Universities face significant challenges to operate more efficiently and deliver programs that attract talented students. Many universities are implementing video conferencing solutions to not only reduce administrative costs and improve the distance learning experience, but to also help students and staff save time traveling between campuses.

Why have students travel from one campus to another when they can have a high-quality interactive, face-to-face educational experience using a video conferencing platform – from anywhere and on any device?

This was a top reason why Washington State University (WSU) chose to implement video conferencing for students enrolled at their North Puget Sound at Everett campus.

One student shared that she had to wake up at 3:30 am to make an 8:30 am class in Island County using the bus and ferry systems. Dr. Tim Lawrence, director of WSU’s Island County Extension in Coupeville, took it upon himself to discuss the issue with the county commissioner. This ultimately led to the first implementation of a video conferencing system to provide students with access to instructional material without having to travel to the other campus.

“It’s great having a WSU campus so close to Island County, but it’s logistically trying to get there, especially if it’s dependent on public transportation. It makes it much more difficult.”

Students who are enrolled at WSU’s Everett campus can now take classes not offered at their location without leaving Whidbey Island. The classrooms that have the technology in place allow students to view a lecture and interact with the instructor and classmates through a 65-inch screen. The video conferencing technology also comes equipped with voice activation, which allows instructors to zoom in on students asking questions.

While this initiative is in its infancy at Coupeville, Dr. Lawrence does see an opportunity to provide new higher educational opportunities, especially for nursing students seeking to further their studies.

Western Kentucky University (WKU) is another example of a university that allows students to take courses via video that aren’t offered at their local campus. With video conferencing platforms in place, the university can now offer four-year college students a quality learning experience to more students in more places. Students save time commuting to the main campus in Bowling Green.

Polycom RealPresence video systems are integrated into 44 classrooms and conference rooms throughout the WKU system, and each week, WKU delivers 900 hours of instruction through the platform.

“Many of our students have jobs and families, so they can’t come to Bowling Green and live in a dorm… They’re anchored in their hometowns. That’s why we need to provide the course content to them with Polycom RealPresence video. Without this service, they might not be able to obtain that education.” – Tamela Smith, WKU’s manager of the university’s Interactive Video Services (IVS) group.

Smith argued that by giving more students an opportunity to earn four-year degrees, WKU contributes to the emergence of a professional workforce that is more likely to drive economic growth in their hometowns.

“These students graduate and become economic engines all by themselves. They earn more, buy more, donate more, and contribute more.”

The savings among WKU students are substantial. Just by replacing driving with video, students collectively save $1 million in fuel costs annually and five million miles of driving. This  results in reducing carbon emissions emitted into the environment by nearly 2,000 tons a year.

WKU is also expanding its use of video-based classes to mobile platforms. Students will be able to experience HD video collaboration on their iPads and Android tablets without having to be on a campus to book a classroom with the technology. And instructors will have the freedom to teach a class at home or on the road.

Smart universities will continue to implement video conferencing technology to improve the quality of their distance learning experiences to students. By doing so, universities will attract more students who are time-challenged to enroll and graduate from their programs, which in turn will drive economic growth and reduce carbon footprints.