Oct 18 2018

IT Tips the Scales for Colleges Competing for Best and Brightest

From classrooms to cubicles, tech investments show a commitment to modern learning and working environments.

Instead of waiting and worrying if a college will accept them, high school students may be wooed by colleges eager to attract promising students in a landscape that’s become highly competitive

One way to attract prospective students — and talented professional staff — is to invest in and promote IT offerings. Increasingly, this is one of the key measures by which students and job candidates evaluate colleges, and those assessments play a bigger role than ever. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how ugrading IT teams can help initiate a connected campus!

High-Quality Tech Shows Commitment to a Seamless Experience

If there’s one area where jostling for students is especially competitive, it’s online. With online enrollment increasing, and technology minimizing students’ geographical limitations, colleges are working hard to develop and promote these programs.

High-tech tools for on-campus classes are always desirable, but these really can make or break the success of an online program. Letting students know that an institution recognizes the importance of videoconferencing, virtual desktop infrastructure, networking and cybersecurity demonstrates a commitment to best practices and students’ academic success if they choose to pursue a degree online. 

Both online and face-to-face programs benefit from a technologically sophisticated recruiting game. These investments can perform double duty: attracting students from a larger geographic pool and demonstrating the level of services that students can expect on campus. Virtual reality campus tours, augmented reality apps and data-driven social media advertising can help colleges extend their reach

In the past, it might have been cost-prohibitive for a student to visit distant colleges in person. Today, they can do so using VR, which might intrigue them enough to bring them to campus for a face-to-face meeting. Iowa State’s Virtual Reality Applications Center partnered with the university’s football coaches to create a VR version of the home stadium. Prospective athletes can experience game time on the field, in any season. 

Athletics is just one area that benefits from technology-enhanced outreach. As more academic disciplines integrate technology into their curricula, artists, journalism students and business majors all want to know if an institution offers state-of-the-art tools in their field. That’s why many colleges make a point of emphasizing these investments, in part to help prepare students for the technologies they’ll use on the job after graduation. 

As Thomas Hoover, the CIO of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, says, “Students are more apt to select a university that invests in technology and uses its information technology innovatively across campus.” Findings from EDUCAUSE’s “ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology” back this up: “In 2017, students see technology as integral, if not essential, to their academic success.”


Attract Top IT and Academic Talent with State-of-the-Art Computing

Similar concerns may arise as institutions seek to hire the best staff, both inside and outside of IT. Academic researchers, for example, may require certain types of high-performance computing, data analytics software or videoconferencing systems to collaborate with remote colleagues. 

An institution’s information security may be a factor because it can determine eligibility for research grants. A researcher who plans to pursue that work will need to find a university with the appropriate IT infrastructure. 

The California Institute of Technology, for example, recently completed a $4.2 million High Performance Computing Center to support academic researchers in science and engineering. One benefit of the facility, the vice provost noted, is it lets researchers focus on their academic work, not the maintenance of IT systems. 

For institutions that strive to attract and keep top researchers, this type of support could be the make-or-break factor that helps them achieve that goal. When researchers work on the types of projects that attract big-budget and high-prestige research dollars, institutions have even more incentive to keep them happy.

IT staff who seek to expand their professional development also may gravitate to institutions that demonstrate a commitment to the best technology they can afford. 

Hyperconverged data centers, data analytics and the Internet of Things all make this an exciting and challenging time to be in higher education IT. Up-and-coming CIOs and other aspiring leaders may well put a premium on joining an institution where they’ll gain experience with state-of-the-art solutions and position themselves for the next rung on the career ladder.

Campus technologies are critical to creating educational and work experiences that drive efficiency, productivity, collaboration and convenience — all of which are a priority for institutions and individuals alike. 

As CDW’s “The Modern Workforce Insight Report” notes, organizations that choose the right solutions for the workplace can achieve gains in each of these areas. In higher education, that can go a long way to attract and keep high-performing students and employees.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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