Digital Transformation across higher education will become a critical factor in how universities in the U.S. deal with the enrollment cliff expected to impact all (and that means ALL) institutions by 2025. But the secret to their success will depend on how effectively they use that new technology to drive enhanced digital experiences for their students.

For a very long time Information Technology was not considered a strategic asset that could be leveraged to increase student success and positively impact retention. That was purely a quality of education and campus endeavor. The growth of Learning Management Systems and cloud-based Student Information Systems created efficiencies and powered a new level of quality for education that pushed many institutions to invest in digital processes. But the link between infrastructure and powerful analytics was never capitalized upon. Then came a large investment in WiFi.

The rise of WiFi to power digital experiences

WiFi deployment was the most significant step towards digital transformation to have tangible effects on the attraction of students and the connection to their academic success. This started as giving students good access from the dorm room to the classroom. But WiFi’s value quickly became apparent, pushing demand for 100% coverage and as well as the realization that student digital experiences were mapped to the devices they carry.

However, students vote with their feet, and maintaining the latest expectation in experiences was not going to match the traditional IT strategy of “build it and sweat the asset for 10 years” model. As a result, the adoption of a mobile and cloud-first strategy have become a significant part of any student happiness plan.

The power of a pandemic to move technology forward

The combination of the pandemic and the “cloudification” of higher education forced every student, parent, professor, researcher, and administrator to experience digital transformation firsthand. This meant the art of the possible was communicated at an unprecedented level.

The move to a hybrid work, hybrid learning environment has now consumed most, if not all, universities.

Whether or not your institution focused on in-person classes, the demand for digital experiences has risen ten-fold, both on-campus and online. More devices (and their associated applications) has driven demand for more visibility for every person, as well as a better connection experience. This requires even more transformation and integration to help make every physical and digital experience at your institution aligned, secure, and of good quality.

As we enter a significant period of change in Higher Education, it’s clear that universities need the foundational capacity and intelligence to support all those expectations so they are able to attract the students needed to cover the expected shortfall in revenues from tuition and associated drivers.

Digital experiences and new expectations

As the pandemic fades in to the past, it is now clear that it has driven an unexpected mandate for universities – meeting students’ “digital education expectation.” This means data and connectivity are now necessary tools for institutions of higher education. And they must be leveraged to:

  • Deliver the best education experiences for all students
  • Drive enrollment through visibility
  • Power student success through a flexible hybrid model that lets all types of curriculum be delivered in the best way possible.

There are many examples of universities using the power of this new digital education intelligence platform already. Evolving use cases include:

  • Using more data analytics to adapt schedules instantly
  • Automating hybrid attendance to unify record keeping (physical and digital)
  • Improving cohort interaction across academic and student life to eliminate isolation and disengagement
  • Enabling the best space utilization for better student life, as well as shorter commutes and lower power consumption.

The power of a unified digital network that helps a university with embedded analytics means that with digital transformation comes a revolution of learning insights and indicators that will enable every institution to deliver those digital experiences when and where they need to.

Practicality drives digital experiences

Cisco and its ISV partners are seeing the benefit of this across many of our university customers. We have seen wayfinding tools (like MazeMap) use Cisco digital architectures to help them adapt from simple maps to a more personal student experience. Now universities have a tool that will swiftly help any staff member locate vital assets to deliver the best efficiency in their role (such as master keys, labs, health equipment like defibrillators, 3D printers, and more).

We have seen a correlation of behavioral, system, WiFi analytics, and application data deliver very powerful information that will enable universities to react faster in terms of student and staff experiences. Combining the analytics available in Cisco Spaces with Degree Analytics, universities have a powerful intelligence engine at their fingertips. When included as an intrinsic part of any digital transformation strategy, institutions of higher education can use their data to improve resource allocation, campus designs, student engagement, operational sustainability, and student guidance. They can even leverage their data to help initiatives related to D.E.I. (Diversity Equality and Inclusion).

One thing is clear – a secure digital infrastructure plays a huge role as the foundation for digital experiences. This means universities can improve existing student experiences, attract new students, and deliver the best student services by maximizing talent, resources and availability.

That’s why Cisco and its partners are committed to delivering a secure, robust digital education environment focused on digital experiences with intelligence and automation that can increase student success and retention at universities as they face growing enrollment challenges in the years ahead.

Visit us at Booth #303 at EDUCAUSE 2022

Denver, CO, October 25th – 28th

We hope to see you at EDUCAUSE 2022 in Denver. You’re invited to drop by booth #303 to discuss the latest education technologies, plus we’ll be happy to schedule a 1:1 meeting with one of our education experts.

Preview the schedule of Cisco EDUCAUSE sessions and special events.



Neal Tilley

Cisco Education Advisor