Training, Infrastructure Are Top Cyber Concerns for Minority-Serving Colleges

Top priorities in minority-serving higher education institutions include improving broadband infrastructure and more workforce training, according to a new survey conducted by the Minority Serving-Cyberinfrastructure Consortium (MS-CC) and Internet2.

 In a recent survey of faculty and staff (including cyber professionals) at minority-serving schools in the U.S., 57% of respondents cited funding and resources and 17% cited staff and institutional support as the two biggest barriers to achieving their high-performance computing cyberinfrastructure goals. The results were revealed at a MS-CC webinar in early February.

As part of a larger effort to help these institutions advance STEM, health, social sciences and humanities education and research priorities, the survey included historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and tribal colleges and universities (TCUs).

One of the biggest findings was that connectivity, equipment, security and access to technology are the most valued priorities that respondents favored. Data storage, data management and data analytics were also deemed important in helping these institutions to meet their data and research computing goals.

"These are issues that we were all well aware of within the consortium, but being aware of them is not enough, we have to start doing something," said Dr. Damian Clarke, Chief Information Officer at Alabama A&M University, and a member of the MS-CC leadership council. "There is an immediate present need for broadband infrastructure across all minority-serving institutions. When we talk about broadband, this includes broadband that connects an institution and broadband that is distributed via wired and wireless connections across the campus."

In addition, survey respondents felt a strong need for collaboration and engagement among minority-serving institutions and that advances in computing ware key to addressing issues in community culture and social disparities.

"Collaboration is a key indicator among all respondents," said Dr. Deborah Dent, Chief Information Officer at Jackson State University, and a member of the MS-CC leadership council. "It's not just the equipment, it's also the people. It is important that our cyberinfrastructure professionals are able to communicate with each other and build a coalition to advocate for our needs as a group. There's strength in numbers."

Other value “must haves” from data and research computing identified by the survey include data on the impacts on students and society, 10%; user features and resources for teaching and research, 13%; training, continuing education and access to experts, 9%.

When asked “what are the biggest barriers to preventing schools from acquiring their must haves,” 57% of respondents said time, money and personnel; 17% said staff and institutional support; 10% said data access and infrastructure; and 6% said limited internet access.

Some of the questions specifically for cyber professionals included “Do you think you have adequate data center capabilities to support the needs of your campus community?” Thirty-five percent of professionals said no and 27% said adequate for students and faculty teaching, but not research. Another 29% agreed that capabilities were adequate for teachers, students and research.

The survey asked respondents to rank—in order of priority—eight infrastructure issues associated with data and computing, with 10 being “very important. Cybersecurity was ranked the highest, with an average score of 9.3, followed by leveraging data and computing to bring in research funding and to attract and retain faculty and students, both scoring an average of 9.

Overall, faculty and researchers who took the survey tended to be more positive on most issues, while cyber professionals tended to be the least positive.