Research Hub > Optimizing Device Management in Higher Education

February 02, 2024

White Paper
15 min

Optimizing Device Management in Higher Education

From logistics to funding, colleges are rethinking how they deploy, manage and sustain device programs. Here's what you need to know.

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IN THIS ARTICLE

Device management has become a critical part of the higher education experience. Students, faculty and staff often require multiple devices to meet their needs, and all of them must have reliable and secure access to the network.

While the continued proliferation of devices can provide an enhanced user experience, it can also introduce new challenges. Supply chain demands persist, and budgets have shrunk as funding has begun to dry up after the pandemic. Educators are frequently forced to contend with incompatible devices and platforms, all of which must be maintained and updated on a regular basis. Add to those concerns the continuously expanding threat landscape, and it’s no wonder IT teams are often struggling to keep up.

With the right device management strategy, educational institutions can overcome the technological challenges they face and deliver a user experience that reduces both cost and risk.

Get help from an expert that understands the most common challenges to — and the right solutions for —  improving device programs.

Device management has become a critical part of the higher education experience. Students, faculty and staff often require multiple devices to meet their needs, and all of them must have reliable and secure access to the network.

While the continued proliferation of devices can provide an enhanced user experience, it can also introduce new challenges. Supply chain demands persist, and budgets have shrunk as funding has begun to dry up after the pandemic. Educators are frequently forced to contend with incompatible devices and platforms, all of which must be maintained and updated on a regular basis. Add to those concerns the continuously expanding threat landscape, and it’s no wonder IT teams are often struggling to keep up.

With the right device management strategy, educational institutions can overcome the technological challenges they face and deliver a user experience that reduces both cost and risk.

Get help from an expert that understands
the most common challenges to — and the right solutions for —
  improving device programs.

Devices Are Now a Mission-Critical Part of the Campus Experience

Student devices have been an important part of college since at least the late 1990s, when first-year students began arriving on campus toting their own colorful clamshell laptops. Over time, devices became ubiquitous, and the ways students used them changed. Instead of using devices mostly to type up papers in their residence hall rooms, students began bringing laptops, tablets and smartphones to class to take notes, record lectures and even look up supplementary information in real time during classes to enhance their understanding of the material.

 Over time, devices became ubiquitous, and the ways students used them changed. Instead of using devices mostly to type up papers in their residence hall rooms, students began bringing laptops, tablets and smartphones to class to take notes, record lectures and even look up supplementary information in real time during classes to enhance their understanding of the material.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, how students used their devices — and how colleges and universities supported them — shifted again, in an important way. Nearly all students, at least temporarily, moved to online learning, meaning that their entire education was essentially delivered through their devices. After college campuses reopened, many students continued to opt for online or hybrid classes, making devices more or less a permanent portal to the college experience: In 2021, about 60 percent of postsecondary students took at least some online classes, and nearly 70 percent of students say that online learning is as good as or better than traditional instruction.

The Decision-Making Process

Underlying all of these issues is the fundamentally decentralized nature of higher education. Many departments operate autonomously with their own technology, IT leaders and IT policies, making it much harder to standardize across campus. Getting key stakeholders on the same page may be one of the biggest challenges of all.



As online learning ramped up, a number of schools began equipping their students with common devices to ensure that all students had the same access to digital resources. This also streamlined technology support and allowed colleges and universities to provision student devices with appropriate applications and management tools. Some schools have continued with this model, in part because higher education leaders have recognized that common device initiatives help level the playing field for students and contribute to campus culture. Instead of struggling with different platforms and out-of-date devices handed down from parents or older siblings, students can work together to learn how to use their common devices to support their learning and troubleshoot minor issues, further reducing the burden on IT departments.

A campuswide device program requires robust systems and processes, and many schools work with a trusted third-party partner to procure, provision, deploy and manage student devices. When done right, these rollouts enhance classroom learning, simplify support and ultimately create a better experience for students.

Discover, Design, Deploy: User satisfaction starts here. Schools and their IT partners must image, configure and deliver devices in such a way that they are ready for students to use immediately.

Manage: Ongoing support is critical to the success of any device program. External help desk services allow internal IT departments to stay focused on larger, more strategic initiatives while ensuring student satisfaction.

Refresh and Recover: As device programs mature, colleges and universities must continue to re-evaluate what students need, equipping each new incoming class with the right set of tools.

An emerging set of best practices,
scaled for post-pandemic device fleets,
is improving the way colleges
manage and support devices.

Devices Are Now a Mission-Critical Part of the Campus Experience

Student devices have been an important part of college since at least the late 1990s, when first-year students began arriving on campus toting their own colorful Apple clamshell laptops. Over time, devices became ubiquitous, and the ways students used them changed. Instead of using devices mostly to type up papers in their residence hall rooms, students began bringing laptops, tablets and smartphones to class to take notes, record lectures and even look up supplementary information in real time during classes to enhance their understanding of the material.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, how students used their devices — and how colleges and universities supported them — shifted again, in an important way. Nearly all students, at least temporarily, moved to online learning, meaning that their entire education was essentially delivered through their devices. After college campuses reopened, many students continued to opt for online or hybrid classes, making devices more or less a permanent portal to the college experience: In 2021, about 60 percent of postsecondary students took at least some online classes, and nearly 70 percent of students say that online learning is as good as or better than traditional instruction.

The Decision-Making Process

Underlying all of these issues is the fundamentally decentralized nature of higher education. Many departments operate autonomously with their own technology, IT leaders and IT policies, making it much harder to standardize across campus. Getting key stakeholders on the same page may be one of the biggest challenges of all.



As online learning ramped up, a number of schools began equipping their students with common devices to ensure that all students had the same access to digital resources. This also streamlined technology support and allowed colleges and universities to provision student devices with appropriate applications and management tools. Some schools have continued with this model, in part because higher education leaders have recognized that common device initiatives help level the playing field for students and contribute to campus culture. Instead of struggling with different platforms and out-of-date devices handed down from parents or older siblings, students can work together to learn how to use their common devices to support their learning and troubleshoot minor issues, further reducing the burden on IT departments.

A campuswide device program requires robust systems and processes, and many schools work with a trusted third-party partner to procure, provision, deploy and manage student devices. When done right, these rollouts enhance classroom learning, simplify support and ultimately create a better experience for students.

Discover, Design, Deploy: User satisfaction starts here. Schools and their IT partners must image, configure and deliver devices in such a way that they are ready for students to use immediately.

Manage: Ongoing support is critical to the success of any device program. External help desk services allow internal IT departments to stay focused on larger, more strategic initiatives while ensuring student satisfaction.

Refresh and Recover: As device programs mature, colleges and universities must continue to re-evaluate what students need, equipping each new incoming class with the right set of tools.

An emerging set of best practices,
scaled for post-pandemic device fleets,
is improving the way colleges
manage and support devices.

Struggling to Meet IT Needs on Campus

65%

The percentage of IT leaders experiencing disruptions in hardware lifecycle replacement schedules due to IT supply chain issues

64%

The percentage of IT leaders whose institutions manage devices in a central IT department

Source: Inside Higher Ed, 2022 Survey of Campus Chief Technology/Information Officers, November 2022

36%

The percentage of IT leaders whose institutions leave device management to individual departments or schools

Source: Inside Higher Ed, 2022 Survey of Campus Chief Technology/Information Officers, November 2022

84%

The percentage of IT leaders who say their institutions struggle to hire new technology employees

Source: Inside Higher Ed, 2022 Survey of Campus Chief Technology/Information Officers, November 2022

46%

The percentage of students whose device malfunctioned when it was needed

39%

The percentage of students who were unable to run required applications or software on their device

The State of Zero-Trust Security: By the Numbers

65%

The percentage of IT leaders experiencing disruptions in hardware lifecycle replacement schedules due to IT supply chain issues

64%

The percentage of IT leaders whose institutions manage devices in a central IT department

Source: Inside Higher Ed, 2022 Survey of Campus Chief Technology/Information Officers, November 2022

36%

The percentage of IT leaders whose institutions leave device management to individual departments or schools

Source: Inside Higher Ed, 2022 Survey of Campus Chief Technology/Information Officers, November 2022

84%

The percentage of IT leaders who say their institutions struggle to hire new technology employees

Source: Inside Higher Ed, 2022 Survey of Campus Chief Technology/Information Officers, November 2022

46%

The percentage of students whose device malfunctioned when it was needed

39%

The percentage of students who were unable to run required applications or software on their device

cdw

Acknowledging the Most Common Challenges in a Higher Ed Device Ecosystem

Many colleges’ pandemic responses followed a similar trajectory: first, obtaining and distributing devices as quickly as possible; then, adapting to remote and hybrid classrooms; and finally, ensuring networking and security could support the new model. Today, colleges continue to adapt as they navigate the next wave of challenges and opportunities.

THE QUESTION OF FUNDING: By far, colleges’ biggest challenge is funding. Shrinking enrollments and declining on-campus revenue have exacerbated the belt-tightening colleges already face. In response, some institutions have begun to invest only in essential technology. Others have leveraged federal support to pursue technology initiatives with the hope of securing long-term funding that hasn’t materialized.

LONG-TERM SUSTAINABILITY: In 2020, most institutions implemented one-to-one device programs for faculty and staff. The question now is how to maintain those programs in a year or two, when all of those devices will need to be replaced. Financially, getting in front of the refresh cycles proactively is both a priority and a challenge.

Click Below to Continue Reading

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ENROLLMENT AND HIRING: Colleges must also acknowledge that users expect high-quality technology and increasingly view this as a differentiator when evaluating options for school and work. In the competition to attract and retain students and faculty, providing updated devices, a choice of devices and an excellent user experience are paramount.

WHAT’S ON THE NETWORK: Many IT departments are challenged by a lack of device visibility. Often, asset management programs are insufficient, meaning IT leaders may see devices on the network but not know their status or location. Increasing visibility and management is a priority, especially now that the number of devices has multiplied.

BOOSTING CYBERSECURITY: Security follows closely on the heels of visibility. Understanding how many devices are on the network, whether networks are adequately secured and which policies are in place can be extremely difficult. That’s especially true in decentralized models, where individual schools and departments have their own security solutions and protocols.

ACCESS AND CONNECTIVITY: As more devices arrived on campus, institutions that lacked robust wireless connectivity or core infrastructure experienced a massive strain on their networks. At a minimum, most colleges are now making adjustments to their networks to ensure they can support distributed usage patterns; for instance, adding access points to bolster Wi-Fi coverage in parking lots.

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Common Challenges

Many colleges’ pandemic responses followed a similar trajectory: first, obtaining and distributing devices as quickly as possible; then, adapting to remote and hybrid classrooms; and finally, ensuring networking and security could support the new model. Today, colleges continue to adapt as they navigate the next wave of challenges and opportunities.

THE QUESTION OF FUNDING: By far, colleges’ biggest challenge is funding. Shrinking enrollments and declining on-campus revenue have exacerbated the belt-tightening colleges already face. In response, some institutions have begun to invest only in essential technology. Others have leveraged federal support to pursue technology initiatives with the hope of securing long-term funding that hasn’t materialized.

LONG-TERM SUSTAINABILITY: In 2020, most institutions implemented one-to-one device programs for faculty and staff. The question now is how to maintain those programs in a year or two, when all of those devices will need to be replaced. Financially, getting in front of the refresh cycles proactively is both a priority and a challenge.

Click Below to Continue Reading

arrow

ENROLLMENT AND HIRING: Colleges must also acknowledge that users expect high-quality technology and increasingly view this as a differentiator when evaluating options for school and work. In the competition to attract and retain students and faculty, providing updated devices, a choice of devices and an excellent user experience are paramount.

WHAT’S ON THE NETWORK?: Many IT departments are challenged by a lack of device visibility. Often, asset management programs are insufficient, meaning IT leaders may see devices on the network but not know their status or location. Increasing visibility and management is a priority, especially now that the number of devices has multiplied.

BOOSTING CYBERSECURITY: Security follows closely on the heels of visibility. Understanding how many devices are on the network, whether networks are adequately secured and which policies are in place can be extremely difficult. That’s especially true in decentralized models, where individual schools and departments have their own security solutions and protocols.

ACCESS AND CONNECTIVITY: As more devices arrived on campus, institutions that lacked robust wireless connectivity or core infrastructure experienced a massive strain on their networks. At a minimum, most colleges are now making adjustments to their networks to ensure they can support distributed usage patterns; for instance, adding access points to bolster Wi-Fi coverage in parking lots.

Well-managed device ecosystems deliver numerous benefits to users, IT departments and higher education institutions.