This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 1 1999. The copyright is by EDUCAUSE. See for additional copyright information.

Current Issues for Higher Education Information Resources Management

The EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee is responsible for proposing a list of current or developing issues and trends that are important to the future of information resources management and use in higher education. The following topics have been identified by the committee as key emerging or ongoing issues. We encourage articles for CAUSE/EFFECT on these topics.

Advanced Networking Challenges

Connectivity provided by advanced communications networks continues to expand at a truly amazing rate. We are now building networks on the scale of other major physical infrastructures like roads, electrical systems, and sewers. Ubiquitous networking is no longer a rallying cry, it has become a reality. Advanced communication networks are now widely recognized as major enablers of our academic missions. This growing importance of networks and networking has forced us to rethink our assumptions about the nature of networks and how to best develop and manage them. Key issues that should be addressed next are:

Challenges of a Distributed IT Environment

It is fair to assume that no single unit of the academy has undergone more dramatic changes in environment, services, expectations, and responsibilities than the office(s) directly responsible for supporting information technology (IT). The rapid changes in technology present an unpredictable, often turbulent environment. John Crecine, in Organizing and Managing Information Resources on Campus (Digital Press, 1986), wrote of the impact of technology changes on the IT center: "Simply put, change in computing technology, or technology delivery systems, implies a corresponding change in the structure of the organization (p. 36)."

In todayís world of LANs, WANs, the Internet, desktop systems, client/server software, desktop PCs, powerful yet user-friendly desktop applications, and mobile computing, the center of campus technology emerges at each desktop. Individuals often are better equipped than central computing centers were ten years ago. Many institutions, both large and small, have adapted their IT organizational structure to more closely match this current technology paradigm. In this organizational model, a central IT organization may exist, but smaller, sometimes single-person, IT support centers managing independent labs and user bases are distributed across campus in departments and offices.

From the user perspective, the distributed model can provide superior support and services. From a campuswide viewpoint, this highly fragmented environment presents new challenges that many institutions have not yet addressed. As information technology professionals we need to engage our institutions in discussions to address issues such as:

Authentication, Authorization, and Access Management

As colleges and universities extend access to electronic libraries, databases, computer applications, and other secured or subscription services, the need to authorize or "authenticate" users becomes critical. Once satisfied by a building- or campus-based approach to access management, librarians, student services officers, and other administrators are faced with the need to extend their services to faculty and students connected across public and private networks. Sometimes limited to network addressing schemes, the authorization of users fails outside the college campus connection. In turn, authorization methods to gain access to modems or printers are rarely the same for e-mail, application, or library system access. The challenges of extending access across both public and private networks include:

Distance Learning Challenges

Increasing numbers of students are becoming more receptive to interactive and asynchronous learning than to the broadcast learning style that typifies higher education today. As the learning market evolves to lifelong learning with students being educated anytime and at any place, the size of the market for higher education will increase dramatically. Current estimates indicate that over a million students are taking distance learning courses via the Internet and other similar technologies. Investors Business Daily forecasts there will be a compound annual growth rate of 95 percent for this type of online training and education.

While traditional higher education will continue to exist, student-centered asynchronous learning environments are being created to deliver courses at any time, any place. Colleges and universities are also developing the associated functions required to support students taking courses that are not time- or placebound. As information technology leaders, we need to be a part of discussions about distributed education that address, if not resolve, a number of key issues:

Intellectual Property Issues in a Networked Environment

The digital revolution is dramatically changing the ways we create, store, and distribute information and it has precipitated a re-examination of the laws and policies governing intellectual property. As both creators and consumers of information, institutions of higher education should provide leadership in addressing the questions that concern intellectual property policy in the digital age. That leadership should take the form of consistent national and campus-based efforts to create and preserve a meaningful balance between proprietary rights and exceptions for educational and scholarly purposes in the digital environment. In other words, as beneficiaries of the free flow of information, colleges and universities should be active advocates for keeping instructional and scholarly information affordably accessible. Current challenges include:

Campus Business Continuity Planning for the Year 2000 and Beyond

As each of our colleges and universities prepares for the arrival of the year 2000 (Y2K) we are all extremely busy finding and testing critical systems required to keep our respective enterprises operating. Technology integration within the fabric of our colleges and universities has reached a level where the various working units cannot perform their function without it. We have come a long way in a very short time. In doing identification and testing many colleges and universities are recognizing that it is nearly impossible to test each and every technology component and that some failure will occur. To address these failures many organizational units are being asked to write some form of business continuity plan to ensure successful operations during this time period. The Y2K challenge is just a well recognized form of an outage, as we know exactly when it will occur. We should be doing more generalized business continuity planning to address each and every possible form of outage, not just Y2K-related risks. Once written, these plans should be tested frequently and reviewed annually. Key issues we will need to discuss during the next year and hopefully continue after Y2K include these:


On the last morning of the CAUSE98 conference in Seattle last December, more than 200 conferees attended a "hot topics" session where representatives of the Current Issues Committee shared their list of issues and, in turn, captured additional issues from the audience. The following list summarizes issues suggested at that session.

Funding models and cycles

Improved preparedness of incoming students

IT staffing issues

Enterprise-wide solutions to teaching- learning-technology challenges

Enterprise-wide solutions to integrated administrative applications/systems

Student "ownership" challenges

Establishing well-defined processes for IT planning, governance, and decision making

Measuring IT effectiveness the table of contents