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Things That Used To Cost Nothing

When I started in the Higher Ed IT business in 1982, there were huge rooms filled with mainframe computers. They cost millions of dollars. There were many employees to keep these things running, and produce reports and keep the primitive administrative terminal transaction systems alive.

But, fast forward to 2017. By and large, the room full of mainframe computers is gone, along with their enormous singular expense. They’ve been replaced with efficient server racks of many computers sharing the work but at an exponential capacity over the old roomful of mainframe days. Some of us are using “the cloud” to run critical services. But guess what? The new stuff also costs money - a lot of money.

Hmmm…. So we’ve replaced old expenses with new ones? Yes. And, in addition, we now provide campus wide network and wireless (millions of $ per installation), printing services all over campus, consumer-end student computer labs, self-service applications to meet every need, mobile applications for the student on the go, and data, data, DATA! An unquenchable administrative and oversight compliance thirst for more DATA!

As I mentioned, this all costs money. A LOT of money. Back in 1982 wireless costs were $0. Computer lab costs were minimal, and labs were only found in the back reaches of computer science departments. Printers everywhere? Forget about it! And data? If you couldn’t get your answer from putting together three or four green bar paper reports, then you weren't going to get it.

We wonder why administrative costs are rising out of proportion to other industries, and why it costs so much to go to college these days. That's because the demands for services and data have exploded, with no end in sight, many of them driven by new oversight requirements from accrediting agencies and government. Combine this with salary demands from a new breed of highly skilled senior executives to manage the increasingly complex higher ed business environment and the end result is predictable.

Is this progress? Or, an unsustainable business model? Or both?

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