Overcoming the next challenge for higher education through technology partnerships.

Michael Kubit

College and university students head back to campus in the fall, but higher education will never return to a pre-pandemic normal.

Eighteen months of remote learning has permanently transformed the higher education experience in ways most administrators could not have imagined just two years ago.

The pandemic forced changes on tradition-bound colleges and universities. And, following a bumpy transition, it turns out that people like it.

A spring survey of more than 1,400 American college students found 73% would like to take some fully online classes in the future; 68% would take courses that combine in-person and online instruction.1 And, in what may be the most eye-opening finding, about 67% of respondents said they want increased use of digital materials and resources, even with in-person classes.

It’s no surprise that college students are willing to embrace technology in education. Nearly half of Americans ages 18 to 29 say they are online “almost constantly,” a rate that is almost 55% higher than that of the average American.2 Technology permeates virtually every aspect of this group’s lives: They stream entertainment on their smartphones, follow current events on their newsfeeds, hang out with friends via social media, and are doing more and more of their shopping virtually.3

The pandemic forced higher education institutions to catch up with students’ pre-existing heavy use of technology.

It’s been a challenging transition.

The transformation has been difficult for students and higher education institutions. And it is far from complete.

After classes were forced online in spring 2020, initial reactions showed heavy dissatisfaction among students. A national survey found that while 51% of students said they had been very satisfied with their courses before they went fully online, the number dropped to 19% after the transition.4

The problem was that most colleges and universities continued to deliver education but didn’t adapt to online teaching platforms—the result: emergency remote teaching vs. actual online instruction.5

More than 75% of students and 89% of faculty graded online learning either an A or B. On the other hand, research also identified significant challenges to overcome.

However, over the summer and fall semesters, something happened. Students and faculty adjusted. By the spring of 2021, instructors were making better use of technology to teach and interact with students, and online classes became more engaging.

The impact was clear: More than 75% of students and 89% of faculty graded online learning in the spring, either an A or B.6 Interestingly, students gave more “As” than faculty did.7

On the other hand, research also identified significant challenges to overcome. A spring student survey ranked the top seven challenges related to online learning: 1) stress, 2) motivation issues, 3) finding time to do coursework, 4) getting support from their schools, 5) internet connectivity, 6) having a suitable place to work, and 7) having access to a learning device, such as a laptop or tablet.8

Our experience means we can easily offer the broadband access that is so critical for effective online learning.

Schools can address some of these issues by rethinking how they manage classes, structure online meetings and breakout rooms, and revise expectations about student workloads. However, most budget-constrained colleges and universities lack resources to address several of the challenges that stand in the way of successful online learning.

Leaning on partnerships.

Since colleges and universities embraced virtual learning 18 months ago, most have taken it as far as they can on their own. To deliver the kind of experience that meets and exceeds student expectations, schools need help from companies whose business maximizes the value and impact of technology.

Schools, government, first responders, and other organizations depend on always-on communications from T-Mobile, surfacing insights into what's possible with 5G and other powerful technologies. What colleges and universities have deployed in the past 18 months barely touches the potential technology offers to higher education.

Consider reliable, two-way communication as a foundational element to learning. The FCC says 21 million Americans lack reliable internet access.9 A Microsoft study suggests an even bigger number, with 162 million Americans unable to access the internet at broadband speeds.10

T-Mobile has made broadband connections available in some of the country’s most remote areas, tapping into the company’s 5G network to deliver real-time classroom experiences to people who are too geographically isolated to attend classes in person. Our experience means we can easily offer the broadband access that is so critical for effective online learning. Examples include our work with Western Governors University (WGU), the nation’s largest nonprofit online university, to provide wireless connectivity to help students pursue higher education.11

The promise of technology: Improvements in education.

For most schools, the choice is not between online and in person classes. It’s whether to supplement in-person classes with virtual lessons or exercises. Smart use of technology can cost-effectively supplement the classroom and campus experience—and help students succeed.

For example, virtual reality (VR) technology can help to demystify science and engineering for college students by enabling them to explore concepts at their own pace. VR technology is a superior alternative to traditional approaches because it enables students to learn 24/7 and spend as much time as necessary to master a concept.

Similarly, creating an online option for in-person classes enables students to set the pace for their instruction. Even students enrolled in an in-person course can revisit lectures or concepts to achieve mastery.

We recognize that student needs vary significantly. Because T-Mobile has collaborated with different kinds of institutions across the country, we know how to help the higher education community meet the needs outlined above. And we can help colleges and universities unlock the power of innovation with America’s largest, fastest, and now most reliable 5G network according to competitive testing by umlaut.

T-Mobile has built an infrastructure that empowers the future of learning, both virtually and on campus. We partner with institutions to help schools redefine their educational offering—and dramatically improve their student experience—to support enhanced student success.

We partner with institutions to help schools redefine their educational offering—and dramatically improve their student experience—to support enhanced student success.

Adapting to entirely new ways of teaching, coaching, and communicating with students may seem overwhelming, but T-Mobile has the expertise to help colleges and universities prioritize technology investments and stretch resources to make education not only more accessible and affordable, but also more engaging and effective.

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

Want even more trends, insights, and success stories?

Browse our Business Insights hub Contact us