Colleges held off on major technology purchases during the pandemic, report says

by Emma

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Dive Brief:

  • Higher education institutions held off on purchasing new student technology systems during the pandemic, according to research from the Tambellini Group, an information technology advisory firm.
  • Prior to the pandemic, the number of such investments was projected to increase 30% in 2020. Instead, it declined 15% to 66 purchases. The research covers more than 4,300 colleges and six major vendors.
  • The firm predicts colleges will continue to hesitate to make major changes due to limited options, a lack of competitive pricing and vendor delays.

Dive Insight:

Tambellini defines student systems as the core technology infrastructure that connects the services students access within an institution. Some schools are making incremental moves toward adopting cloud-based systems, the report notes.

Colleges have focused their cloud-based technology investments on a few key areas during the pandemic, Vicki Tambellini, the firm’s president and CEO, said in an interview. Those include learning technologies such as video conferencing and remote proctoring, as well as identity and access management tools. Some colleges called on companies like Google and Microsoft to provide cloud-based infrastructure to help run their systems around the clock, Tambellini added.

The pandemic accelerated colleges’ moves to the cloud, Tambellini said, but prior research and reporting explains why colleges have been slow to change. The cost associated with switching to the cloud can be a barrier, particularly for small colleges, Inside Higher Ed reported in 2018, though some vendors argue that the shift saves money on capital expenses down the line. 

Federal relief funding helped colleges justify the investment during the pandemic, Tambellini said. Some institutions spent some of their federal aid money on technology, while others felt comfortable using their own funds to cover the costs of new services because federal support was allocated to students through the aid packages. Schools also used the money to pay faculty extra to participate in training for online teaching, and they provided hardware so students could access remote classes.

“We’ve seen increased attention across the board for institutions to address problems that in some cases they’ve known about but didn’t feel the urgency, necessarily, to address,” Tambellini said.

Another recent survey, this one of more than 650 higher education leaders, supports the idea that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of cloud-based services. The biggest areas of investment ed tech industry group Educause identified included online instruction, student services, and enrollment and admissions management. However, budget constraints and faculty resistance remained the biggest barriers to uptake, the survey found.

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