High-profile initiatives usually get the headlines in higher education IT. But for the staff, students and faculty who make up a college community, more modest projects — those that improve campus live, work and play activities — can also be surprisingly meaningful.
Colleges, after all, are like cities in miniature, complete with all the services it takes to keep a village running smoothly each day: mail delivery, public safety, facilities management and dining, to name a few. Make these activities more efficient, and everyone who encounters them can enjoy a better quality of life.
From Mailrooms to Libraries, Tech Solutions Save Time
Consider one of the most time-consuming parts of a postal service errand: waiting in line. It’s a problem at many campus mailrooms, which were often designed to handle the handwritten letters common before email and online shopping, but not a steady stream of boxed deliveries.
At Clemson University, students used to wait more than 40 minutes to pick up packages. The experience was frustrating for staff and students alike. The university worked with Ricoh USA to install self-service electronic kiosks. Students can now pick up packages quickly and at their convenience. The new system has dramatically cut wait times down to an average of about a minute. These changes were part of a larger project that included an overhaul of the university’s print production services, ultimately driving $2.5 million in new revenue and $500,000 in savings.
Alternatively, colleges can install “smart lockers” that send alerts to let students know their packages are ready for pickup.
Staff members also benefit when institutions use technology to make their jobs faster and easier. The University of Connecticut equipped facilities staff with tablets that let them complete work orders in the field. Campus safety officers at the Claremont Colleges system in California take tablets on patrol, so they can file reports and take photos from any location. In both cases, the solutions mean staff don’t have to travel back to a central office to complete their work. That saves time, increases productivity and, in the case of public safety officers, lets them spend more time patrolling campus.
The next iteration of efficiencies may come from, not surprisingly, robot assistants. They’re already on the job in campus libraries. North Carolina State University debuted its robotic book-retrieval system, bookBot, back in 2013. Users punch in the title they want and bookBot retrieves it from the stacks.
Although the system creates efficiencies, letting staff spend more time teaching students how to navigate research databases and increase their digital literacy, that wasn’t the driving force behind bookBot. NC State simply wanted to prioritize collaboration and activity spaces over book stacks, which consumed a hefty portion of real estate in the previous library. More recently, Temple University introduced a similar system.
Tech Investments Position Colleges for Competitive Advantage
As these examples show, colleges are finding that technology solutions deliver value well beyond academic and institutional applications. Modernizing campus support services ensures that these important activities are modern, efficient and user-friendly, just like the classrooms in which students learn.
Such upgrades also help colleges demonstrate their commitment to technology investments, a valuable differentiator as they compete for high-performing students.
This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.