Survey Finds that Student and IT Wi-Fi Perceptions Differ

Higher education leaders and their students have different perceptions of connectivity on campus. Knowing where they differ is important.

by Cisco Meraki / June 24, 2019
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From move in day to graduation day, students require reliable Wi-Fi to be successful. Not only does Wi-Fi enable effective collaboration and creativity, but it can also be a driver to attract and retain students and faculty to campus. As the need for seamless connectivity on college and university campuses continues to expand, are schools measuring up to student expectations? We wanted to find out.

In partnership with the Center for Digital Education, Cisco Meraki conducted two surveys, one of higher education decision-makers and one of college students — to better understand students’ habits and needs regarding network use and technology and how that compares to what their counterparts in leadership perceive. We asked almost identical questions of these two audiences and compared the results.

The results were fascinating. While the full survey report outlines many interesting findings, three key things stood out that warranted further analysis:

1. Students aren’t utilizing campus to its full potential because of unreliable Wi-Fi

We asked students where they complete their school work and use the Wi-Fi the most. We then asked higher education leaders where they think students complete their school work the most and where they think they use the Wi-Fi the most. We also asked both audiences how reliable they thought the Wi-Fi was in those areas. Surprisingly, higher education leaders overestimated where students are completing school work and using the Wi-Fi — the percentages of leadership and the number of locations selected was much higher than what students responded. The vast majority of students complete work and use the Wi-Fi in three main areas —the school library, on campus housing, and off campus housing—whereas leaders also thought they used study rooms and dining/common areas. The largest discrepancy was that 43 percent of leaders said students use Wi-Fi in on-campus dining/common areas, when only 16 percent of students said they do. Why aren’t students completing school work and using Wi-Fi in all of the areas leadership thinks they are?

When asked how reliable the Wi-Fi was in the same locations, the discrepancy was shocking. In every location highlighted, more than half of leaders thought Wi-Fi was very reliable, while less than 25% of students thought so (with the exception of the library). More specifically, 40% of leadership versus 22% of students think the Wi-Fi is highly reliable in dorms, and 42% of leadership think the Wi-Fi is somewhat reliable outdoors, while 57% of students say there is no outdoor Wi-Fi. To top it off, when students were asked “What technology would you like to see your campus provide to enhance the student experience?” the top answer, getting 54% of the responses, was reliable Wi-Fi.

While students want to seamlessly roam from their dorm room, to class, to the outdoor quad and have reliable connections in order to socialize and work, this isn’t being provided to the standard students expect. In order to provide the best experience for students, reliable Wi-Fi everywhere on campus is key.

2. While Wi-Fi is important, schools can’t forget about the wired network

Students are bringing more and more wireless devices with them to campus, especially when they live in the dorms. On average, students who live on campus bring 9 devices with them to school, while those who commute bring an average of 3. While students and higher education leaders were aligned on the top two devices students were bringing to campus (laptops and smartphones) the third device was surprising. 43% of students who live on campus bring a desktop computer to campus, while only 18% of leaders think students bring desktop computers. Instead, leadership over estimated that students bring other wireless technologies, like tablets, video game consoles, and smart watches.

While the number of wireless technologies students bring to school will continue to increase, schools can’t forget about the wired network. Students still demand a wired connection, especially in their dorm rooms. Plus, a reliable network backbone is key to supporting high-density wireless access points everywhere on campus. Ensuring the underlying wired network is ready for what students will throw at it is just as important as the wireless.

3. Improving campus Wi-Fi can greatly reduce the number of help desk tickets

Students on average submit 11 help desk tickets per year, on par with higher education leaders’ estimations of 13 tickets a year. This means that students are submitting help desk tickets around once a month, and when you multiply that by the number of students, the amount of tickets is staggering. It’s no surprise that students and leaders agree that most tickets are submitted when the Wi-Fi goes down.

By providing always-on connections, students will complain less about the Wi-Fi and in turn, submit less tickets. This not only saves on IT resources, but gives those teams time back in their day to work on more proactive and impactful projects that can benefit the university.

Overall, the surveys found that students want to see reliable Wi-Fi on campus to enhance their experience, and they are not getting the always-on connection higher education leaders believe they’re providing. But it’s not too late to turn this around - higher education institutions can start by evaluating solutions that provide the access students deserve, while being easier for the IT team to set up and manage.

To see the numbers and glean more insights, download the free survey report.

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