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It’s Time To Reimagine Higher Education

It’s a hard time to be a college administrator.

A year ago, pundits and academics speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic would shutter 200 institutions of higher education.1 One former college president predicted that more than 750 small schools would close within the decade.2

The worst-case scenarios have not materialized; so far 10 colleges have announced plans to close. But the pressures confronting higher education are real, and the unease is warranted.

In Fall 2020, enrollment was down by 400,000, a 4.4% year-over-year drop.3 Spring enrollment dropped by 4.5% year-over-year.4 Since February 2020, colleges and universities cut 650,000 jobs, eliminating one in seven positions.5 The reductions roughly mirror a 14% drop in revenues.6

The pandemic accelerated long-term trends that threaten higher education. Declining birth rates mean fewer college students.7 State K–12 funding cuts drive high school dropout rates,8 and research shows that every $1,000 per-student funding cut leads to a 3% decline in university enrollment.9 Finally, COVID-19-induced job losses have taken a toll on college plans, particularly among lower-income families.10

To survive, universities must adapt.

Redefining normal—faster

One problem is that it takes years to introduce change on campus. Launching a new major, for example, often requires a decade of studies, proposals, and staff recruitment. But most of the nation’s 5,300 colleges and universities do not have a lot of extra time. They need to quickly focus diminishing resources on their core mission of teaching and learning, research, and outreach.

The solution, however, is straightforward: Partner with companies that know how to deliver measurable value and maximize financial returns.

And the place to start is with technology. Most universities manage IT as a cost center. Instead, it should be viewed as a strategic platform the institution can use to deliver significant savings and improved student experiences.

But colleges cannot effectively tap the transformative power of technology without outside help.

There’s an old saying in business: Technology cannot fix bad process. Many of the challenges confronting university IT departments when leading new technology initiatives are related to legacy processes. These institutions have done things a certain way for so long, it’s hard to imagine how automation and change might benefit them.

Efforts to deploy modern ERP systems, for example, have been stymied because outdated processes have required too many modifications to the ERP systems for them to deliver efficiencies and cost savings.

Partnerships that deliver real value

The right partnerships can help universities reduce costs and refocus resources.

CIOs must deal with both commodity and strategic technologies. Email, calendar, storage, and other commodities are important to run the institution but aren’t unique. The mission of college IT departments should be to reduce the cost of these technologies, and the right corporate partner can make a difference.

Because of our scale, T-Mobile for Education is helping higher education institutions control their costs and free up resources to invest in core mission activities. Plus, we have insight into the technologies that institutions can use to differentiate themselves from competitors and improve students’ digital experiences. As noted recently by a CIO from a major university, “My staff no longer have the time or resources to investigate emerging technologies.”

We recognize that student needs can vary significantly. Large land grant universities have different expectations and requirements from community colleges. But our collaboration with different institutions nationwide means that we understand the various needs of the higher education community. Meanwhile, we can help institutions unlock the power of innovation with America’s largest and fastest 5G network—as well as the most reliable, according to competitive testing by independent third-party umlaut.

T-Mobile has built an infrastructure that empowers the future of learning, both virtually and on-campus.

Redefining the higher education experience              

Redefining the student experience is critical since today’s college students grew up with greater technology fluency than any other generation. They do everything online: Connect with friends and family, tune into entertainment, and do their shopping.

But the college digital experience tends to fall short. Institutions have traditionally focused on the campus experience, including architecture and landscape. COVID-19 has demonstrated that students’ digital experiences are equally important, and digital experiences will remain important in the future.

A recent study of 2,000 undergraduates found that, despite widespread enthusiasm for a return to in-person classes, most students want to keep elements of remote learning and nearly half want the option to toggle between in-person and online attendance.11

This suggests a pressing need to fundamentally reimagine higher education to put the student at the center of the digital experience.

Adapting to entirely new ways to teach, coach, and communicate with students may seem overwhelming. But T-Mobile has the expertise to help colleges and universities as they apply the transformational power of technology to higher education.

For example, T-Mobile is working with higher education institutions to support extended reality (XR) curricula that can, for example, bring medical students inside an aortic valve to see how it works—a task made far easier using communications technology. Gamifying curricula is also helping to engage students. All of these developments are enabled by the speed and low latency provided by our 5G network, which is perfectly suited to empower higher education institutions and fulfill their connectivity needs.

At T-Mobile for Education, we’re applying our unconventional thinking to help colleges and universities reimagine how technology can make education more accessible, affordable, and engaging.

For more information on how we’re delivering what’s next in higher education, visit T-Mobile.com/HigherEd.

Capable device required for 5G; coverage not available in some areas. Some uses may require certain plan or feature; see T-Mobile.com. Most Reliable: 5G mobile network results in the US are based on an audit report conducted by independent third-party umlaut containing crowdsourced data for user experience collected from September 2020 until February 2021. Full details can be found on: www.umlaut.com/en/benchmarking/USA. Fastest: Opensignal Awards—USA: 5G User Experience Report April 2021, based on independent analysis of average speeds from mobile measurements recorded during the period December 15–March 14, 2021 © 2021 Opensignal Limited

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