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May 05, 2005

Worse Practice #2

Technology funding flows for students - trickles for alumni and development

Lately I’ve been thinking about how college campuses are not being politically correct.

My premise is, with limited resources, higher education organizations, tend to pour money into campus technology and Internet needs while providing virtually no funding to alumni and  development for technology needs to continue to serve and make their alumni better stewards of the institution.

Have you ever wondered how much money your institution pours into student and support services technology? Look around you. Look into every department on campus and you will see each department spending wildly on technology to support their mission and their end customers, your students.

Your students are provided the latest technology that the IT department can provide. Distance learning software, wireless access, software to check their personal records and more. Literally millions more are spent on hardware, software, staff and outside support to keep all of this running. Now think for a minute how much your department is spending on technology, programmers, graphic designers, content managers and other items to keep your alumni connected to your institution. Our research has shown very little is being spent within the alumni and advancement offices.

Why?

I’m not sure. There is clearly a need to be able to communicate more frequently with alumni at no cost.

  • Are those in advancement or university relations not leading their department  the way those in other departments are leading theirs?

  • Is leadership at the very top of the institution just not focused on staying in touch with their alumni?

It doesn’t make much sense to provide the state of the art hardware, software and services and then NOT provide the same level of service to students after they graduate. Who’s making the conscious decision to fund projects for the students, knowing the same students are graduating, whose expectations have been increased due to the level of technology thrown at them on campus, and then providing little or no funding to support their needs when they’ve left campus.

Make sense to you? Maybe I’m off base on this one, but after 10 years watching alumni and development offices struggle with ever decreasing budgets that allow for little to no technology investments, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

Anybody out there got a way to show upper management how grossly under funded the alumni and development’s technology budgets are? We need your help!

Share with us your thoughts.

Posted by Don Philabaum on May 5, 2005 at 04:56 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The first question should be, "What percentage of the alumni are we missing without this technology?" Is it 20%? 50%?

The second question is, "Does our faculty actually support technology?" or are they going along because they know the already-tech students want it?

It is really easy for department heads to let the issue slide by when technology is not as popular among faculty and alumni as it is among the student communities we serve. The young folks speak the tech language know what they want, and how to get it. They are educated early -- I saw two 5-year old kids at an OHS theatre production this weekend with cell phones!!

So, while I am a huge proponent of NEW Media, I believe funding for faculty and alumni advancement in technology should start first with education on how it can benefit them before, or while, introducing the technology (hardware/software) to accomplish these goals. They are more likely to utilize the technology if they see and understand its benefits.

Spending money on the technology without educating the user is fruitless. That is why some really great tech products have failed!

One perfect example I have witnessed in the past few years is the "No Student Left Behind" funding that enabled the purchase of hardware and software for K-12 labs that sat unused for many, many months. Since the administrators and teachers were not trained to use them, much less trained to teach the kids how to use them, and the "trainers" were under funded and understaffed, many months passed before trainers were able to set up and train all of the teachers needed to accomplish the goal. By that time, the equipment was considered outdated!

We currently have faculty members on our campus who still write with chalk from the left topside of the chalkboard, to the bottom right side of the chalkboard. They believe in the old-fashioned teaching tools, and will not consider anything else. Unless they are educated on how the new technology benefits them, they will never change!

Questions that need to be answered

I believe the same is true with alumni. Some will use the technology right now, but how many? Do we have enough answers to warrant the investment? Is it worth the investment now, or should we look down the road, when tech-savvy users make up a majority in the alumni pool?

Should we try to convert through education those who were not exposed to technology early and hesitate to change? Will it work? Some department heads just do not believe in technology, believe it or not! Therefore, I think the term to be used in this case is, "beating a dead horse!" If they don't believe in it, they will not include it in their budgets.

While various new forms of communication are flourishing, the statistics show that most of these tools are being utilized by the teen to 30-year-old markets. (i.e.: Text messaging, Blogging, Podcasts, etc.) If this is the case, how are already under funded colleges/universities suppose to justify spending money on technology targeted at such a small demographic?

My suggestion would be to spend a little money on market research before spending a lot of money on change. Then, if the research supports the cost of the change, DO IT! If not, offer less costly options to current alumni, and let the old dogs sleep.

Lea Ray
Creative and Technical Supervisor
S. Gale Denley Student Media Center
The University of Mississippi
laray@olemiss.edu

Posted by: Lea | Mar 6, 2007 1:39:29 PM

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