The State of Campus Computing

October 10, 2006

Wireless is ascendant, security breaches are (despite the headlines) on the decline, and support for open source technologies remains strong -- stronger, at this point, than actual deployment.

Those are among the findings of the 2006 version of the annual survey by the Campus Computing Project, which will be released today at the annual Educause meeting in Dallas. Campus Computing, 2006, the 17th edition of the survey by Kenneth C. Green, the project's executive director.

The survey, which includes responses gathered from information technology officials at 540 colleges and universities in September and October, finds that network and data security remains at the top of tech administrators' worry lists for the third straight year. Nearly 30 percent of respondents said security was their "single most important IT issue," followed by instructional integration of information technology (17.3 percent) and upgrading and replacing campus administrative information systems (16.3 percent). Security was the top issue at every type of institution in the survey, but the runnerup varied depending on institution type. Public and private universities listed upgrading their administrative systems as their second most significant issue, while community colleges and four-year private colleges cited instructional integration.

Somewhat surprisingly, given continuing headlines at a wide range of campuses about breaches of private data, the survey shows that fewer campuses reported experiencing security incidents and threats in the 2006 academic year. Reports of thefts of computers containing confidential data and of hacks of campus networks declined by a few percentage points each, while reports of major virus or spyware infestations fell sharply (virus problems, for example, fell to 24.7 percent of participating campuses in academic 2006 from 46.1 percent the previous year).

But new threats are emerging, too: 9.9 percent reported a security incident tied to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook that have become increasingly popular with students, and 11.3 percent of institutions reported security issues related to "the exposure of sensitive data on a computer server not managed by central IT services" (see related article). "Research labs, as well as some academic departments and service units, often want to manage their own data and hardware," said Green of the Campus Computing Project. "But the survey data confirm recent news reports that network servers not managed by central IT services may be particularly vulnerable to hackers."

(Another survey, released this morning at the Educause meeting by CDW-G and Eduventures, finds that 58 percent of the IT managers and directors surveyed at 182 campuses had experienced at least one technology security incident in the previous year. Nine percent reported a loss/theft of personal student information, the survey found.)

Commitment to and implementation of wireless networking continues to build on all types of campuses, the survey shows. More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of all campuses had a strategic plan in place for deploying wireless technology by this fall, up from 64 percent last year and 53.3 percent in 2004. And the proportion of classrooms in which wireless was already in place continued to climb, too, up to 51.2 percent, up from 42.7 percent in 2005 and 31.1 percent two years ago.

The growth was evident in all sectors of higher education, too: 31.7 percent of community college classrooms are wireless enabled (up 5 percentage points from 2005 and about 10 points from 2004), and the proportions had climbed similarly, and neared 60 percent, at public and private research universities.

The picture for use of open source technologies is mixed. Although campus IT officials continue to express their support for and commitment to open source technologies, their follow through lags in some areas, the Campus Computing survey suggests.

More than half of respondents said they believed open source tools and applications would "play an increasingly important role in our campus IT strategy" -- numbers that neared or exceeded 60 percent at public and private research universities and public four-year colleges. But fewer than a third of campus officials said they viewed open source as a "viable alternative for key campus [administrative computing] applications."

And while a majority of campus officials reported at least sampling if not significantly using open source tools in "backroom" operations, a solid majority described their current strategies for deploying open source applications as either having no interest or currently only "observing" rather than doing.

Some material about the Campus Computing Survey will be available on its Web site today. Full copies of the report will be available for purchase December 10.

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