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The Importance of Financing in Higher Education Technology Projects

A very wise man once told me “once you have the money figured out, the rest of the problem is easy”. Seriously? Complex problems can be boiled down to money? Yes. In my experience, having adequate financial resources is critical to solving complex IT problems.

It is impossible in this day of rapidly changing technology to address campus issues without adequate funding. Of course, everyone tries to solve those issues anyway, and generally fail for lack of finances. Which leads to bad feelings from the President and the VPs and anyone else who thinks this stuff is easy.

It is easy, with the right amount of money. How much money? Far more than most universities have the stomach for. Typical IT spends at universities are about 5% of operational budget. And most of that 5% is already going into things like staff, licensing, and hardware/software upgrades. Very little is left for innovation or taking on new projects. But, there’s capital funding too, you say? Sure, if those funds are available and not already being ransacked by every hand out for new programs, fixing buildings (important!), building new buildings (maybe important!), and aesthetics (important!).

So, let’s say you get a big capital award despite the competition from other hungry mouths for scarce dollars. What can you do with $2 million? A lot, but only if you also are allowed to hire additional staff to add capacity. Otherwise you’re just parking the money on top of an already burdened operation. So that means more operational dollars, because everyone knows you can’t hire staff with capital dollars. Where will those $ come from? Tuition revenue? State tax funding support/increase? You’re dreaming! So, maybe you just hire consultants, right? They can be hired with capital dollars and can help move the project along. But, consultants leave behind new technologies that the existing staff have to absorb, and without staff involvement throughout during the consulting engagement there is no real knowledge transfer or “ownership”. So, you’re back to needing more staff.

It’s not easy. But, it is true that once you have the money figured out, the rest of the problem is easy. The problem is the "getting the money" part is really difficult.

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