To Thrive, Colleges Need Fewer, Less Complex, More Robust Networks—Part 2

Higher education requires reliable networks for enhanced student experiences, safety, & operational efficiency. Simplify IT complexities & support modern campus needs with integrated solutions. Boost safety, optimize operations, and adapt to digital shifts with advanced network infrastructure.

If you’re an IT pro on a college campus, you’re probably feeling pressure to support numerous initiatives: teaching and learning, campus safety, the student experience and efficiency of campus operations. Simplifying network infrastructure would help to improve all these areas of campus life. Integrating networks and reducing IT complexity also help institutions of higher education to thrive in a competitive, shifting market.

The heart of the challenge involves taming the growth of IT networks; among them are Wi-Fi®, IoT, 4G and 5G, private wireless networks and others. IT network professionals are looking for solutions that will support more users, provide total campus connectivity (from cable to cloud), enable innovation and support campus safety—all with fewer networks to manage.
IT managers are looking for ways to tame the tangle of networks on higher education campuses in favor of digitally modernized infrastructure that is reliable and robust, efficient and easy to operate.

Campus safety

As IT teams know, concern for the safety and overall well-being of college students has never been higher. A short list of concerns includes cybersecurity, student data privacy, ransomware attacks and campus safety. In the Covid era, mental health challenges spiked and incidents of campus violence increased. High-tech tools enabled by advanced, streamlined networks can support campus wellness and safety teams to prevent, mitigate and respond to incidents of public safety.

  • Robust networks enable smart locks that control access to classrooms and dorm rooms.
  • Private wireless networks support LAN mobile radios and secure mobile campus communications.
  • Advanced networks enhance campus patrols and expand the capabilities of blue emergency phones on campuses.
  • Private wireless networks also provide redundant communication capacity in the event of a cybersecurity event, such as a ransomware attack that disables networks.

Campus operations

For some institutions, digital transformation will be key to long-term viability. Many traditional campuses were built with little consideration for operational efficiency—a growing concern at a time of constrained revenues, tight budgets and a shortage of experienced IT professionals. IT professionals need robust, flexible, centralized networks capable of compensating for structural inefficiencies, which can be managed with less direct human involvement. Viable solutions must work across all areas of campus life: in the lecture hall and the residence hall; in the student union and the stadium; and when students are walking across campus and taking calls.

Digital solutions

Digital transformation of colleges and universities starts with an overhaul of their networks. There’s a reason that connectivity is known as the fourth utility on college campuses. Not that long ago, these institutions were known primarily for their brick-and-mortar assets—libraries, quads, dorms, ivy-covered academic buildings and the people who occupied them. When connected to a robust integrated network, those hubs of activity become nodes of smart campuses.
Covid and its aftermath hastened the need for digital transformation. During the shutdowns, demand for remote learning spiked and institutions invested in solutions to meet these rapid shifts. The CARES Act distributed funds to help colleges and universities adapt and survive the pandemic, yet it provided few, if any, resources for IT infrastructure needs. When students returned to campuses following the shutdowns, they expected to retain the flexibility of virtual instruction, even in the brick-and-mortar college experience.

What’s Next

Digital technology and the networks that support modern IT infrastructure on campuses have evolved. Administrators and IT departments are navigating a new normal of streamlined networks, data and analytics. It’s an evolution that has been unfolding over a few decades, from LAN, IP-based networks and Wi-Fi networks, and from centralized controllers to distributed-to-cloud and (most recently) to artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) enabled networks. Now, analytics is emerging as the next phase in network advancement as institutions seek to bolster network coverage, capacity, scale and manageability.

Investing in digitally advanced networks will pay off in the form of continuous improvements to the higher education model. AI tools, for example, enable advanced analysis that support complex decision-making. At a time of falling enrollments at some institutions, colleges with excess capacity can rely on data analysis made possible by advanced networks to guide their decision making as they seek to answer hard questions about managing the physical plant.

For example, if enrollment is down 10% and a college needs to cut 10% of the campus footprint, where should it divest? If an institution must sell or lease a building, which building would it be? A digitally advanced, integrated network provides data about campus activity (such as usage, auto traffic, energy consumption, crime, pedestrian routes, accidents and events) to make smarter decisions about how to best manage limited resources.

Robust infrastructure enables integration of networks on college campus, reducing complexity and spending. The value extends well beyond simply providing more reliable Wi-Fi service. Better networks provide the actionable intelligence needed to smartly manage institutions.

For some colleges and universities, advanced networks could make the difference that will enable them to keep their doors open and to continue serving their communities.