Beginning in November of 2020, Apple has begun to transition from Intel to using its own custom CPU chip in Mac computers. Apple has dubbed this chip the "M1" and some of the computers that ITS has been ordering are based on this chip. You will often find the M1 also referred to simply as "Apple silicon". Apple has just begun testing the introduction of this new architecture so at the moment the configuration options on available M1-based Macs are limited (such as only one speed CPU, and only up to 16GB of memory). For Macs with higher specs Apple continues to sell the Intel-based versions.
The M1 chip necessitated a significant update to MacOS, named "Big Sur". While visually similar to previous MacOS versions, beneath the hood Big Sur on an M1-based Mac is fundamentally a different operating system than Big Sur on Intel-based Macs. As a result, this has necessitated some changes when it comes to applications.
Apple has tried to make this transition as seamless as possible by incorporating an "emulation" layer of software (dubbed "Rosetta2") into the M1 version of Big Sur to handle software written for Intel-based Macs. For the vast majority of software, this emulation works to seamlessly allow users on M1 Macs to run legacy software with no functional or visual changes. However, this emulation is not perfect and therefore it's important for any user considering moving to an M1-based Mac to assess any potential compatibility issues with the software they use, especially if the list includes apps not commonly used across the college or legacy software no longer being maintained. A useful resource for this is a website named "Is Apple Silicon Ready?"
As time goes on, we're quickly seeing more and more actively-developed software getting updated to natively support M1 Macs without requiring the Rosetta emulation. Ideally you want to be on software specifically designed for M1 Macs to fully take advantage of the improvements and optimizations available.
For the time being (and while availability allows) ITS is continuing to buy both Intel and M1-based Macs as appropriate. In the future we expect Apple to continue to offer more M1-based options and work to phase Intel CPUs out of its product line.