The institutions of higher education - the world over - have been going through a fascinating evolution in recent decades. One of economic hardship, cultural challenges, and changing paradigms of reaching toward a global standard of what education means, both functionally and conceptually.

As often as not, despite big-picture considerations, it is the day-by-day logistics and administrative cogs that keep institutions of learning running–these are the things that professionals focus on and build careers in.

The administrative foundations are the background by which every school operates. Nobody wants their school, much less school system, to do poorly, which is why we’re here to talk about those vital logistics.

It’s common knowledge that having a powerful suite of computer tools at hand is as essential to a college student as a major - even more so, considering your students can skate along for a while as ‘undeclared’ while getting a feel for the experience and figuring out what options really strike their interest–or occasional lack thereof.

The challenges

It’s almost a by-gone consideration these days that higher education can be prohibitively expensive for students these days. In odd correlation, this also reflects many important departments are lacking in their budgets, operating off decades-old equipment and technology.

While this makes an impressive stand as a central issue, the underlying repercussion is even more alarming - a fast-growing cultural perception in the United States that college may no longer be fundamentally necessary seems to be rapidly solidifying. The social paradigm went that a college degree (onward and upward) was a fundamental keystone of securing a bright and rewarding future. This no longer being so ubiquitously accepted. And the schools themselves are also feeling the pinch.

The Tools

One of the most important (and worthwhile) gestures a school can make, for both their budgetary sake as well as the student’s, is to cut costs wherever possible. Not the easiest thing to do when your institution must also keep pace with technology and the latest curriculums!

One very strong area where this is possible is in considering Microsoft alternatives and desktop replacement.

Furnishing even a single mid-sized campus with all of the computers and software vital to each department is a massive earmark for an institution’s resources.

In fact, this is a much more serious issue than most people understand, especially when we’re considering the same concerns for the K-12 public school systems.

Take Mississippi, which has earned the title of the ‘lease wired’ state in the United States, according to a study done by a 2011 Census Survey. At the time, more than half the residents have no internet at home, and over 40% had no access to the web at all.

In the end, this is an issue that schools on any level need to making a priority of.

The Director of the Center for Education Policy Research at the University of Oregon, David Conley, is very concerned over the state of technology in education, suggesting that interaction and familiarity with technology is vital to preparing students for tasks they’ll face not only in the real world but in postsecondary education.

And he’s not wrong. Computer literacy is the modern equivalent of being able to read and write two hundred years ago. It simply can’t be done without.

So what can Mississippi do? Considering their state of funding and that an average school-purposed desktop (including software and other considerations) has a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) average of between one and two thousand USD - not much

Not without considering effective, open source alternatives.

Not without considering other market solutions that offer high-quality deliverables at a fraction of the TCO–like Panther, for instance.

At the moment, one of the big issues is working to close the technology gap effecting so many–students and administrations alike.

The Crux

All this being understood, the central issue is still one of funding, and no amount of proper perspective can bridge that gap alone. So waiting for the philosophical, we must look to addressing the practical in real terms.

We should all take notice and consider more affordable computers, Office alternatives, and Windows alternatives - as those are three major impactors which all come together under Free Open Source Software (FOSS).

Here are just three of the most widely used and highly developed alternatives to the suite of essential tools in Microsoft Office (and other proprietary software), vital to both students and administrators:

  • Google Docs
  • LibreOffice
  • Abiword & Gnumeric

We’ve had a previous post discussing these and other FOSS alternatives (which you can find here - for a variety of business uses.

All of these options, and many more, are there for free use. This very issue is why these products were developed and in moving toward an open source future, we can seriously look to solving the big problems, collaboratively.