One of the most commonly cited measures regarding the level of commitment an institution has for information technology is the percent of the institution s budget that is spent on information technology. Table 2 lists the percentage of information technology spending at various types of higher education institutions.
Table 2. Total Computing Budget as a Percentage of Total Annual Institutional Budget
Table 2 indicates that, as a percentage of overall institutional funding, Rhode Island public institutions are, in general, spending less than the national mean levels and are spending less than the state-of-the-art institutions.
As a special point of comparison, in November, 1994, Arizona voters overwhelming approved a referendum (63 percent approval) on a bond to provide the MCC with an additional $386 million that will be distributed evenly over the next seven years. As part of that bond, $87 million is specifically dedicated for technology and will increase Maricopa's annual spending on information technology to between 9 and 10 percent of the annual budget. Those percentages approach the levels some of the leading U.S. research universities, like MIT, Stanford University and Georgia Tech, are dedicating to technology resources.
With the exception of the most recent allocations, the operating budgets for the computer centers at Rhode Island institutions have been declining. To provide additional funds for computers and associated facilities, in June 1994, the Board of Governors approved technology fees for the three public institutions. Descriptions of these fees and how the resulting revenues will be used are in table 3.
Table 3. Technology Fees at Rhode Island Public Institutions of Higher Education
Although the fees were first collected in the fall semester (1994), the computer centers are just now spending those funds. URI has added the funds to the general computing budget to make up for budget cuts at the Academic Computing Center. CCRI has used the funds to purchase microcomputers for student computer laboratories and various other networking and telecommunications equipment. RIC is using the funds to open two new student computer laboratories.
A second measure that typically reflects the direction an institution is headed with information technology is the ratio of students to microcomputers and/or workstations. Recent estimates show that nationally the ratio of students to computers is about 14 to 1 in the K-12 community, whereas the same ratio in public higher education is about 24 to 1 (Bleed, 1995).
Table 4 shows that the Rhode Island public colleges and the university are not supplying microcomputers in numbers that meet the national average. This is one of the most serious problems with the information technology base at the public institutions -- if students do not have widely accessible and powerful workstations (in classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and residence halls) that are connected to a high-speed campus information network, then their educational experiences are dated. Yet these poor ratios do not even fully convey the deficient state of student computing resources. Most of the microcomputers at the Rhode Island institutions are old systems and are not equipped with the necessary memory, storage capacity and central processing units that are required for computing in a graphically intensive and information rich environment. The microcomputers at Rhode Island College are primarily 286 systems that have limited capabilities. At URI, the Academic Computing Center has not purchased a single new student microcomputer in two years.
Table 4. Ratio of Students to Microcomputers and Workstations
In addition to insufficient numbers of workstations, the public institutions in Rhode Island have network infrastructures that may be characterized as a patchwork of technologies that, in some cases, are ten years old. Table 5 summarizes basic information regarding the data networks at the six institutions.
In terms of network technology, URI is implementing Ethernet -- the current standard for most universities and colleges. RIC and CCRI's networks are based on asynchronous technology which is roughly ten years old and typically has very slow transmission speeds. It is worth noting that all the existing fiber at URI, RIC and CCRI can facilitate Ethernet and modern networking and telecommunications technologies (Fast Ethernet, ATM, FDDI and ISDN).
Table 5. Basic Network Characteristics
The Rhode Island public institutions provide relatively limited network access via modems -- which is a critical feature for opening the network to students and scholars and the general public from off-campus locations. However, it should be noted that campuswide information on URI's Gopher server is accessible by all Rhode Islanders through the Internet, RINet and Ocean State Freenet. Furthermore, the modems at Rhode Island institutions are relatively slow, whereas UD, SFSU and MCC have many more that are significantly faster. The modem pools at RIC and CCRI are limited even further because their telecommunications equipment is not compatible with specific Internet standards (SLIP).
One of the most striking differences between the state-of-the-art institutions and the Rhode Island institutions is the relatively sparse number of connections to the data networks. Those connections are a direct indication of how accessible network information is to students, faculty, administrators, and the general public. Evidence of limited network accessibility is demonstrated in a different context in Figures 6 through 10, which provide some basic data on the distribution of the network backbone.
Figure 6 indicates that the fiber network backbone at URI has been extended to just 25 percent of all the buildings. The study being conducted by Elert and Associates will help to determine the sequence for connecting the 19 residence halls and nearly 80 other academic and administrative facilities. Because RIC and CCRI have significantly fewer buildings, the percentage of buildings connected to the backbone is higher. Currently at RIC, there are just seven buildings remaining unconnected to the fiber backbone (5 residence halls and 2 other buildings). Note that UD, SFSU and MCC have extended their Ethernet backbone to virtually every building.
Figure 7 and Figure 8 show that virtually all the academic and administrative departments at RIC and CCRI are connected to the institutions asynchronous networks. At URI only about 50 percent of the academic departments and 15 percent of the administrative departments are connected to the institution s high-speed network.
Figure 9 indicates that, despite the connections to many academic departments, relatively few faculty offices at RIC and CCRI (30 percent and 24 percent, respectively) have desktop systems that are connected to the networks. That percentage at URI is higher (60 percent) because the Academic Computing Center has been making an effort to ensure that the technologically intensive departments, such as engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and the Graduate School of Oceanography, have direct desktop access to the institution s Ethernet network. Additionally, about 250 URI faculty have serial line connections to the institution s data network. Note that the networking/telecommunications professionals at SFSU (Schmidt, 1995) and MCC (Bleed, 1995) stated that "even if you place a networked system on every faculty member's desktop, it is unlikely that 100 percent of faculty will use their computers." In fact, during 1994, SFSU introduced a special incentive program that would pay for all the necessary equipment and training to connect the remaining faculty -- yet 15 percent of SFSU faculty have not taken advantage of the program.
The most remarkable statistic in Figure 10 is the extremely low percentage of desktop systems in URI administrative offices that are connected to the network. Note that at URI additional administrative departments can access the network indirectly, through the Administrative Computer Center's IBM mainframe and an IBM TCP/IP connector -- that provides access to standard Internet resources. As URI migrates to emerging client/server platforms, administrators will have direct Ethernet access to campuswide information, theInternet and the WWW. Furthermore, most of the administrative computing at URI is done on a separate IBM 3270 network. Nevertheless, if URI is to increase the effectiveness of administrative activities and move toward a paperless work environment, it seems essential that all administrators and administrative support staff be connected directly to the campus information network. At UD, SFSU and MCC, all administrators are not only expected to have access and to use their institution's information network, but it is now practically inconceivable that their administrations could function without such facilities.
Most institutions are just beginning to complete cabling to residence halls and dormitory rooms. In fact, according to SFSU's strategic plan for information technology, during 1995 all dormitory rooms will be wired with Ethernet connections to the information network. Delaware has Ethernet drops, phone lines, and 78 channel cable television connection to every dormitory room. Only a small number of dormitory rooms have serial connections to URI's network but no dormitory rooms at URI or RIC have direct network connections (see Figure 11 and Figure 12).
Figure 13 and Figure 14 show the percentage of faculty and administrators who use computer accounts that have direct access to campus wide information. The accounts typically provide access to campuswide information and Internet resources like E-mail, Gopher, Mosaic and central computing databases and applications software. Those graphics indicate that 70 percent of the faculty and administrators at URI have accounts that have direct access to campuswide information and information on the Internet. Roughly half the faculty and 36 percent of administrators at RIC are using accounts to access campuswide information and information on the Internet. CCRI faculty in mathematics, industrial technology/engineering and computer studies have and use academic computer accounts, but generally do not have Internet access.
All six institutions offer computer accounts to any enrolled student. In fact, UD and SFSU automatically provide every student with an account -- at SFSU only about 32 percent of students actually use their accounts (see Figure 15). The use of computer accounts varies significantly between institutions and is likely due to the types of on-line applications that are available and of interest to students. Further, the accessibility of workstations/microcomputers is a key factor affecting student use of accounts. Systems that allow for on-line registration and course enrollment information seem to increase the numbers of students who actually use accounts. The use of Internet applications varies between institutions (students use E-mail most frequently, followed by Gopher and WWW software). Note that less than 1 percent of students at CCRI have access to the Internet. At URI, 60 percent of students have accounts either through the Academic Computing Center or through academic groups like the School of Engineering and the Graduate School of Oceanography. The vast majority of accounts are accessed by students from general purpose computer laboratories and in facilities within departments. The students who use accounts most frequently also use dial-up access from their residences -- typically those are students who are majoring in engineering, physical sciences, business, mathematics and other technical fields. However, none of the institutions have the network infrastructure capacity to support extensive outside dial-in access to its networks.
Aside from data network connectivity, the students at UD and SFSU have cable television and a wide array of telephone services available in dormitory rooms. The phone systems at the three state-of-the-art institutions offer voice mail, automated 24-hour phone answering, information menuing and messaging, call forwarding, call waiting, and emergency 911 service. These institutions also provide administrators, faculty, staff and students with many more phone lines and digital phone sets than what are available at Rhode Island public institutions. Figure 16 shows the percentage of digital phone sets at the six schools -- these data are an indication of the type of phone services available to people on their office desktops and in the dormitory rooms. Aside from better sound quality, digital phones provide a variety of features including easier telephone conferencing, call forwarding, call transferring, speed dialing, call backs, voice mail, and voice messaging.
The phone services at URI and RIC present a risk to the institutions because 911 emergency service is not readily accessible from all the dormitory rooms (note, URI uses a non-standard emergency dialing system, 212). The current phone switches at URI and RIC do not support the North American Dialing Plan standards, so individuals can not call various regions in the United States. The existing switches cannot accommodate additional phone lines and the cabling is in relatively poor condition, requiring considerable maintenance. URI and RIC do not offer any of the current standard features of voice mail and automated phone answering. CCRI has just finished a voice mail pilot project that will lead to a campuswide voice mail system in 1995.
Among the many problems with information technology and the infrastructures at the public institutions, the telephone systems (switches, number of lines, cabling, phone sets and phone features) at URI and RIC are probably in the most critical state. This feeling was echoed by the computing directors who indicated that the phone systems rank in the bottom quintile when compared to peer institutions. Those rankings, along with rankings of data networks, are displayed in Table 6.
The infrastructure is the paramount factor affecting the effective use of information technology in academia. The telephone systems, computer networks, microcomputers/workstations and other equipment in Rhode Island public higher education are largely out-of-date and are simply not adequate for supporting the emerging forms of information and technology. The voice networks and the analog telephone switches and phone sets at all three institutions need to be upgraded to a more advanced technology. Technical support and training staff in the computer centers are already overburdened.
Without substantial investments in cabling, equipment, software, staff, training and planning, the public institutions of higher education cannot compete with institutions which have already made, and continue to make, such investments. But clearly just money is not enough. Institutions that are successful in information networking have clearly defined their goals and objectives and then have developed and implemented strategies to achieve them. These strategies not only include the development of a technology plan, but also elaborate on how to provide the staff support and training needed to put the technology to optimal use. Ever present is the question of how to fund these needs for equipment, personnel and training, and the strategies must also address this issue.
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