Bandwidth and internet connection speeds on most U.S. college campuses increased significantly from 2006 to 2007, but the largest universities still have huge advantages in accessing high-performance networks, according to a study released this month.

The Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2007 Report, conducted by the higher-education IT advocacy group EDUCAUSE, shows bandwidth gains at community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities with master’s and doctoral programs.

Total bandwidth at the 994 colleges and universities surveyed by EDUCAUSE has "increased significantly" since the 2006 survey was conducted, according to the report. Doctoral institutions saw the biggest gains, showing 60 percent more bandwidth. Bandwidth at bachelor’s institutions was up 51 percent, and master’s institutions increased by 32 percent. Two-year colleges had the smallest gains, with a 28-percent increase in bandwidth since 2006.

Despite across-the-board gains in internet bandwidth, doctoral institutions had an edge on access to the highest performing networks. Twenty-six percent of those universities said they had access to networks running at 1,000 megabits per second or faster. Ten percent of master’s institutions had access to these networks–whereas less than 3 percent of two-year colleges and bachelor’s programs had access to networks that fast.

There are still colleges using relatively slow-bandwidth internet connections, defined as speeds less than 4.5 megabits per second, the report said. Six percent of two-year schools have these slower connection speeds, along with 3 percent of bachelor’s schools, according to the study. The most common bandwidth for universities with master’s programs was between 45 and 89 Mbps.

The EDUCAUSE study, conducted and written by researchers Julia A. Rudy and Brian L. Hawkins, said doctoral programs’ access to high-speed networks was "most likely [owing] to the large data sets, visualization, and other applications needed by faculty at such institutions for their academic work."

Other data saw little change from 2006 to 2007. Shaping bandwidth–the common practice of adjusting and limiting internet usage to prevent network interference–remains a staple of higher education. Only 6 percent of all campuses surveyed in the report said they did not have bandwidth-shaping policies. Nearly 14 percent of two-year institutions did not shape or track bandwidth–by far the highest percentage cited in the Core Data Service Report.

Hawkins and Rudy said IT funding in higher education followed expected patterns once again in 2007. Funding increased according to "institutional complexity," meaning two-year colleges had the least funding, while schools with doctoral programs had the most.

Universities with doctoral programs reported $11.1 million in annual IT funding, while master’s universities reported $2.7 million, bachelor’s programs had $1.4 million, and two-year institutions received $1.1 million.

Experts said a massive funding advantage for universities with doctoral programs wasn’t a surprise, with some experts adding that the most prestigious colleges are often inefficient with their IT budgets, spending money simply because they have the resources available.

"It might not be necessary," said Lee Prevost, president and founder of SchoolDude.com, a technology solutions company that serves more than 3,500 school districts and higher-education campuses. "The large universities do it because it’s dogma."

Having the most advanced campus networks, Prevost said, does not always mean faculty and students have access to premium internet connections, because users might require more bandwidth for complex projects and coursework.

"The internet is still sort of the Wild West, and a big pipe does not necessarily translate into high throughput," Prevost said.

IT personnel salaries vary greatly across the higher-education spectrum. Colleges with doctoral programs have an average of $9.3 million for IT staff; master’s schools have $1.8 million for staff; schools with bachelor’s programs have $959,000, and two-year colleges have $740,000 for IT staff.

The EDUCAUSE study also examined the ubiquity of technology fees in higher education. Seventy percent of community college respondents said they charge a yearly technology fee; 64 percent of master’s schools and 58 percent of doctoral universities charged these fees. These results were similar to findings from the 2006 survey. 

Links:

Educause Core Data Study

School Dude

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