Which does your state prefer you focus on: efficiency or effectiveness? Or perhaps both are equally important. No matter the answer, this question poses a challenge for IT leaders who work in university systems across the country. 

Efficiency typically comes from a more centralized university system, while effectiveness typically comes from a decentralized system. But both efficiency and effectiveness are important, particularly as states are now increasingly looking for students to graduate faster and be better prepared to contribute to society.

And that causes a dilemma that university systems struggle to solve.

In Nevada, "We have made a conscious decision to be more centralized, because it's been a circus," said Steven Zink, vice chancellor for information technology at the Nevada System of Higher Education.

In Nevada, higher education is moving to a common system in the cloud for applications, enrollment, registration and financial aid that's scheduled to go live in October 2016.

Leaders in the system also established common data definitions and centralized purchasing. After all, it's tough to figure out student graduation rates when everyone across the system has a different idea of what that data should look like. And when states tie graduation rates to funding, the stakes are even higher, making good data an imperative.

On the flip side, Maryland has tried three different approaches since the mid '90s. When the University System of Maryland was highly centralized, it was efficient, but not effective. Now the system has implemented a different approach that swung the other direction, according to Donald Z. Spicer, associate vice chancellor for information technology and CIO at the University System of Maryland. 

"The state set us up to be highly decentralized, and then year after year, they say, 'Why aren't you more efficient?'"

This is one of the major challenges facing university systems today, and higher education leaders are still trying to figure out how to deal with it. As Zink says, "It's a really delicate balance."