Dec 14 2022

What Is a Smart Campus and What Technologies Support One?

Here are some of the tactics and tools that make a smart campus work.

There’s no avoiding the role of technology in higher education success. According to a Barnes & Noble College report released this summer, 49 percent of students prefer hybrid learning options, while 35 percent of instructors favor this approach.

Meanwhile, a Student Voice survey of higher education students, found that improvements to technology such as Wi-Fi (62 percent), online student portals (37 percent), online course offerings (33 percent), and connective technologies (27 percent) were all priorities for college and university students.

While it’s possible to approach these preferences piecemeal, some higher education institutions are adopting a more comprehensive model: the smart campus.

But what exactly is a smart campus? How does it work, and what do schools need to make the shift? More important, what are the potential effects for students and faculty alike?

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What Is a Smart Campus?

There’s no single way to define a smart campus, and no right way to create and curate a set of technologies and experiences that help connect students and faculty.

Research firm Deloitte offers a general definition, noting that the term is “used to describe institutions that use next-generation technologies woven seamlessly within a well-architected infrastructure.” These campuses are designed to facilitate three goals: improved student experience, increased operational efficiency and enhanced education.

One institution currently transforming itself into a smart campus is the University of Kentucky. According to Heath Price, associate CIO at the university, “the inspiration for it was that we are 20 years into technology being a key component and a driver of things we do on campus. We wanted to bring together big tables of people that have subject matter expertise and create a campus that wasn’t just tech for tech’s sake.”

READ MORE: How a smart campus can reinvent the student experience.

How Do Smart Campuses Work?

Smart campuses allow students and staff to accomplish tasks more efficiently and enjoy new experiences using technology. This may include solutions such as cloud-based student access portals for class timetables and resources, digital signage that helps students navigate campus buildings, or integrated tools that help professors better connect with students or help research teams reduce the time between data analysis and results.

In the case of UK, for example, Price says that “our very first initiative was leaning into a partnership with Apple, which gave us the opportunity to put tech into the hands of each student. Kentucky is a mixture of rural and urban, and we draw from both of those areas. We had groups of students that came with very rudimentary technology. This was a way to equip them.”

Price notes that UK has also leaned into esports. Unlike the ultracompetitive programs favored by many other schools, however, he notes that “our approach is different. We’ve taken the tack that we want to support esports by supporting the broader gaming community. We’re leaning into the fun side of what that is and the casual nature of gaming.”

DISCOVER: Collegiate esports programs provide academic pathways.

What Technology Helps Create a Smart Campus?

When it comes to building a smart campus, three components are critical:


As noted above, Wi-Fi ranks high on the list of student priorities, and reliable connectivity — both wired and wireless — is critical to helping staff create and deliver compelling hybrid content. As a result, network infrastructure that supports new networking standards such as Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are must-haves for smart campuses.


The right applications make all the difference in student and staff experiences. From streamlined web portals that let students quickly access and make changes to their schedules to cloud-based educational resources that help staff design connected lessons, apps are essential.


The smarter the campus, the bigger the security risk. Why? As smart environments grow, so do the number of endpoints and the risk of compromise. Solutions such as multifactor authentication, endpoint detection and response, and identity and access management all play a role in smart campus protection.

Smart Campuses, Sustainable Benefits for Higher Education

Building a smart campus isn’t just about spending on new technology to keep up with the Joneses. Instead, it’s about creating solutions that deliver sustained student success.

“We have an initiative that started in 2022 called UK invests,” says Price. “It’s focused on early education for our students on the importance of time, value and money and saving for their future. We’ve got a partner in iGrad, which is providing online resources, and we’re working with Fidelity on the investment side. In 2023, we’ve giving students access to this app.”

When it comes to the biggest benefits of smart campuses, Price makes it clear that people are the priority. “It’s all about connecting people and the feeling that people get when they’re part of something,” he says. “It’s about helping different people come into contact, and the smart campus is one way to help make this happen.”

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