Budget concerns stand in way of higher ed's tech adoption, survey finds

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Budget concerns are the most-cited roadblock in the way of universities adopting new technologies, a survey of more than 600 higher education leaders found.

A Chronicle of Higher Education survey questioned 665 higher education leaders in March about technology decisions they made during the pandemic. While respondents said they were most interested in exploring open educational resources, predictive analytics, AI and chatbots, about 75% said they believed budget concerns were a top challenge in using new technologies.

IT staffing and budgets went under review for higher education institutions across the country as universities simultaneously needed to boost technology capacity while balancing revenue challenges exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Some universities are now using federal recovery funds to accelerate technology adoption or modernization to support online or hybrid learning.

More than half of respondents listed faculty reluctance as a challenge to adoption of new technology. Two other top concerns were strengthening the campus’s IT infrastructure and measuring outcomes.

“Administrators including presidents and provosts, finance officers, and technologists were generally in agreement about those challenges, although IT staff were somewhat less worried about the IT infrastructure and were more concerned than their colleagues about evaluating outcomes,” the report reads.

Communication between senior administrators about technology improved because of the pandemic, the majority of respondents said, and 75% felt this communication would continue post-pandemic.

The survey shows a gap between how IT and other university leaders viewed the pivot to online learning prompted by the pandemic, though. When asked if the university’s “technical operations and systems” were prepared for remote operation during the pandemic, 74% of technology officers agreed. But only 60% of college leaders and 58% of finance officers felt the same way.

Concerns shared anecdotally with researchers on online learning preparation were a lack of consistency in online tools and technology in classrooms.

“Some respondents suggested that campus cultures, including an ethos focused on in-person teaching, slowed the adoption of remote instruction,” the report reads. “As one respondent said, ‘As a residential liberal arts college, the faculty were previously not interested in or supportive of exploring online teaching to any significant degree. Therefore, classrooms were not equipped with the ideal hardware, and we did not have expertise with the ideal software.'”

The survey, sponsored by software company Ellucian, also explored how officials felt cloud technology affected online learning during the pandemic. About 97% of officials said cloud-computing services were either very or somewhat valuable during the pandemic. Online instruction and student services were the top areas respondents felt would be improved most through using cloud services.

Cloud technology is rolling out at universities to update their services organization-wide. Loyola University New Orleans recently selected Ellucian as its provider for updating student information and finances, modernizing paper-based processes that would require visits to multiple departments.

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