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Networking & Wireless

ResNet Costs Growing, Yet Fewer Institutions Have a Strategic Plan

Although institutional leaders view the campus residential network ("ResNet") as a differentiator and asset, fewer are plugging ResNet into their planning. A recent survey among IT, housing and business people at colleges and universities found that the number of schools with a strategic plan incorporating the ResNet has fallen from 62 percent in 2017 to 52 percent this year. It may be that administrators are frustrated by a lack of benchmarking data on which to base their decisions; while 68 percent of college executives would like such data, just 21 percent have it.

The same survey found that 53 percent of institutions expect the cost of their wireless network services to increase over the next two years; more than a third (37 percent) anticipate an increase of 5 percent or more.

The survey was conducted from January through March 2018 by the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I). This is the seventh annual study to measure the pulse of ResNet practices and policies in higher education. A total of 435 respondents representing 312 institutions participated in the 2018 survey.

This year's results also found that more schools are outsourcing or considering outsourcing their ResNet operations — 28 percent in 2018 compared to 19 percent in 2017. Their top reasons for doing so:

  • To increase student satisfaction and retention, cited by 26 percent of respondents;
  • To reduce costs, specified by 23 percent;
  • To keep up with changing technology and to improve ResNet services, both mentioned by 22 percent; and
  • To save time, chosen by 20.5 percent.

To assess performance, almost six in 10 schools (59 percent) measure student satisfaction with their ResNet services. Most often, it's the housing department doing that (32 percent), but customer satisfaction surveys are also undertaken by IT (in 16 percent of institutions) or "outside entities" (in 6 percent). Housing officers, who often represent "the voice of the student," express fairly high satisfaction with ResNet services across the board. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being completely dissatisfied and 10 being completely satisfied, these respondents rated uptime, performance, security, cost and service response time at or above 8.0.

In the area of cost management, 65 percent of technology leaders expressed concerns that the capital funding for network infrastructure will influence the way they manage the network. Forty-nine percent said they believe budget and cost predictability "may cause a roadblock"; and 27 percent expect the lack of funds for network support and help desk to impact their work. How have their institutions dealt with rising ResNet costs? More than a third (36 percent) have combined ResNet services with other campus IT services; 14 percent have increased or added student fees; 18 percent have gone with all or partial outsourcing; and 9 percent have reduced staff or services.

According to the researchers, funding models differ, depending on the type of college. Small, mainly private institutions fund centrally, while medium to large, predominantly public institutions implement a fee system. Despite the rising network costs to meet students' technological demands, a third of schools (32 percent) don't implement general technology fees. More than half (52 percent) levy a general technology fee to on-campus residents (up from 46 percent in 2017). Another 5.5 percent charge both on- and off-campus students, a big step down from 14.5 percent last year.

"As we survey today's higher education landscape, we are struck by how WiFi and connectivity has rapidly emerged as the lynchpin for student engagement, satisfaction and success. More universities are responding to a new generation of students prioritizing robust and ubiquitous WiFi and connectivity as an important criterion for their college decision," stated Mary DeNiro, CEO and executive director of ACUHO-I, in the report's introduction. "Our seventh annual ResNet study shows more schools going all out to make this a reality. It's our hope that this study provides administrators insight into how best to meet connectivity challenges as we continue to innovate and grow."

The report and an infographic that summarizes results are openly available on the ACUHO-I website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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