Jun 07 2024

4 Ways Tech Can Help Universities Generate More Revenue on Campus

Maximizing dollars coming in helps higher education institutions deliver a great educational experience without raising tuition.

It’s a bit uncomfortable to describe higher education institutions in harsh business terms, but universities have bills to pay, and they need the dollars to pay them.

The top priority for higher education remains preparing young adults for the world and the workforce. But some of the best ways to provide those experiences are expensive. Tuitions have continued to rise over the years, and many colleges are stressing over how to keep students attending with the enrollment cliff growing closer.

The things that students want don’t come cheaply. The perpetual improvements needed in classroom technology, network optimization and cybersecurity — not to mention all of the nontech-related costs involved in supporting a community of sometimes thousands of students, faculty and staff — can leave universities in a tight spot. There has been a well-publicized rash of college closures and mergers in recent years, and in every case, the bottom line was at least partially to blame.

Meanwhile, budgets at higher education institutions everywhere are tightening. The influx of pandemic relief dollars has ended, and with students growing more discerning about whether to spend thousands of dollars on a postsecondary degree, colleges are already doing more with less.

But what if colleges could put a few more dollars in their pockets? There are no golden geese waiting to solve higher education’s financial woes, but here are four tips can at least shrink the gap between providing the best student experience and making sure the lights stay on.

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1. Optimize Existing Retail Spaces on Campus

There are already plenty of places on college campuses that generate revenue outside of the bursar’s office. Bookstores, cafeterias, food courts, stadiums and arenas, and even vending machines all are opportunities for universities to bring in a few bucks from the on-campus and off-campus communities.

In traditional retail settings, businesses have entire teams dedicated to maximizing revenue. At CDW, our retail experts work with some of the largest retailers in the country. That same expertise can be applied on a smaller scale on college campuses.

For example, digital signage in dining spaces has long been used by fast-food restaurants and at concession stands to promote special discounts or sales, highlight new or bigger-ticket menu items, and give a little more consumer appeal to those spaces. Point-of-sale technology that offers a fast, seamless checkout improves the customer experience, and integration between modern payment options  (such as Apple Pay or Google Pay) with a university ID card is a simple touch that buyers appreciate.

Colleges can also investigate loyalty rewards programs for the bookstore or in dining spaces, or create an online shopping option for office supplies, textbooks, clothing and other essentials. This can steer customers away from online retailers and keep that cash on campus.

RELATED: AI-driven analytics help The Ohio State University manage stadium crowds.

2. Organize a Vendor Partner Event on Campus

Colleges and universities work with dozens, if not hundreds, of private businesses during regular operation. International businesses on the Fortune 500 list and local mom-and-pop operations alike are part of the higher education ecosystem.

Vendor expos are regular events on college campuses, and companies often fork over registration and other fees to attend. Businesses get a chance to meet and interact with decision-makers from all corners of campus and even intermingle themselves. Perhaps the mom-and-pop installer can form a relationship with a major technology vendor for that next IT modernization project, or the athletic director can introduce the CIO to a partner that could help them both.

Some of the registration fees will go toward the operation of the event itself. But if done well, there could be a profit to collect and a chance to facilitate connections that could result in savings down the road.

3. Use Data Management Tools to Improve Fundraising Efforts

Higher education institutions are using data to inform all kinds of decisions, from where to direct fans when the bathrooms get overcrowded at a football game to where to install security cameras, when to update managed devices and more.

Universities also use student data to understand behaviors and enable early intervention when students are struggling. To do that, institutions rely on software that supports student lifecycle management systems, such as Salesforce, that make it easier to visualize and organize that data.

Those same platforms and ideas can also apply to alumni. In addition to tuition, donations are one of the biggest drivers of university revenue, and keeping tabs on thousands of alums around the world is no small task. Implementing a customer relationship management system to understand donor behavior and trends can give teams tasked with fundraising an advantage.

LEARN MORE: See why device management programs make financial sense for higher ed.

4. Make Campus More Visually Appealing for Prospective Students

Sure, this isn’t exclusively a revenue-generating idea, but the idea of spending money to make money certainly applies in higher education.

There is debate over the value provided by a postsecondary education, which means students and their families are growing more discerning about where they spend their educational dollars. That doesn’t mean a little salesmanship should be out of the question, and wowing prospective students from their first campus visit should be the minimum goal.

When a prospects are on campus, they’re going to be on their phones, and when they are, those phones had better connect easily and reliably to a robust wireless network. When they walk around campus, they should see bright video displays guiding and informing them, and when they step into academic buildings, they should see the future, not the past.

UP NEXT: How can higher education institutions combat technical debt?

All of those things — network connectivity, digital signage and classroom technology — have vital practical uses but can also pack a punch when it comes to making a first impression. At the end of the day, tuition is one of the largest revenue streams for colleges and universities, and shoring up enrollment is the key to long-term viability and success.

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

Kobus Louw/Getty Images

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