By Katie Quaranta
Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur and Chief Information Officer Brice Bible are leading discussions with constituent bodies and the Board of Trustees this week about implementing and financing needed technology infrastructure upgrades and a new Student Information System.
These discussions will serve as a prelude to more in-depth conversations with constituent groups and Budget Planning Council that will occur before any funding decisions are finalized.
Bible said the IT infrastructure upgrade is overdue. The university's network equipment is outdated, he said, noting that older systems have decreased efficiency and are not designed to integrate newer security protocols that would help protect against outside threats.
The upgrade, which he estimates will cost nearly $17 million, should address these concerns and improve the overall functionality and security of IT systems.
Replacing the current Student Information System (SIS) -- a relational database that stores student, curricular and financial information -- would cost an additional $23 million. A new system is vital, Bible stressed, because the maker of the current software, installed in 1993, is going out of business and will no longer support it within a year and a half.
"We have to make a decision and move fairly quickly," he said.
At the Board of Trustees meeting this week, Decatur plans to share as discussion points three scenarios -- in which the university would take on $25 million, $50 million and $100 million in debt -- as a means of financing the IT improvements, SIS purchase and other strategic initiatives.
In the $50 million scenario, which would allow for all of the IT upgrades, the university would make about $6 million per year in debt payments. Decatur said that money would come from some combination of budget reallocations and a reasonable increase in student fees.
"What is the right balance between how much to reallocate in the budget and how much to increase student fees?" Decatur said, noting a question that will be addressed through dialogues with all constituent groups on campus.
He also noted that the university would not have a clear picture of how much funding to expect from the state until the governor announces his budget in January. He said the BPC will continue to develop contingency plans to prepare for reduced state funding, although higher education has been spared from significant budget reductions so far this fiscal year.
"We should all thank Gov. Strickland for exempting our base funding through two budget cuts," he said.
After hearing input from the board and constituent groups, Bible and Decatur plan to present funding strategies for this initiative as an action item at the trustees' January meeting. If approved, the new SIS could be installed and fully operational by fall 2011.
Layne Palmer contributed to this story.