To help attract prospective students, more than half of U.S. college campuses have increased funding and speed for their residential networks this year. 

The fourth-annual State of ResNet Study analyzes residential networking practices and policies on college campuses through a survey of 550 business, housing and IT officers conducted by three higher education associations that represent them. When prospective students see great campus dorms that have strong wireless connections, they factor that into their college decision, said Dee Childs, associate provost and chief information officer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

"It's not about the technology; it's about creating a competitive advantage for a university," said Childs, who chairs the Environmental Scanning Committee at the Association for College and University Technology Advancement. The residential network is a small area where IT leaders can improve students' academic experience and influence their decision to come to a college campus.

And IT leaders and their counterparts in housing and business are doing just that. Nearly two-thirds of schools provide strong wireless connectivity across 80 percent of their campuses — up 20 percent from 2013. Academic and administrative areas see the most coverage compared to common areas and residential rooms.

In a first for this survey, more than half of schools increased their ResNet speed up to at least 1 gigabit, a number that has doubled since 2012. And that's not the only thing that increased. Fifty-four percent of respondents received additional financial support this year compared to 38 percent last year.

When universities invest in bandwidth, they want to make sure that Internet access is fair, cost-effective and efficient. To keep bandwidth costs under control, three in five universities limit and shape bandwidth or combine ResNet services with other campus IT services.

Interestingly enough, more than one-quarter of respondents either outsource or are thinking about outsourcing their residential network. Outsourcing is an attractive option for universities and other organizations that want to spend more money on operational expenses rather than on capital expenses that will devalue quickly. This shift allows them to leverage financial and human resources better so they can be more agile. 

"Higher ed is finally catching up to the notion that humans are our most important resource — our staff — and we want them to be knowledge workers, and we want them to be engaged in core mission activities," Childs said. "We're just trying to do a better job of attending to the core mission of the university, so we can outsource some things because that will help us get there faster."