Information Technology Services in Community Colleges: Strengths, Opportunities, and Challenges

IT departments at community colleges provide services to more than 13 million students annually. Community colleges are distinguished from other types of higher education institutions by their institutional missions, the populations they serve, and the degrees and certifications they confer. However, as institutions of teaching and learning, they have congruent responsibilities with all higher education institutions to provide the technological infrastructure, support, and services that students, faculty, and staff need to be successful in their respective roles. ECAR engaged in a research project about IT services in community colleges to identify the strengths, opportunities, and challenges of community college IT.

This report is the product of a secondary analysis of the EDUCAUSE 2011 Core Data Service survey and the 2011 ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. Data from these sources are utilized to assess the current status of six IT service areas at community colleges. Findings show that community colleges are leaders in the area of the technology of teaching and learning, are on par with IT resource allocation and with IT management, are not far behind in IT governance and sustainability; they have the most room to grow with IT risk management. The results of this study replace anecdotes with evidence about the status and nature of community college IT.

Key Findings

IT support of teaching and learning is a particular strength.

  • Fewer community college students own mobile devices, and community colleges meet students’ needs for computer access through campus-based computers or loan/check-out programs.

IT resource allocation and IT management practices are similar to those of other types of institutions.

  • Community colleges allocate similar financial resources per total FTE (about $645) as do other types of institutions.
  • Although outsourcing remains relatively uncommon in higher education, community colleges generally outsource IT services at higher rates than other types of institutions.

IT governance and IT sustainability practices are opportunity areas for community colleges.

  • Community colleges are more likely to have IT included in their strategic plans, but faculty and students are less often included in the IT advisory process. Community colleges embrace sustainability practices in some areas (such as central IT programs to minimize energy consumption), but they are behind other types of institutions in certain areas (such as establishing policies on carbon neutrality).

Managing IT risk poses a challenge to community colleges.

  • Fewer community colleges than other types of institutions report having a disaster recovery plan or secondary power sources.

ECAR Recommends

See the 2012 Report for a full list of actionable results.

  • Recognize that fewer community college students own mobile devices, and assess your institution’s efforts to meet the student needs for computer access.
  • Continue to be leaders in the domain of distance education; pinpoint areas in which there is room to improve through regular benchmarking, and strategically target improvement efforts in those areas.
  • Consider how your institution measures up to the overall expenditure average of $645 per total FTE, and consider whether your institution is over or under this mark by design or by chance.
  • Consider opportunities to outsource IT functions and services with external suppliers.
  • Consider how well data are protected at your institution, whether there is a current and achievable disaster recovery plan in place, and the frequency of testing that plan.