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Vertical Industry Communications: Higher Education

In this, the fifth in our series on vertical industry communications, we review communications technology requirements and applications in higher education.


For earlier articles in the series, see:

While educational services have many sectors such as K-12, vocational education, and industry/military education, this article focuses on higher education due to the diversity of requirements, the freedom of choice expected by college and university faculty and students, and the way role requirements align neatly into a few usage profiles.

Higher Education Highlights
Higher education is a very visible industry sector. Most young people aspire to this level of education. Adults who have attended a college or university are often quite loyal to that institution and remain involved as alumni, donors, and fans. Universities and colleges perform more than 45% of the non-industrial research in the U.S.

Higher education employs about 1.8 million people in the U.S., according to 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data), which is about 1.3% of the total workforce. However, as suggested, this segment has a much larger influence.

Higher education is very role-based, and communications requirements track to those roles, as you'll see in this article.

Higher Education Value Chain Processes and Roles
Higher education has five major value chain components:

  • Instruction -- Provide multiple curricula for students leading to qualified degrees. These curricula are often organized into logical disciplines, usually known as a "school" (e.g., Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Business, etc.). This requires recruiting, supporting, and retaining qualified faculty and instructors. This usually includes operation of academic services such as libraries.
  • Research -- Conduct research, both within the disciplines as part of overall academic inquiry and in research programs funded by government or industry.
  • Administration -- Provide the organizational structure of student recruitment, enrollment, registration, and fees, as well as services such as housing, dining, recreation, and athletics. Alumni services and fundraising with endowment management are part of this category.
  • Facilities -- Operate, maintain, change, and expand the physical plant and provide related services similar to a local government. These include police, fire, parking, and so on.
  • Related Organizations -- In most cases, there are a number of related organizations. For example, a Medical school is often associated with a hospital for commercial health care services that also serves as a base for medical research. The hospital often operates a separate communications system (the next article in the series will explore health care communications). In many cases, the Athletic Department is essentially operated separately, with its own unique communications system requirements. This article will not explore these specialized operations.

In this review, it will become clear that faculty and students in today's college and university settings have a strong preference for communications on their mobile smartphones. Also, all of the higher ed settings we've seen have a very strong preference for email over voice communications, since email provides a log, is asynchronous, and works from anywhere.

Two other generic shifts are worth noting as part of the context:

  • First, the campus environment has shifted almost entirely to Wi-Fi and cellular as the backbone networks for personal voice and data communications. Wireless delivers service into almost all locations without major costs to replace the wired infrastructure, which is even more costly in older campuses with such problems as asbestos remediation when remodeling. Dorm room phones, once a revenue source, are a thing of the past.
  • Second, all campuses now place major attention on safety, requiring such tools as E-911 from desk, classroom, and conference room phones; special emergency (blue) phones in buildings, dorms, parking lots, etc.; and methods to locate wireless callers through Wi-Fi or cellular networks.

Now, let's look at the communications requirements of the first four value chain categories.

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