To Thrive, Colleges Need Fewer, Less Complex, More Robust Networks—Part 1

Higher education institutions are recognizing the indispensable role of digital transformation in retaining relevance and enhancing the student experience. As campus IT staff grapple with the pressures and challenges of this transformation, the integration of a converged, digitally advanced network emerges as a crucial solution to meet these objectives.

At a time of unprecedented change in higher education, those most affected by the quickening pace of digital transformation are the individuals who support campus IT infrastructure. If you’re on the front lines of academia’s IT revolution, you know that integrating disparate networks and lowering IT complexity would go a long way toward helping colleges and universities operate more efficiently in this competitive higher education market.

Many IT professionals have found that institutions need a reliable, manageable, efficient, unifying communications infrastructure—an integrated, digital campus nervous system, if you will. For that to happen, they need help untangling various networks that have popped up on campuses in recent years.

These campus IT professionals know that higher education institutions and their IT teams have reached a tipping point, wobbling beneath the weight and complexity of disparate IT networks, among them Wi-Fi®, IoT, 4G and 5G coverage, private wireless networks and more. The last thing they want to hear is a plan to roll out yet another network alongside all the others. Rather, what’s needed are solutions that will support more users, provide total campus connectivity from cable to cloud, enable innovation and support campus safety—with fewer networks to manage.

Post-secondary pressure

The post-secondary education sector is under tremendous pressure, and IT teams are feeling the stress as they search for solutions to improve teaching and learning, make campuses safer, enhance the experience of students and their families, and improve the efficiency of campus operations. Converging networks to create robust, adaptable, streamlined IT infrastructures can enable an institution to perform better in all of these areas, with fewer decisionmakers, less budget pressure, limited overlapping priorities and reduced support staff. Here’s how these challenges emerge in both academic and quality of life measurements.

  • Teaching and learning. The way that colleges teach has changed dramatically in a short period of time, and it continues to evolve quickly. Long-winded lectures delivered by esteemed members of the faculty, once a staple of post-secondary learning, are less engaging to today’s students. Digital natives arrive on campus expecting a more connected, more dynamic experience—not a passive, one-way transfer of knowledge from academicians—and as an IT professional, you are expected to deliver.

    For today’s students, expectations for digitally enhanced learning environments began forming in their K-12 years, first with tablets and later with laptops. They expect it will continue in college and that it will be an expectation of employers when they enter an information economy increasingly comprised of educated and technologically literate workers. When they arrive at college, they expect flexible and engaging instruction options that include video, on-demand content, connected devices, rich streaming media, video collaboration and other flexible-learning options. To seamlessly enable these tools and amenities, you need to provide a reliable, robust and high-performance integrated campus network.

  • Student experience. This is measured by the ease with which students register for classes, their ability to text and easily communicate with friends and family members while attending a game at the football stadium, and scores of other campus and social experiences. The quality of student experiences is closely tied to the capability of their devices which depend on campus IT.

    Delivering campus experiences that meet or exceed the expectations of students and their families will help your institution attract and retain robust communities of learners. Moreover, many student bodies have dwindling numbers of traditional students who follow the traditional route of enrolling right after high school and graduating on a set four-year schedule. In addition to luring those students back to campus, colleges are trying to woo adult learners, international students and others. Successfully recruiting students is easier for colleges whose campuses are open, safe and equipped to deliver compelling experiences worth the cost of in-person, on-campus attendance.

The solution

Higher education institutions need to build digitally advanced networks with the capacity to improve themselves, using data and analytics to further tame complexity. AI tools, for example, enable root cause analysis to identify new efficiencies, greater visibility into the enterprise, and better reporting to support decision-making. Many colleges and universities, for example, have engaged in something of an amenities arms race in recent decades. To gain an edge in student recruitment, they build lavish dorms, gyms and dining halls to attract students. With this in mind, you can set your institution apart by using data provided by advanced networks to make informed decisions about managing the physical plant and by providing a seamless digital campus for all users.

In part two of this series, we will consider how advanced networks are improving campus safety and operations.