It's not enough to add shops. It's not enough to build housing. As universities all over the country are discovering, university-led urban revitalization is all about creating an environment where an institution and its neighboring community cannot only coexist, but also benefit from one another.
The University of Pennsylvania has occupied several core blocks in West Philadelphia since 1870 and has steadily revitalized and expanded its 269-acre campus over the past 134 years. Until the 1950s and the advent of "urban renewal," West Philadelphia had been a thriving neighborhood of Victorian homes and small businesses. Then, it gradually slid into decay in the 1970s becoming dilapidated and dangerous. As little as 15 years ago, it was not uncommon for students to be warned against venturing into certain parts of West Philadelphia. "The 1992-93 year was rock bottom," recalls Omar Blaik, senior vice president for Facilities and Real Estate Services at Penn. A student was killed and a professor was stabbed. Local businesses were closing, and students had to be bused downtown just to grocery shop. "The neighborhood was empty," Blaik recalls. About that time, Penn made the decision to engage in urban renewal in its pure sense, recreating a neighborhood of local shops and homes.
First, Penn had to address its campus issues. The Ivy League campus was designed to face inward toward the central tree-lined walkways and common areas and toward other campus buildings. "The buildings didn't even have street addresses. We were saying 'We're not part of this neighborhood,'" Blaik explains. Existing buildings were re-designed to have their main entrances on the city streets. The campus turned itself around and looked out over the neighborhood instead of turning its back on the streets. "We realized we cannot exist in a desert and imagine we are not part of what surrounds us," he says.
At the same time, the university put into effect its West Philadelphia Initiative, a five-pronged plan, developed with neighborhood input, to revitalize the struggling neighborhood and make it a livable, workable community. All five were implemented concurrently. The first issue was to make the environment cleaner and safer. The newly formed University City District, in partnership with other large entities like the University Hospital, began patrolling the neighborhood and organizing cleanup of graffiti and garbage.
To increase home ownership and decrease absentee landlordism, the university paid mortgage incentives of $15,000 to university employees who bought a house in the neighborhood, and $7,500 to homeowners who improved their existing property. By making ownership and beautification a priority, Penn hoped to increase the stability of the whole neighborhood and create a sense of pride in West Philadelphia instead of the perceived stigma. Penn also went out of its way to contract with local businesses for goods and services required by the university, such as laundry and catering. This policy of economic inclusion kept neighborhood money in the neighborhood, and went a long way toward convincing skeptics that Penn was sincere in its desire to do right by West Philadelphia.
"It took a lot of hard work to get the community to believe we weren't pulling a fast one," says Blaik. Building a new elementary school and turning it over to the public school district, while continuing to fund $1,000 per child helped, the cause. Creating a neighborhood where university employees would want to live goes a long way toward cementing the relationship between Penn and the neighborhood. "We live in the community. My kids go to the new public school. I am the community," says Blaik.
But the cornerstone of the entire approach was retail. In the 10 years since the initiative began, almost 40 new businesses have opened on Penn property. One development is located on what used to be the university border on West 40th Street, and the other is along the north side of campus, an outdoor urban shopping center called University Square. It contains the Hilton Inn at Penn above and shops like Urban Outfitters, Ann Taylor Loft, and Barnes & Noble below. The university funded and built the $100 million project, which it now owns and operates. The latest addition, Cereality, a new food-service concept that touts "all cereal, all day, all ways," is opening its first sit-down cafe in University Square in November. The university acquired money to construct the project by floating bonds, while acquiring debt. Fortunately, the revenue from the retail rent is helping to pay the debt service.
Also on 40th Street, a 24-hour grocery store, movie multiplex, parking and restaurants, surround Smoky Joe's bar, a campus landmark. "When we initially put out the red carpet to the big grocery store chains," says Blaik, "no one wanted to come. We had to build an independent grocery from scratch." Penn knew that the purchasing power of the population was bigger than it looked on paper.
Neighborhood census numbers may have had the annual average income of the surrounding neighborhood set at $15,000, but that was only because so many of the residents are students and technically have no income. That didn't mean they didn't have money to spend. Now there's 24-hour activity. Hospital workers grocery shop after their shift, and students and residents come and go at all hours. This is a complete turnaround from the previous decade's "don't go out after dark" policy.
The new grocery store is earning $750 per square foot and the gross sales per year from the two developments has topped $200 million. Retail rents have gone from $7 per square foot to $20 per square foot with Penn owning the majority of space. "We've proved the concept, and now [retailers] are flocking to us," says Blaik, but it's not like the neighborhood had suddenly gotten rich. It was the result of diverting the money that had previously been leaking out to the shopping centers downtown and outside the city.
Penn worked with retail planners to recruit and maintain diverse and local retail tenants, and helped create a rich neighborhood tapestry by keeping unique buildings and creating new structures in harmony with the existing architecture. Despite all efforts, however, there are still mixed reactions to Penn's policies. Joyce White, a 30-year resident of West Philadelphia and an employee of the university's museum, is enjoying the benefits of increased property values and cleaner, safe streets. "I often feel I live in a heaven of some sort: sitting on the back deck of a home with three fireplaces and three sets of pocket doors, listening to the crickets and birds under old-growth trees, chatting with neighbors across adjoining yards, all within walking distance of my job at Penn," White says. Though she admits that she couldn't afford to buy in now that house prices are catching up with the rest of the city, she's glad the university is creating greener, safer streets. Others question Penn's right to "revitalize" a neighborhood that was in many ways already a vital and functioning community, and accuse Penn of co-opting the neighborhood and creating, in effect, a Penn colony. Those who can't afford to buy into the neighborhood, like George Poulin, a Drexel University architecture student, criticize Penn for creating "a yuppie enclave. It's great to see a neighborhood become so popular and well-maintained, but it's disheartening to know that I'll be left out of the picture because of my income level," Poulin says.
It isn't just the university benefiting from the retail boom on campus. Companies that set up shop on campus reap the rewards of not only the built-in foot traffic from students but from the neighborhood as well. Ken Redding, vice president of Business Development at Starbucks Coffee, says that Starbucks approaches a campus location as it would any other potential retail location. "It's all about studying traffic patterns," he says. "The two sources of traffic--student life and neighborhood--make them a good market." There are roughly 100 Starbucks on college campuses nationwide.
Redding sees the real potential for campus retailing about five years out. At the rate Starbucks is growing, the need for employees is getting dire. Starbucks is "looking to take a more holistic approach" to coffee on campus by setting up reciprocal arrangements with a university to develop cross-programming with the school and make Starbucks an attractive place for students to work. The hope is, that by having Starbucks on campus, it will be a way to get students into a Starbucks management track and use Starbucks as more than a way to sell coffee but as a management training ground.
When the University of Illinois at Chicago was looking to expand its campus and increase its profile as a desirable place to go to college, they looked south to a dilapidated area of boarded-up buildings and warehouses. The university had been slowly acquiring property over the years, but there was no coherent plan for what to do with it. "We wanted to give people a reason to stay on campus," says Ellen Hamilton, director of Real Estate at UIC. "The campus was virtually lifeless after 4 p.m. We wanted to populate it and create a 24-hour environment," she says. The university needed to become a neighborhood instead of just a school.
To that end, in 1995 UIC secured a master developer and created an overall plan for the purchase and development of the 80-acre area south of the existing campus. The redevelopment agreement was approved in 1997, and in January 2000 UIC started acquiring the property they did not yet own and began demolition and construction. Two 750-unit student apartment residences, a 750-unit dorm, 120,000 square feet of office space, and 80,000 square feet of retail space have all been built, as well as parking structures for hundreds of cars and 600-plus private for-sale housing units, all but 20 of which have already sold. As of now, the estimated $750 million project is currently 75 to 85 percent complete, with full completion, including the reservation of two land banks for future expansion, expected in 2008.
As a state university, UIC had to jump through several hoops and endure many rounds of approvals before the plan could go ahead. Permission had to be obtained before any land could be sold to a private developer. But UIC could clearly show that its expansion would help the city by increasing property tax revenue; the money from the taxes on the development would pay for the infrastructure of the entire project, while the housing and retail were funded by auxiliary bonds. The university took things one step at a time, meeting with neighborhood groups and making sure it was doing right by everyone involved.
To maintain the look and feel of the Chicago cityscape, eight unique old buildings had their facades adapted and restored instead of demolished. "They took them apart brick by brick and then put them back together on the face of the new building," says Hamilton. Style elements like these helped give the whole development a pleasing appearance that blends nicely with the surrounding area.
UIC also planned to attract big retail and create a mix of shops. "It isn't as if there weren't retail outlets in Chicago. It's not that we created a unique opportunity for shopping, it's just that now people didn't have to go and find it. It's right here," Hamilton says. And what's here? Caribou Coffee, Jamba Juice, Cold Stone Creamery, Cingular Wireless, 7/11, Post Net, Wells Fargo Bank as well as MidAmerica Bank, restaurants, a dry cleaner, a haircut joint, a mattress store, and more. The faculty especially is thrilled that Barbara's Bookstore, a Chicago institution, that holds author's events and generates a lot of traffic, is in a key location.
"I took a potential tenant on a tour of the South Campus," says Hamilton, "and took the risk of asking the tenants we met, 'How do you like being on South Campus?' I didn't know what they were going to say. But they all said it's great. It's nice to see people out walking with their babies. One tenant said that it had been difficult being the first in a new neighborhood but now things were going very well." It's clear that the new development is good for the city, good for the university, and good for the students and faculty to have a lively, more well-rounded campus. As Hamilton puts it, "We're proving we're in this for the long term by creating a real live-learn campus."
Kean: We're spending too much time on that. You can't be a good president doing all that. I might be a little old-fashioned, but I think the business of the college and the university is education. If you're being pulled off education, you're going to have trouble. You've got to do the others. You've got to get into the technology issues, they're too important for a president not to be aware of them. You've certainly got to do fundraising; it's too important for the university. But if they become your primary occupation, I think it probably hurts the academic enterprise.
Well, first I might say that I was fortunate enough to have six or seven universities or colleges who were interested in my coming for one reason or another, once I decided this was a direction I was interested in. I liked the idea of a small liberal arts college with an emphasis on teaching and mentoring as well as research, and where professors really can get to know students. I picked Drew because it very much had that philosophy and had a very strong commitment to the liberal arts. And because, frankly, it enabled me to come to a place that was a short distance from my home.
Well, you get hit with some real problems that have to be solved and you can't put off. And they become your priorities for a while because they have to be done. And then you have a long-term vision, but you're not able to get at that for a year or two until you solve the more immediate problems.
When I came, we had a budget deficit. You can't have a budget deficit. I had to immediately get a hold of the budget and straighten it out. And we haven't had a budget deficit since. We also had a gym which was like a high school gym. And it was an embarrassment: an embarrassment when the other teams came, here, and an embarrassment when prospective students visited. Students had been promised a new gym for, oh, 15 years, and it wasn't ever going to happen. So, in my first year or two, I had to say we're going to have a first-class gym because I want to attract great people to this university to speak. We had no place for them to speak. So we build a forum on top of the gym that holds about 1,000 people. So I've been able to have ex-presidents and Colin Powell and Tom Brokaw are coming this year. That was the beginning of putting a little bit of my own priorities on things.
Any student who wants to come in and chat with the president can do so any week. We hold them at different times because we don't want to do it when students have classes or athletics or whatever, so every week it's a different time.
Yes, whatever they want to talk about. And students are wonderful. They talk about everything and ask me why I haven't been to a rugby game this year...to a student who talked about his father being very sick and lost his job and the student didn't know if he'll be able to graduate now because his family can't afford it. It's everything. It enables me to put out small fires before they become large fires because the students will come in and say--this is a problem. And you find out about it, you bring in the resources to eliminate it before it becomes serious.
You need interventions, particularly in those first couple of years. I think this goes for all schools. More and more students have some kind of a problem. It can be a learning disability, for example. These are not things that they have put down on their admissions applications, so you find out about them when they get here. Unfortunately, more and more students are picking up bad habits, particularly alcohol habits, back when they were 14 or 15 years old. So they come into college already with a drinking problem and you've got to deal with that. Some students have, unfortunately, some very difficult family problems. We find here that students who come from an inner city, often on scholarship, really need somebody there for them every day and if you are there for them every day, they will stabilize; they will do well and they will graduate, often with honors. But if you're not there, you lose them and we work very hard at that.
I believe, we were one of the first, before it became fashionable, to give every student a computer. We've been technologically wired on this campus for a long time. It is very common for faculty and students to correspond at 10 or 11 o'clock at night. For a student who has a problem, he or she feels they can message that faculty member and get a message back. In the course that I teach, I can tell you which students are into theater, which students are into sports, which students may or may not have a problem. I can intervene if there's a problem and that's the philosophy here. I think we have a very good graduation rate because of that.
Was every professor really into it by the time I got here? No. When I came here, people said the theological school is going to be a problem for you on technology. Well, the theological school, thanks to an energetic dean, took the leadership...first ones here to have online courses, a cyber cafe--the theological school jumped ahead of everybody else. Because of that early leadership, I didn't have the kind of problem that many other university presidents have had. I mean, by the time I came, we'd been into it (technology) for 10 years,
It's always a combination, I think, but the skills are very transferable. I mean, you've got to have skills to work with the faculty and the alumni and the students and the trustees, and they're all different groups. I had many more constituency groups than that to work with as governor. If you think the faculty is difficult, try working with the state legislators of the other party. The faculty was easy compared to that. I had no problems ever with the faculty. We've always gotten along well because we understand the idea of shared leadership. I mean, I understood very clearly, as governor, that when I was dealing with the Democratic state Senate that I wasn't going to say, "This is my idea and you'd better deal with it."... I had to bring senators in and say, "What do you think of this idea, would you buy into it?" If they'd buy into it, you give them the credit for it and it's their bill, not your bill. So it's a very interesting set of skills, but they're the same. They're really the same.
Let me tell you the biggest change, and this is not just in the 10 years or so that I've been here, although part of this change has occurred in that period. The biggest change from my own time as a student was when we wanted to make change, we marched, we demonstrated. I marched with Dr. King. We would go down to Washington and we'd march, and we'd come back home again and we'd go back to our classes or whatever. This bunch of students is not interested in that because they don't think it matters. They don't think you make much of a difference that way. What they do think is that you make a difference as individuals.
We have a very large chapter of Habitat for Humanity here where kids go to take their vacations. We had another group that volunteers to work at an orphanage in Honduras. We have students who tutor kids in Newark. We have other students who teach English to immigrants. They believe in individually working with people.
They do feel helping kids grow up decently and get an education does make a difference.
The change that is negative is access because of overcrowding, and combined with the rise in cost it is very dangerous right now because I think it is starting to price-out people who are qualified. Now, we've gone from grants to loans. If you're poor, you can't get the loans. I think that's wrong in a democracy. In the past, you were in trouble if you didn't have a high school education. Now, if you haven't got a college education, you're condemned...you're condemned to a less than satisfactory life, for you and for your family.
For any president, the most important and valuable commodity you have is your time. Because of the complexity of the job, you can get pulled off in 15 different directions every day and end up working very, very hard but not being terribly productive. And as a new president, you have to understand the people you're going to be working with. Faculties have their own personalities and you've got to get to know them.
Faculties all have leadership individuals, the people who just simply are listened to more in faculty meetings either because of their age or their competence or the respect they have among their colleagues. Make sure that you get to know them a bit. I think presidents neglect students who are, after all, the customers. I think because they get pulled so far in other directions. I don't think presidents are spending enough time on their campuses with students and student activities.
And, by the way, I differ from some university presidents, but I think teaching is important. I think teaching is what the institution does.
Yes, and I think that's what we do. First, teaching enables you to understand the faculty better, and they love it when they see me with a pile of papers under my arm, grumbling that I have to correct them all tonight. Second, teaching gives you a group of students that you know particularly well and talk to you about what's going on at the university. It keeps you intellectually going. I know some presidents do that, some don't, but I would recommend to any new president to think seriously about teaching.
I teach one three-hour seminar on Mondays because if I tried to do it another day, I would get pulled off campus too much and I might miss classes. I don't ever miss a class, so I just set aside three hours on Monday, every Monday.
Absolutely. I think, in a university atmosphere, you've got to have transparency. You have to be able to explain, particularly to the faculty, what you're doing, why you're doing it. You have to work with the faculty on committees in order to put together their budget so that they buy into it. It's a totally open process so that everybody knows every dollar coming in and every dollar going out. The final budget here is placed on e-mail so that every student can look at it, every person in the community can look at it, before it's adopted. Then we have a town meeting and people can come and weigh in. So, by the time the budget comes to the Board of Trustees, the whole community has an opportunity to have an input into every bit of it. And the result is I've never had a problem or a fight about the budget since I started that method.
Yes. When I came here, the previous philosophy was the budget was a secret.
The difficulty was that as the Commission started taking more and more time, my first impetus was to say to the trustees, maybe I ought to take a sabbatical. So I just decided that I couldn't have done the Commission work unless I had hired very, very well.
I have a group of administrators here which I would match against anybody's. So if I was in Washington and I called in twice a day, I knew the place was going to run like a top and it had one of its best years last year. I came back and said, you do better without me. But I think that's one of the things also that presidents have got to recognize--they've got to know how to delegate and they've got to bring in the right people.
If you're really good at who you bring in, you don't have to spend as much time on a lot of these issues. If you've hired well, people know what your priorities are, they will do it for you. They will take care of the priorities.
I actually am very disappointed in most of my colleagues in this respect. Not in the respect of being great college presidents necessarily. There are a lot of them out there who are. But in years past, you could think of a number of college and university presidents who took major roles in the life of this country. And I don't see that anymore.
I've mentioned that point to some of my colleagues and what they tell me is that, you know, if you say something to the right, your students are mad at you. And if you go to the left, the trustees get mad at you.
That's not an excuse. I believe that university presidents are some of the finest and most able people in this country. And not to take public positions on important issues, not to take leadership of important commissions and committees, not to get out there in the life of the democracy, I think that's a terrible example for their students.
I've said this to my colleagues, telling university presidents that once you get outside of your campus, you really are quite respected. And you could make a difference. You could make a real difference.
They're in those positions because they are positions of strength. I know university presidents who are among some of the most able people I've ever been associated with. Great backgrounds. They have to get out there into the light of the democracy because if they don't, they're poorer for it, the universities are poorer for it, and certainly the students are getting a bad example.
For a university president to say I'm not going to get involved in this issue because it might make somebody mad is not leadership, really not leadership. These are institutions of change.
I've taken on more controversial stuff. Personally, I don't believe people should be running around with guns, the semi-automatic weapons. I've taken very strong positions on that.
I get letters from alumni saying they'll never contribute to the place as long as I'm there. But they're your principles. Is that a reason for a university president not to say anything because two or three alumni are going to get mad? I think it's a way to engage the debate. And if we're not going to speak out, who is?
That's my only criticism. I wish they would be out there more, taking more positions on more issues and showing leadership, not only in the university but outside the university.
I don't know. I've been the university president longer than I've held any other job. And I decided about a year ago that this should be my last year because the university is in better shape than it's ever been in. I'll see what comes along. I've got probably one more job left in me. What it'll be, I just don't have any idea.
If I could help, yes. Full-time, probably not. I don't think I want to go down to Washington, but if it's a part-time thing or something where I could be an advisor or help government in some way, yes. It's an obligation as a citizen to help out.
The initial campus visit is like a first date. The tour guides are the suitors and the objects of their affection are the prospective freshmen. But this courtship has a twist--the guides' role is to represent not themselves, but the campus. Walking backwards as they often must, the guides woo visitors with a lively tour of the campus's finest facilities, while offering charming anecdotes about student life. In turn, the students decide whether to accept a second date. But unlike the proverbial dinner-and-a-movie second date, this one could be the start of a four-year relationship.
For this reason, the campus tour is vital. But with so much effort being focused on enhancing e-recruitment, ad campaigns, college viewbooks, high school visits, and college fairs, the campus tour has taken a backseat. But if first impressions really are everything, then perfecting the campus tour should be a top priority.
Speaking to this point is a recent study conducted by the Arts & Science Group, a Maryland-based higher ed consulting firm. Of the 472 polled students, 65 percent said the campus visit had the most impact on their enrollment decision. In comparison, only 26 percent cited the college web site as an influencing factor; while about 25 percent said the same about the college viewbook and other promotional print materials.
"Instead of spending time, energy, and money on brochures that get tossed in the wastebasket, schools should spend these resources on training their guides," says Judy Quest, guidance counselor at Duchesne Academy (Neb.). Quest has heard her share of what she calls "tour guide tales." Quest says one guide told a parent that she asked "the dumbest question ever." Another said to a perspective student: "Our music department can't be very good because I don't even know where it is housed." The reality is campus tour guides are not professionals with years of hospitality experience--they're just students.
That isn't to say that they're not worthy of assuming an ambassadorial role. "I think student-guided tours are very appropriate," Quest says. "But the kids have to have a bit of flare and personality for it. And they have to realize what an impact they are making." Fortunately, IHEs can be discriminative about which students they elect as their school ambassadors. For years the University of South Carolina Aiken didn't have this option. Instead, they had shared the pool of volunteer students working for the Alumni Office to lead their tours. "We felt that students in that group were focused solely on alumni and didn't understand the importance of interacting with prospective students and their parents," says Andrew Hendrix, director of Admissions at the university. As a result, Hendrix formed his own group of volunteer students (most of whom were recommended by faculty and staff) who were primarily interested in admissions. The students are rewarded for their time and effort with, for example, a $150 gift certificate to the university's bookstore.
The University of Arizona, as of two months ago, offers an even sweeter reward: cash. About 90 student guides were put on the UA payroll for the first time this fall, earning $5.85 per hour. "We wanted to increase the responsibility and require more training hours (four to five per week) of our guides," says Keith Humphrey, senior assistant director of Admissions. "We didn't feel we could ask this of purely volunteers, especially because our students tend to be very involved in other leadership activities. We wanted to make sure they were getting treated well for their time." Paying the guides has also improved attendance at the weekly ambassador meetings. "The meetings are essential because our campus is undergoing tremendous changes. We need our students to be on top of current information," he says.
Despite the benefits of paying student guides, there are ethical concerns that come into play. "Yes, you can require and expect more of your students when you pay them," says Hendrix. "But I think it's a bit mercenary. If a parent or student found out their guides were being paid, it would immediately color the way they see the guides talking about the campus." Humphrey says that he does encourage ambassadors to speak about the positives and negatives of their college experience. "We want them to be honest; we don't want them to censor themselves."
A less expensive way to maintain a professional edge is through implementing a tour guide uniform. Some IHEs require students to sport khakis, even blazers embossed with school logos; others allow their students to wear street clothes. "It really depends on the kind of student that you're trying to attract. A more conservative student might appreciate a more formal look," says Brooke Konopacki, assistant dean of Admission at Ripon College (Wis.) But Ripon is veering away from a standardized uniform. "We want students to have the opportunity to let their true personality show. We don't want them to look like salespeople for the college. We want prospective students to feel they can ask open and frank questions and feel like they're getting honest answers." Ripon is considering offering their student guides gift cards to the bookstore so they can pick out Ripon apparel to wear on tours.
Or there's the option of eliminating the tour guide altogether. Arizona State University has decided to let technology do the talking, or touring, for those students who request it. While it is still optional, prospective students can opt for a handheld GPS-assisted tour, using satellite-guided technology. Using wireless headphones, students can listen in to prerecorded audio programming, full of animated student voices and ambient sounds.
There were many reasons for ASU to implement the technology, but most important was the demand for taking tours simply outpaced the university's ability to offer them. "Now we can provide tours at any time and on short notice," says Timothy Desch, dean of Undergraduate Admissions at the university. "And so far, we are the first to use this, so the 'wow' factor will serve as a unique recruiting tool." ASU still offers student-guided tours twice daily during weekdays and during peak times and holiday breaks.
But Desch says the technology will not replace student-guided tours. Instead, it will serve as an alternative for students who are unable to come during regularly scheduled tours and for those who prefer this method of touring. While ASU is currently the only school using this kind of technology for touring, Jerry Ufnal, marketing vice president of OnPoint Systems, the company that helped develop ASU's tour, says in five to seven years this technology will be commonplace at IHEs. "The benefits of the technology will be strongest among universities that have high levels of visitation and tend to be larger in size," Ufnal says.
For larger universities, creating effective campus tours can be more challenging. Not only do they tend to host more student visitors, but they have more square footage to show off. "We like to keep our walking tours to an hour but that's just not enough time to show off our 1,700-acre campus," says Dewey Holleman, former director of Admissions at University of South Florida. To solve the dilemma, USF has just purchased a customized tram vehicle to offer "tram tours." Sporting the university's gold and green colors, the tram, which was completed just weeks ago, seats 80 guests. Trained volunteer guides will talk about the campus through the tram's speaker system. While the tram follows a specific route, visitors will be able to get on and off the trams at designated spots.
Now the university is able to show more of the campus that students traditionally did not get to see on a walking tour, such as the university's Contemporary Art Museum. In addition, the tram makes the campus more accessible for parents, grandparents and those with disabilities. "It will also make our visitors much more comfortable in the summer weather in south Florida," he says.
While USF is similar in size to ASU, it never considered the audio-guided tours featuring GPS technology as an option. "I just don't want to give students the perception that we're so big that they need a GPS system to make sure they don't get lost," Holleman says. "We're glad we're big but we don't want to scare students away."
One way academics know they're breaking new ground with their research is by the number of speaking invitations they receive after publication. Another gauge might be the level of vitriol their critics muster both in rebuttal papers, and these days, on academic listservs and bulletin boards.
By both these measures, "Thwarted Innovation: What Happened to e-Learning and Why," written by Robert Zemsky of the University of Pennsylvania and William F. Massy, professor emeritus at Stanford University, has been the academic equivalent of an earthquake since its publication in June.
"It's almost as if Bill and Bob are historians writing about how the promise of the American West, after several hundred years, turned out to consist largely of LA freeways and Las Vegas casinos," wrote Carol A. Twigg, executive director of the Center for Academic Transformation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (N.Y.), in her newsletter, "The Learning MarketSpace."
"By analogy, we feel that they have damned the truck that is taking sustenance to the hungry because the truck doesn't work well enough!" wrote John Bourne and his colleagues at Sloan-C, a consortium of institutions and organizations committed to quality online education.
"Such a caricature of ivory tower (research). (The study) contradicts itself throughout the piece, doesn't understand its own historical perspective and lazily relies on one private sector pundit for 15 pages of criticism," wrote Stephen Cervieri, director of sales and marketing for Distance Learning Inc. (DLI).
What's all the fuss about? "Thwarted Innovation" makes the case that e-learning hasn't lived up to the hype--that growth isn't what was predicted; that the creation and adoption of learning technology has stalled; and that, despite the availability of new technology, no major changes have occurred in the way teaching happens in higher education.
Some of these points are true, for sure, given the realities of e-learning today. But, critics say, the authors are too eager to declare a bust considering the number of students enrolled in online degree programs and the multitude of successful ventures and cutting-edge experiments going on in the arena.
Massy and Zemsky came up with a neat breakdown of the innovations made possible by e-learning technologies, allowing any institution to easily gauge where they are on the continuum. They posit that the first phase of integrating e-learning would be faculty embrace of course enhancement applications, like the use of PowerPoint to create lecture notes or using e-mail to contact students. Nearly all IHEs have reached this point, with only the diehards resisting these innovations.
The second phase would be the use of course management platforms, like WebCT and Blackboard. Just about everyone is here also, with about 97 percent of two- and four-year schools using some type of course management system, according to Market Data Retrieval's 2004 survey of 5,500 IHEs.
The third step, and this is where the "thwarted" in "Thwarted Innovation" comes in, would be the creation and use of subject-specific learning objects within a course, such as financial simulations in a business class, or lab simulations in a science class. Everyone acknowledges that use of these objects, such as are available from Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Training (MERLOT), is fairly rare.
The fourth stage of innovation would be the total redesign of existing courses, away from education as usual to a more interactive, learner-oriented model, that both improves learning outcomes and saves money. Despite some evidence to the contrary, Massy and Zemsky argue that this isn't happening in American IHEs.
For most of the conclusions and assumptions in the nearly 100-page-long "Thwarted Innovation," there seem to be critics. Many of the complaints about the study are definition problems that have yet to be resolved: What is e-learning vs. distance learning, vs. online education, etc.? In their paper, Massy and Zemsky aren't just talking about internet-based distance education, what Sloan-C calls asynchronous learning networks; they're also talking about the use of technology in traditional on-campus classes and corporate education environments.
"The bottom line we've come to is we're really talking past each other," says John Bourne, executive director of Sloan-C and editor of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks.
The other major complaints center on the research methodology. Rather than survey hundreds of IHEs for their report, Massy and Zemsky instead embarked on a sort of anthropological study in which they interviewed faculty and administrators at six schools several times over a period of 15 months.
"The six schools selected for the study are not a representative sample by anyone's measure," wrote one critic on Sloan-C's listserv.
The last major tenet of the criticism--and one that Massy and Zemsky might agree with--is that it's just too soon to evaluate the success of e-learning, or dub it a bust.
"What are they expecting? I have a 13-month-old baby, I'm not ranting and raving over why he can't jump rope," says Cervieri of DLI.
The reality about the adoption of internet-based distance education is probably somewhere in between what the two sides would assert. Sloan-C forecasts that there will be some 2 million people taking online courses this fall; University of Phoenix alone has 109,000. Independent researchers at Market Data Retrieval found that 55 percent of the 5,500 accredited two- and four-year IHEs surveyed offer accredited degrees online, only a slight increase from the 54 percent in 2003; 47 percent offered degrees online in 2002. So though many new students are taking internet-based courses, the number of schools adding programs has slowed significantly.
"Whether this is a one-year stall or an overall flattening out, I think it's just too early to tell," says Kathleen Brantley of Market Data Retrieval.
The other truth raised in "Thwarted Innovation" is that most online education offerings are flat--they're still primarily based on text and pictures, with little use of audio, video, graphics, simulations, or even asynchronous discussions. Once professors figured out how to load their existing notes and lectures onto Blackboard or WebCT, they stopped innovating.
A corollary to this is that many faculty members don't want to see distance education, e-learning, or some hybrid of these take hold. Many are understandably skeptical that this model can equal or exceed the success of traditional classroom learning. Others are unwilling or unable to change how they teach to make use of technology, or don't have the institution support to do so.
Carol Twigg found this out after helping administer a $200,000 Pew Foundation grant to redesign an introductory-level course at Rensselaer Polytechnic to take advantage of learning technology, improve learning outcomes, and save money. After the redesigned course was successfully implemented with 3,600 students, showing cost savings and better learning, faculty complained that they preferred the lecture-based model. As a result, the school opted to give students a choice between formats, with about half choosing each.
"These (post-redesign) changes suggest a lack of departmental and institutional commitment to reducing costs and increasing student success," Twigg wrote in an article examining the results of 10 such redesign grants.
But it's Twigg's work on redesign (see below) that finally acknowledges the elephant in the room when it comes to e-learning and distance education: the money. Recent high-profile successes like UMass Online have turned their distance ed programs into moneymakers (UMass says it generated $14 million in online revenue last academic year, with 90 percent of that pumped back into the traditional campus system). But at many schools distance education is simply bolted to the outside of the existing educational structure, Twigg says. The result is often a black hole that eats money with little to show in the way of increased learning or cost savings.
"In that situation, technology becomes part of the problem of cost containment rather than part of the solution," Twigg says.
Massy and Zemsky are correct in advising that we watch the leading edge of e-learning to see where the lagging center will be in a few years. They also say that redesigning existing courses is necessary in order to fulfill the promises of e-learning. What they miss is that this process has been happening on a small scale since 1999, and is being replicated by more and more programs each year.
With an $8.8 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, Twigg launched the Program in Course Redesign at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1999. Since then some 30 IHEs have been given grants of $200,000 each to redesign a large-enrollment introductory course at their schools. Conducted in three rounds of 10 schools each, the IHEs were given flexibility as to how the courses were redesigned--some became fully online courses, others were hybrids that met in person and online, and others retained the traditional course structure but added technology-based activities outside of class. The grant required each institution to develop a detailed cost analysis of both the traditional and redesigned formats, as well as to map educational outcomes of each version.
"If you think about every other industry, in the country, in the world, technology is seen as a way to contain costs," Twigg says. "We wanted to show people that you can get a return on your information technology investment, and use it as a way to contain costs and improve learning."
Some highlights of the results from the second round of 10 schools, which completed their projects in July 2002:
The schools averaged a 38 percent cost reduction, with collective savings of about $1 million for the 10 courses.
Nine of the 10 reported improved learning outcomes, while one reported no significant difference.
Six of the 10 projects showed improvement in course completion rates; two reported no change; two reported problems with students dropping or withdrawing from the class.
(For detailed analysis of each project, see www.center.rpi.edu. Also, see the information on the redesign project at Florida Gulf State University at the bottom of this page.)
As Twigg and her colleagues refine their redesign model, they're finding it's fairly easy to replicate. Organizations in states from Hawaii on east are now using the Rensselaer model to encourage course redesign with their states. The Ohio Learning Network is giving out eight to 10 grants of $40,000 each to assist IHEs in redesigning courses, based on Twigg's approach.
"Content constantly needs to be redeveloped," says Kate Carey, executive director of the Ohio Learning Network. "What we're doing is trying to put some dollars on the street for institutions to look specifically at large-enrollment courses and make changes in content using technology that results in higher, better learning, and lower costs."
The other area that Massy and Zemsky believe innovation has been thwarted is in the use of learning objects, like simulations, audio or video, to enhance learning. They're right--there's not much on the market for IHEs to buy; building these applications is costly; and freeware available on sites like MERLOT is not a comprehensive solution. But the supply of these types of programs is expanding, as publishers, tech vendors, and even schools see a market for the products.
One promising source: The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania received $10 million from alumnus Alfred P. West Jr. in 2001 to build a "learning lab" where the types of course objects Massy and Zemsky talk about are created. By the end of this academic year Wharton expects to have 20 different homegrown applications that allow students to experience market simulations in areas such as finance, negotiations, marketing, and forecasting.
A Wharton student survey has found that 87 percent of students said the tools significantly enhanced (21 percent) or enhanced (66 percent) learning in class; and 79 percent felt the simulations were more effective than lectures in maintaining their attention and engagement.
Buoyed by student and faculty reception of the web-based learning tools, Wharton struck a deal with Pearson Addison Wesley to package and sell the applications to other IHEs around the world.
"Wharton was very focused on looking at new ways of learning. That's what our dean wanted to do; that's what Wharton has been known for--innovation in learning," says CIO Deirdre Woods.
Learning from these successful e-learning models is one way to help fulfill the promise of distance education and educational technology. Other developments that Zemsky, Massy, Twigg, and other experts consider critical:
A dominant design of quality e-learning and distance education methodology must emerge, based on successful learning outcomes and proven cost efficiencies. Much like PowerPoint has become a dominant design in the first level of education technology innovation, and Blackboard and WebCT in the second, there needs to be research-based consensus on what makes good e-learning and distance learning.
Technology must be used to go beyond automating what's already possible. This means faculty must go beyond PowerPoint and Blackboard and utilize things like audio, video, asynchronous discussions, simulations, etc.
Before (1) and (2) can be fully realized, faculty and administration must commit to the idea that higher education needs to be improved, Massy and Zemsky believe. Within this, they must also focus on what students want when it comes to e-learning and distance education.
Maybe the biggest problem with "Thwarted Innovation: What Happened to e-Learning and Why" is just its use of the past tense. Perhaps if Massy and Zemsky had titled it "What's Happening in e-Learning and Why," their ideas would have been met with fewer rebuttals. Zemsky acknowledges that perhaps the whole issue just needs time.
"I think those who peer skeptically at e-learning also have to back off and give it some breathing room," he says. "If you've got somebody watching your every movement, you tend not to be very graceful when you move."
Community college systems are bursting with students. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the total is 10.4 million and climbing, when counting those enrolled for credit and noncredit programs. Growth spurts at specific systems reflect the trend. Enrollment for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System grew from 45,000 to 82,000 during the past six years. The total student count at North Shore Community College (Mass.) grew by 5 percent last year, bringing the total to 12,000. Enrollment is expected to climb again this year. Any number of the other 1,173 U.S. community colleges have similar stories.
Community colleges' student pools are probably the most diverse group in higher education: recent high school graduates--many of whom are low-income students who need the affordable tuition; other young students who have been squeezed out of the four-year state systems; professionals brushing up on their skills; and the unemployed casualties of the recent recession.
Of course, with all of these new students comes much more data. The problem is that many of the beleaguered community college enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are due for upgrades. They are straining to push through their pipelines many more admissions applications, financial aid records, student retention records, academic data, payroll, and HR information.
And just as the down economy has motivated more students to seek out the community college systems, states, counties, and the federal government have less money to allocate to these systems. Last year, Virginia's community colleges lost 8 percent of their state operating funds, according to AACC. California's state budget cut community college funding by almost 2 percent. Granted, some systems have raised tuition to make up for the difference, but those increases have, at best, helped these systems maintain the resources they have.
At a time when they can least afford it, community colleges are being forced to abandon legacy systems, or upgrade older commercial ERP systems, to keep their operations running. "These are on the order of millions of dollars per system. It wouldn't be uncommon to spend $2 million to $3 million to move from a legacy system to a commercial ERP system," says George Boggs, president of AACC.
Some of the community college systems lucky enough to get ahead of the curve are glad they addressed growth earlier in the cycle.
That's the case at Monroe Community College (N.Y.), which has experienced a 2 to 6 percent annual enrollment growth during the past five years. "It is a great challenge to have," says Jeff Bartkovich, VP of Education Technology Services, of the increased enrollment. "Our [technology] budget has not increased proportionally. We've had to manage our resources more wisely," he adds.
At about the time enrollment started to grow, administrators at Monroe accepted the fact that the school would need a new ERP system to keep up with new demands.
"We began to see the future, to see how the information serves us," says Bartkovich. A faster and more comprehensive system could better track students and their status from admission to graduation.
Bartkovich is specifically talking about a relational database, which will automatically upgrade a piece of information in all records, eliminating the need to make a name change, or add financial information, on a file-by-file basis. Monroe eventually chose the SunGard SCT Banner product, investing $3.5 million during the past four years. An implementation of the admissions system module last summer was followed by the finance system in the fall. A human resources software module will be in place by early 2005.
Bartkovich acknowledges that investment wasn't exactly an easy sell to the State University of New York (SUNY) system, which did provide some money for the project. In the end, Monroe convinced state and local administrators on the long-term gain, with the expectation that the system will be in place for at least 15 years. Other funding came from Monroe College and the Monroe College Foundation.
The Los Angeles Community College District, which claims to be the nation's largest system with nine colleges and 130,000 students, acquired SAP's ERP system in 2000 and went live with the financial suite of services in 2002. The human resources applications will go live next year.
Until it installed the SAP system, LACCD used a homegrown IT system that it bought from the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1968. CIO Tony Tortorice describes the legacy system as "sclerotic" and "brittle."
"If something was broken in one place it was hard to fix it in another," he laments.
Further complicating matters was the reliance on a small group of in-the-know employees who had years of experience coding and working around the system's quirks. Administrators started to worry about the repercussions of retirement.
The de facto billing cycle was 180 days because that was as fast as invoice information could move through the system. At one point, 30 percent of the Los Angeles Community College District's 14,000 full-time and part-time employees were not being paid on time. Today that percentage is down to 5 percent, even though the HR suite has yet to be fully implemented. Other installed applications have helped tighten up the system to keep better tabs on the hiring approval process and the personnel roster.
That's not to say that everything went smoothly, adds Tortorice. Bringing in a new ERP system, in essence, ushered in a culture change for the L.A. district. A larger group of people would be using the system, which meant that the group of users would have varying skill levels. "The warning sign was when we found we had to have a 'how to use a mouse' training," he reports. Further, there was resistance to using new technology and viewing data on new screens. The IT department addressed concerns by introducing the changes slowly and by minimizing the visible changes to the users. Hopefully all will be ready when the HR module goes live in January.
The acronym CRM commonly stands for "customer relationship management," but the phrase has been slightly altered to "constituent relationship management" to encompass the missions of educational institutions and other nonprofits, explains Eric Bassett, director of research practice for Eduventures, a research and consulting firm. The altered phrase better fits institutions that are offering portals and other IT applications to improve the student and employee interactions.
For example, if a student is to go online and register for a class, pay for it, download the syllabus, and then order the required textbooks, the ERP infrastructure must be seamless and reliable.
Community colleges, though, are still coping with this business shift.
It would not have been uncommon 20 years ago for the different departments at a community college to have entirely separate IT systems. "When a student changed an address, administrators had to input the change five different systems," says Boggs.
Dan Bloomer, vice president of Finance and Administration for Orange County Community College (N.Y.), admits to having "islands" of information across campus. And while the college does use an ERP system--one installed 13 years ago--its various departments were allowed to customize the applications to suit their needs. For example, preview screens were modified so employees could read all information in one view. Although that can seem convenient, the changes have yielded a system that can't easily share information from one department to another. "It was a good idea gone bad," he says. "We modified the system to such a degree that any system upgrade was a difficult ordeal." It took the college one year to get everything right during a recent upgrade. Now the college is bidding for a new ERP system. The hope is that the larger SUNY system's relationships with commercial vendors will allow Orange to buy a system at a reduced licensing rate.
North Shore Community College (Mass.) faced a new ERP challenge in 2000 when it included the development of a campus portal in its strategic plan. The idea of giving students an online gateway to information fit into its goal of providing workable self-service for students. As a result, the burden on staff and students has lightened.
"We had registration lines the length of a football field," says CIO Gary Ham. There were times that the police had to be on duty to monitor the crowd and keep student frustration levels in check. Registering for a class could take three-plus hours. Today, 85 percent of the credit students register online.
North Shore's portal allows users to touch eight different campus systems, including the course management system, e-mail, registration, financial services, and an FTP website service. The total "user base" is 8,000 and there are 2,000 unique users daily. The portal system, which required a $600,000 investment, has helped the system save money in staff time, says Janice Forsstrom, vice president for Administration and Finance. She estimates the college has realized $750,000 ROI as a result of cost savings and student self-service.
The system's implementation also encouraged staff to look at how they were doing their jobs, she adds. The emphasis is on being customer/constituent oriented. The enrollment and registrar offices have come together to cross-train on the SunGard SCT Banner ERP and portal system, and to improve information sharing between the departments.
Anne Arundel Community College (Md.) began its research on ERP and IT upgrades in the mid-1990s. Until that point, campus operations were run by a homegrown system. Representatives of a steering committee were picked to represent the college as a whole, explains Dave Becker, chief technology officer. Each representative was given a vote for deciding on a system and its applications, but the votes cast by the Credit Instruction department and Continuing Education were weighted heavier. The academic voice was basically given more importance.
"We did that because we are in business to serve the student, not to produce the prettiest paycheck on the face of the earth," says Becker. Eventually the committee selected a Datatel system, which was installed in 1999. The financial suite was the first to be operational. An HR system was up and running in 2001. After this, administrators installed a portal so students could register online, check schedules, and fulfill other operations.
The portal even allows students to order their textbooks online via a partnership with the Nebraska Book Company.
To date, Anne Arundel has spent $2 million on its ERP and portal systems. The cost doesn't include staff time, which will be calculated into an ROI report that comes out at the end of this fiscal year.
Colleges such as North Shore and Anne Arundel are in step with the overall IT trends, adds Bassett of Eduventures. In his company's 2004 study of community colleges and their objections, respondents' information revealed two main themes: the need to integrate systems with enterprise portals and other applications; and the push for more digital content in the classroom. In fact, community college leaders report that their No. 1 objective is to improve student learning outcomes. And they also report that new technology will be the most relevant way to make that happen.
If the study reveals one thing, it's this: There definitely is a will to change the IT landscape at the community college. Now the challenge is finding the way to pay for it and motivate and train staff.
Last month, we looked at three necessary cautions that must be addressed before you can begin to plan your budget. Developing an effective and sustainable integrated marketing budget likely depends more on the decisions that were made when shaping the plan than the actual activities in the plan.
Campus computing has become an annual contest among an ever-growing number of technologies competing for the IT purse. As the new academic year bursts from the starting gate, some of the leading horses this year are not the usual contenders. Wireless networking, after a lot of talk and pilot projects, is now a must-have service. Legally obtained music appears ready to figure importantly in the muddy battle over file sharing. Spam has nosed ahead of viruses this fall as the enemy of campus network performance. Handheld devices are gaining credibility as important players in the "new" campus infrastructure. None of these horses is new to the IT scene; they have all matured to challenge the traditional contestants: computers, software, and support services.
Where IHEs have not deployed wireless access points, campus community members are now quick to fill the gap on their own dime. Anyone with $100 to spend can get a wireless router and open an access zone for a whole department or a good part of a dorm. Apple's AirPort Express, listing at $129, offers a combination of wireless internet access, music streaming, and printer sharing. Meanwhile, the campus IT organizations are preferring to supply the wireless access points of their own choosing. Many that use Cisco Systems, for example, are replacing access devices from other manufacturers with Cisco's Aironet series, which varies in cost from $500 to $1,300 but has the advantage of being well integrated with Cisco routers and switches, and so making management of wireless access zones easier to accomplish at the central network control points.
Wireless networking is a prime example of the technologies that are transforming campus computing from the "outside." Manufacturers are marketing directly to the public, keeping the technology inexpensive and easy to install. The downside for campus IT support units is that wireless signal strength fluctuates and behaves in ways that only a radio engineer can sort out. Many help-desk calls this fall are appeals to fill gaps in wireless coverage and to fix (or at least explain) variances in signal quality.
The recording industry's race to overtake music file sharing and copyright infringement has been joined by the emergence of commercial download sources. Apple's iTunes music store and runaway hit iPod player have set the pace for legal music, with songs selling for 99 cents and audio books and music videos now included in the iTunes inventory. The iPod players cost $300 to $400, depending on the model.
Apple's success has spurred Napster to offer a music "rental" service at $14.95 per month, supplementing its 99 cents per song offering, which was the breakthrough business model for legal distribution of music via download. Napster 3.0 uses a technology termed "Janus" that keeps track of the subscription period and then disables the music files when the rental expires.
In the late summer, RealNetworks started its challenge to the front-runners, offering songs at 49 cents. Its Rhapsody service offers subscription access to music at $9.95 per month. STARZ! supplies video downloads for $12.95 per month for customers with Internet connections running at 600 kbps or higher.
Whether the proliferation of these outlets will finally rein in illegal downloading and file sharing remains to be seen. Colleges and universities face continuing pressure from the media industries to block file sharing and to persuade their campus communities to respect copyright for music, video, games, and software. The legal, low-cost sources hope to win over many of those network users who still take their chances with illegal sharing.
Unwanted e-mail shows no sign of weakening as a burden to campus mail systems and the in-boxes of its users. Not surprisingly, the number of anti-spam software programs, hardware appliances, and filtering services is growing steadily, too. Stopping, or at least identifying, spam at the mail server has u
become critical for campus computing because once it has been distributed to users, the cleanup chore is widespread.
Barracuda Networks' Spam Firewall is an appliance (hardware, software, and update services requiring little management by the IT staff) that detects and quarantines spam with a low percentage of "false positive" mistakes. It is priced on a scale ranging from 90 cents per user up to 1,000 users, to 27 cents for populations over 10,000.
For campuses running Unix- or Linux-based mail services with sendmail, PureMessage from Sophos is a leading choice for anti-spam filtering. Unlike its appliance-based competitors, it is highly customizable at the mail server, which has advantages in flexibility but requires staff time and expertise.
Brightmail's anti-spam filtering software for individual computers is used in several commercial products, and in June of 2004 was acquired by Symantec and is now featured in its Norton AntiSpam 2004 product. The Norton package sells in the $15 to 50 range in the highly competitive online software sales market.
Greenview Data's SpamStopsHere is a hosted, off-site service that uses several layers of filtering to accomplish spam blocking. Its advantage is that it requires no hardware or software on campus. Its principal drawback is that the company manages the filtering criteria centrally, and does not provide customers and users a means to adjust filter settings.
One of the major IT policy issues raised by anti-spam technologies is the matter of false positives--those messages identified as spam but actually are legitimate. A researcher on the reproductive activities of fruit flies could find e-mail blocked because the spam filter cannot differentiate it from the flood of sex-related information figuring in message scans. The technological ideal is, of course, 100 percent blocking of unwanted messages and no stoppage of those that are wanted. Once freedom of expression concerns are added to the discussion, spam blocking can easily become a contentious topic in computing advisory committees.
Cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA), small-format computers and cameras, game players, and hybrids of several of these are forcing their way to the head of the pack of new hardware devices on campus. Most colleges and universities have tried to limit their responsibility to support users of these new micromachines, and have been particularly concerned about the looming demand to accommodate them on the campus network. The difficulty of support was not great when it was a matter of synchronizing a networked calendar in an environment like Microsoft's Exchange/Outlook or Novell's Groupwise with a Palm Pilot or equivalent. But as PDAs become more complex, the task of integrating them into campus networked services grows more daunting.
The Blackberry handheld has been adopted by senior administrators on some campuses as a way to stay in touch while traveling or during a campus emergency. Now some faculty are asking to be provided with them. While the individual units can be obtained for as little as $300, subscription to a related communications network can cost $70 per month. Palm, HP, and Dell are the leading purveyors of PDAs, ranging in cost from $100 to $500 or more. The high-end devices are essentially pocket-sized microcomputers complete with wireless network capability. The lower end of this suite of products are still primarily personal electronic calendars and address books. Dell's family of Axim devices and Palm's Tungsten series are top sellers, along with HP's iPAQ.
PDAs have not succeeded in replacing desktop or notebook computers on campus. Instead they are typically bought by faculty and administrators for personal convenience and ruled outside the set of devices supported by central IT. So far, there has not been a "killer" application for widespread use on campus. Medical schools have generally embraced them as an excellent way to carry information and stay in communication as personnel move through hospital rounds.
In the past, campus IT leaders chose technologies, products, and services for adoption by their clientele. Now the IT jockeys are hanging on to their saddles as the new generation of consumer-oriented technologies race onto campus. The first few requests for support can be turned aside, but the onrush of sheer numbers of devices (let alone MP3 songs) will eventually mandate support for new products and adjustments to campus network infrastructure and usage policies. Some new students have shown up this fall toting notebook computers with built-in wireless networking and did not want to hear that if their dorm rooms were not covered for wireless they could always buy an RJ-45 cable and attach to the 100 MHz wired Ethernet.
Races rarely run as predicted. Like horses, those technologies with irresistible power and stamina cross the finish line. IT shops, this year more than ever, are watching as the pack of contending new technologies sorts itself out.
Tom Warger is a consulting principal for Edutech International (www.edutech-int.com).