, archiving and business continuity activities: Approximately 50 percent

As Green noted in his report, “Campus ERP providers have been slow to offer cloud services to their clients. Although the cost savings may seem compelling, trust really is the coin of the realm: Many campus IT officers are not ready to migrate mission-critical data, resources and services to the cloud services offered by their IT providers.”

But fear not, Green told session attendees: The needle is moving, albeit slowly. “Although there isn’t much cloud activity in higher education, especially compared to other sectors, 21 percent of campuses do have a strategic plan for cloud computing,” he said. “That’s up from 15 percent in 2010 and 9 percent in 2009.”

By the Way…

Green concluded his session with a warning about digital natives’ supposed facility with technology, reminding attendees that “GGTT isn’t a portfolio of technology skills.” This generation may know how to “Game, Google, Text and Tweet,” he explained, “but this is not a recipe for success.”

Ultimately, he said, it’s not about students having the technology skills they need to succeed in the job market. “It’s about them having the skills to succeed at your institutions.”

To read the full 2011 Campus Computing Survey, visit campuscomputing.net.

For more coverage on EDUCAUSE 2011, visit our EDUCAUSE 2011 Coverage page.

Other Findings of Note

  • The percentage of 2011 Campus Computing Survey respondents who cited mobile computing as their “single most important” IT issue increased by a factor of three from 2010 to 2011
  • The most frequently cited issues across all campus types in 2011 include hiring and retaining IT staff (15.1 percent), the instructional integration of information technology (12.1 percent) and financing the replacement of aging IT equipment (11.9 percent)
  • The organizational structures for many IT units are in transition: 34 percent of respondents have reorganized in the past two years, 29 percent expect to restructure in the next two years, and 15 percent have already reorganized and expect to do so again in the next two years
  • 85 percent of the CIOs who completed the survey agree that their faculty view technology as a “critical resource for instruction,” but fewer than half (45 percent) of the presidents who participated said that investments in technology to support on-campus instruction have been “very effective