How a small IT investment can produce campus-wide results

Commentary: Oral Roberts University's CIO explains how doing it all with limited funding can often feel like "turning the Titanic in a duck pond."
Randolph Hall, College of Charleston, South Carolina
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Considering all that technology is expected to enable on a modern campus, the amount of funding available to the average higher education institution is quite small. In the past 15 years that I have managed technology on college campuses, it has become clear that balancing the technology on a modern campus with the budget often feels like turning the Titanic in a duck pond.

The average annual information technology budget for campus operations ranges from just 5 to 7 percent of total revenue at public and private 4-year universities, a budget that includes salaries and the ongoing maintenance and equipment to keep all things running smoothly. The requests for new systems, upgrades, enhancements, increased Wi-Fi, and faster access often appear overwhelming when reviewing the cost against the budget appropriations. The budget allocation for IT has not gone up more than a 1 percent over the past 10 years, yet the technology expectations continue to double annually.

The area in which to navigate the value of technology while meeting the increased demands of all constituents has become smaller and smaller. The rudders and propulsion engines on the modern day campus cruise ship need to be replaced. However, before replacing them, it may be time to consider a different paradigm altogether. The replacement efforts can no longer be the same parts, talents, and vendors who have become fatigued with trying to do more with less. Rather, we may need a booster rocket to launch the campus cruise ship in a larger body of water.

Many vendors assume the new body of water should be “the cloud” while forgetting the size of the system they’re working with. Every IT leader needs to see the world of campus technology from a fresh, yet exciting perspective. This fresh perspective is what some are calling the NetGen Campus, Smart Campus, or Empowered Campus designs.


A fresh and exciting perspective is to imagine that the little piece of the revenue that you do have can be leveraged to make the campus experience even bigger and better. Former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, said it the best that “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Though perhaps not enough is being spent on campus technology, no other component of the campus wields as much power as technology. The small details of IT can make big things happen.

Very few college or university presidents would complain if technology became the lever that grows the total revenue through enrollment, retention, and efficiencies. I personally believe that this is possible and have witnessed this effect at more than ten college campuses. However, it is only possible if you leverage the technology, processes, and vendors in the most advantageous manner.

At Oral Roberts University, we have set all-time high increases in enrollment, retention and placement. Retention has reached 95 percent for fall and spring semester freshman, and placement has hit an all-time high of 99 percent. Technology has played a key role, but so did all the processes, people, leaders, and vendors. Collectively, it all works together to leverage the small investment in technology across all areas.

There is a great quotation attributed to Archimedes, the Greek mathematician, that serves as a powerful reminder of how much one can do with a well-applied tool: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I should move the world.” I believe technology leaders and campus technology teams can leverage a major shift by taking the 4 to 8 percent of funding they receive and using technology to leverage the appropriate growth to transform their campuses.

Michael Mathews

Written by Michael Mathews

Michael L. Mathews is the chief information officer at Oral Roberts University. He's been working in senior-level IT positions for more than 20 years and has worked with more than a dozen higher education institutions across the country including the University of New York, Seattle University and Texas A&M.

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