Rich Media Comes of Age

How IHEs utilize the web's ability to deliver audio, video, and content to students anytime, and anyplace.

The Payoffs of Parent Outreach

Listservs, e-mails, and interactive web programs are just a few of the tools IHEs are using to keep parents better connected to the campus and to their children.

Francesca Karpel, a mother of twins, sent her son to Case Western University (Ohio) and her daughter to Trinity University (Texas) last fall. While neither university is a short jaunt from her Belmont, Calif., home, she feels closer to Trinity. Part of the reason for this is Parent Talk, Trinity's parent-only listserv, of which she is an active member.

Developed four years ago and boasting about 600 subscribers, Parent Talk hosts discussions on a variety of topics--from meal plans and alcohol abuse to finding a reliable mechanic to ordering birthday cake. "I've found Parent Talk a very helpful way to feel connected to Trinity and to learn more about Texas," Karpel says. "It has helped me to let go, feel reassurance about the student body, and laugh--as I've read the perspective of more experienced parents," she says.

The Trinity listserv was created to foster better parent relations with the university. "Parents had been complaining that the only time they heard from us was when it was time to pay the bills," says David Tuttle, Trinity's dean of students and director of Residential Life. "The listserv is a very personal way for us to interact with parents and for them to interact with each other." Tuttle not only moderates the listserv, but also responds to inquiries and discussions, and sends out weekly updates which are often injected with funny anecdotes as well as real insight into student life from an administrator's perspective.

"You never know
what's going to fly
with parents
and what's not
until they bring it up
on the listserv."
-David Tuttle,
Trinity University

Parent Talk also attracts many onlookers, known in the Trinity cyber-community as "lurkers." One lurker, Andrea Shelton, is a Trinity grad whose eldest son does not attend Trinity. His school does not offer a parent listserv. "I felt very disconnected to what my son was going through. That's when I turned to TU," she says. Shelton had even gone to the school's administration and made her case for a parent listserv. She received little feedback. "I am very disappointed and frustrated with this aspect of my son's college. There's so much camaraderie on the TU listserve. I am envious," she says.

But as in any open forum, there are bound to be conflicts of opinion. While parents tend to get grouped together as a "homogenous contingent," Tuttle says, they in fact have very different mindsets. He learned this when The Vagina Monologues were being shown on campus. Some parents wrote in that they "expected more out of Trinity than to let this happen. Others wrote, "This is exactly what I expect from Trinity--to expose my child to such things." "You never know what's going to fly with parents and what's not until they bring it up on the listserv," Tuttle says.

But listservs are just one of the many tools that IHE's are using to create good will among parents and encourage their participation. At the University of New Hampshire, parents can sign up to receive a monthly e-mail from their child's hall director detailing campus events and floor programs, and suggesting timely topics to discuss with their kids. "Parents really appreciate the individual attention," says Shannon Marthouse, assistant director of Residential Life at UNH. "It gives them peace of mind to know they have a name and an e-mail address if they have questions or concerns." Currently, more than 2,900 parents have signed up to receive the monthly e-mail. Only a handful of parents request information via snail mail. UNH, however, is heading towards a purely technological approach, she says.

Before the monthly e-mails, Marthouse describes parents' behavior as very reactive. "They had to go through a lot to track us down if they had a problem. We decided that we wanted to be more proactive," she says. To increase parent communication, Marthouse and her staff wrote to the parent association and requested a $6,000 grant (which they received) in March 2002 to increase outreach to parents.

The University of Southern California is another institution that welcomes collaboration with parents. The university prides itself on its parent website, which can be accessed from a simple click of the parents icon off the homepage. "We felt it was important to offer a tool that responds to parent needs, especially now that they are much more involved in their child's decision-making process," says Beth Saul, director of parent programs for USC.

In fact, it has become a rarity for an institution not to have a parent site, says Jim Boyle, president of College Parents of America, a Virginia-based advocacy group. "It is going to have to become standard operating procedure because this coming generation of parents is very used to utilizing the web for communication," he says.

"Often parents
don't get involved
until it's too late,
and that's when they
become overbearing
and overinvolved."
-Tracy Howe,

USC's "Ask a Question" section is a good example of the university's innovative web programming. Parents can pose all sorts of questions and then submit them electronically. Typically, they will get a response within a few hours. Saul says questions range from light to serious. Anything from "Where's the local dry cleaner?" to "I haven't heard from my son or daughter in a few days. Can you help me locate them?" is fair game.

Between the Q & A (also offered on the site) and the Ask a Question feature, Saul believes parents have access to all the information they need. A parent listserv, she says, could be problematic. "Parents don't know exactly how a university operates. There's the concern that they might give incorrect information to other parents," Saul says. Instead, they have a 30-member parents council, whom parents can freely contact.

The University of Vermont, though similar to others in its use of technology to aid outreach, reaches parents on many different levels. Using Parent Connection software developed by GoalQuest, a company specializing in web-based communication tools, UVM is strengthening parent relations while encouraging participation in the university's fundraising campaign. Parents are e-mailed periodically and directed to the site hosted by GoalQuest where they can read about "Supporting Your Student from Home" or "Building the Ultimate Care Package." One of the sessions with the highest readership is called "How do you get along with your son or daughter when they come back home?" says Alan Ryea, director of UVM's alumni and parent programs.

"The goal is to arm parents with smart and relevant things to say to their son or daughter. It's a service approach," says Tracy Howe, co-founder of GoalQuest. "We understand the needs of parents--from the anxieties that freshmen parents face to the concerns over job prospects that parents of graduating seniors face."

Parent Connection especially seeks to quell the concerns of "helicopter" parents, those who hover over their children. "We give parents the resources they need to confront problems before they become crises. Often parents don't get involved until it's too late, and that's when they become overbearing and overinvolved," Howe says.

"Parents don't know
exactly how
a university operates.
There's the concern
that they might give
incorrect information
to other parents."
-Beth Saul,

But there is also a solicitation element to the site. Parents can click on a link directing them to the institution's advancement site. This tactic has proven successful. Donor participation rates among parents was 28.9 percent last year, but it is now up to 37.4 percent (among parents who read at least 50 percent of the Parent Connection sessions). For parents who read less than 50 percent of the sessions, their participation rate is 31.9 percent. "We're not using this merely as a solicitation vehicle," Ryea says. "But we are interested in seeing a return on investment."

However, some institutions believe that money should be raised in the development office only. "It's a conflict of interest," says Rodney Johnson, director of parent services at George Washington University (D.C.). "If you were a parent who just asked for more scholarship money and then you got an e-mail asking for money, you are not going to be happy," he says. Instead, Johnson says parent programs should be purely service-oriented. "If you do good communication and offer good services to parents, they will give eventually. But which do you do first? Make sure their students are happy and successful or ask them for money?"

This leads to the question: What department should handle parent programs? Parent relations is often scattered among different departments, everywhere from Residential Life to Student Affairs to the Development Office. "I see it migrating more towards Student Affairs," says Boyle of College Parents of America. "Yes, parents are a major player in advancement. But they are also very important in recruitment and retention." Parents play a critical role in choosing a college, and if they're not satisfied, they'll easily pull their children out.

Many believe that parents are an important constituency that perhaps in the past has gone undervalued. Johnson, of GW, says the university recognized this 13 years ago when it was one of the first schools to create an Office of Parents.

"We realize that the baby boomer parents are helicopter parents. They're the soccer moms and dads; they had the 'Child on Board' stickers," he says. "But even though they hover, dive in, and hover some more, they are wonderful parents. They just expect more interaction and services."

Higher Ed Goes Mobile, Lightweight

From handhelds to tablets to laptops, campus computer users are veering away from traditional desktop PCs. So why are they still showing up in the campus computer labs?

Professor Steve Jones admits being concerned that his students were paying more attention to their computers and to each other than to his teaching. He needn't have worried.

Jones, professor and head of communication at the University of Illinois, Chicago and a senior research fellow on the Pew Internet & American Life Project, is teaching a course this semester simultaneously to students at the University of Illinois' Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses. With an Apple iBook laptop computer on each end using Apple's $129 iSight camera and microphone, Jones is able to tie together the two classrooms in real time.

An unexpected development was that students began bringing their laptops to class and having conversations during the lesson with each other--between the two sites. "I started to feel they weren't paying attention in class," remembers Jones. "But I talked to a couple students and found out that what they were doing was class-related. They were asking questions and pointing things out. They couldn't get enough conversation in verbally."

Even on the same campus, users may have different specific computer needs. A botany student may want a handheld device that has add-on components to take samples while in the field. A history student may use video and audio instant messaging to interact with researchers or research primary sources on another continent. Music instructors may be looking for software applications to help them compose new works.

Despite those differences, there are some very clear trends in computer use on campuses large and small, religious and secular, upper- and middle-class: Mobile computers such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones, laptops, and tablets are taking over as school staff and students use them to create mobile lifestyles. In particular, students are exploiting the technology to work, research, and entertain themselves nearly anywhere on campus at any time.

A related trend across all campuses is that schools are looking for ways to use their students' access to the technology to increase students' interaction with their coursework. That often means communication with students via wireless connections or wired links to give them course plans, research material, online "laboratories" for conducting classes or discussions, or even delivering entire classes and testing to the student online.

Institutions are working hard to keep up with their students' needs by upgrading their infrastructure (usually by installing high-speed communications technology throughout the academic buildings, the residence halls, and common areas, and by increasing the number and the power of servers on campus). Vendors such as Dell Computer, Gateway, IBM, and Microsoft offer software or hardware packages to colleges and universities, and in some cases make grants of technologies for specific programs.

Institutions are also boosting their help desk staff available to offer technical support to the student population, usually through a mix of paid staff and student volunteers. Though some schools try to offer as much support as students and faculty need, others limit their support to technology that meets specific school parameters and then direct the students to the manufacturers for help with unsupported hardware and software.

The College of New Rochelle (N.Y.) is implementing a comprehensive strategic plan. As a part of that, incoming freshmen to two of its schools are being given laptop computers. It also is renovating its computer labs and technology classrooms, making each classroom a potential wireless workplace for students. In fact, wireless access has been expanded to almost all academic and public areas on the campus. Plus, more than 1,500 students and faculty use a web-based course management system.

New Rochelle's students are using "technology as a tool for communication and collaboration," says Emory Craig, the college's director of academic computing. "This fact, along with the increasing miniaturization of the devices, is making technology personal and portable, and more embedded in everyday life. Students come to us with an expanding array of communication devices and the expectation that they will be able to use them."

The University of Miami (Fla.), which recently inked a deal with Dell Computer to streamline its technology purchases, reports that 95 percent of its outdoor areas and 60 percent of its campus buildings are enabled for wireless computing. The school offers free wireless accounts to its students, 4,000 of whom have taken advantage of it so far.

With the rise of laptops, tablets,
and PDAs, desktops may soon be a
thing of the past on campuses.

Through the Pew Internet project, Jones has been researching students' use of technology and the internet since 1999. During that time, he has seen students use the internet and their computers to increase the number of people--faculty, other students, and people peripherally connected to a class--with whom they interact. For example, students sign up for e-mail-based discussion groups, even those not run or assigned by the teacher. Three-quarters also said they were going to the library less and were doing more research online. While Jones laments the loss of the social interaction from less library time, new patterns are emerging in which computer labs are becoming a drop-in center for students, even if they have their own computers and internet connections.

"We thought that with so many students using their own computers, the use of computer labs would decline," says Brian Rust, communications manager for the University of Wisconsin, Madison's division for information technology. But at a school in which almost all incoming freshman already own a computer (see sidebar), computer lab use remained steady and even increased at a couple sites. "They consider it a place to check their e-mail and manage documents. That way, they can leave their computers in their homes."

That wasn't the case at Loyola University (Ill.), where declining use of the computer labs has allowed the school to begin eliminating lab seats and reclaiming that space for other purposes, according to Daniel Vonder Heide, director of information services.

Schools are finding similar trends, especially in the student preference for laptop computers. About half of the students at UW-Madison have laptops. Colorado University-Boulder has found that a majority of its students preferred to purchase laptops instead of desktops.

Desktops are still found in many students' rooms, but they may soon be "a thing of the past on campuses, especially for commuter or nontraditional students," says Michael Schmedlen, a regional manager in IBM's education division. He says students "are really nomadic" in the way they go about their campus lives, and they are able to do that because of the long-lasting batteries in today's laptops and tablets, which can be used throughout a day's worth of classes without recharging. The near-ubiquity of wireless access on campuses is another factor in these portable computers' popularity. Tablet computers hold one very important edge over laptops for some students: improved handwriting recognition software makes them the favored choice over laptops for students who prefer to write their notes instead of type them.

University of California, Los Angeles junior Tony Pallatto, the owner of a vintage 1999 Apple G5 desktop, agrees that laptops are more popular than desktops and that laptop speeds are a good match for the internet, word processing, and other uses popular with students.

"It's really helpful if you have a presentation in class. A lot of times students will use their laptops to enhance their presentations with PowerPoint and graphical presentations, creative stuff," Pallatto says.

Vonder Heide notes that he's also seeing more laptops than tablets on his campus. And with PDAs that combine the functions of small handheld computers with telephones, he says cell phones are dropping out of favor.

By January, Coppin State University (Md.) plans to add 12 more classrooms to the 25 it has already converted into "smart classrooms." These rooms have ceiling-based projectors, wireless connections, DVDs, VDRs, and CD players--"all the things teachers can use to enrich their presentations with multimedia," says Ahmed El-Haggan, vice president of information technology.

As part of its ongoing strategic plan, New Rochelle is making all classrooms wireless-ready, so students and teachers can access the internet--and each other--during lessons.

UW-Madison has not gone all-out in the classroom conversion craze. Most classrooms have not been made wireless-friendly. "Some faculty prefer we don't have another distraction during classes," says Rust. But a handful of classrooms and lecture halls have been wireless enabled, mostly to be at the disposal of the lecturer. Instead, the UW's wireless transmission points have been installed in the libraries, the student unions, and other common areas.

Some teachers may even be ahead of their students in their integration of technology into the classroom. Pallatto recalls an algebra teacher who used Microsoft's presentation software, PowerPoint, to create about 90 percent of his lessons. "He walked you through all of the problems, and he had sound effects for all of the steps," remembers Pallatto, a Japanese major, who adds, "He was kind of eccentric."

For those schools taking a go-slow approach on creating smart classrooms, the opinions and experiences of faculty and staff could have the decisive weight. "I'm simply happy that students are engaged with one another in learning," says Jones, recalling his students interacting with each other during class. "Whether or not we know yet whether the learning outcome is better or worse--and I don't think we do--I'm more than willing to try this for a while until we know."

John Burton is UB's San Francisco-based contributing writer.

Health Care Needs and America's College Students

IHEs confront the problem of escalating health care costs.

With health care insurance inflation in the double digits for the third year across all sectors of the American population, colleges and universities across the United States continue to think about how to best provide insurance for their students.


A look at some of the hot new products introduced at this year's show.

The Business of Campus Retirement Communities

Baby Boomers are flocking to campus retirement communities and, in turn, pumping money back into the school.

Leon Pastalan of the University of Michigan calls the upcoming sweeping demographic shift in America "mass longevity." Pastalan, who is director of the National Center for Housing and Living Arrangements for Older Adults, is talking about the tsunami of our population age 65 and over that will surge from 35 million today to a whopping 80 million by 2030. And here's the kicker--six out of 10 boomers age 48 to 52 are likely to move to a new home for retirement, according to the annual "Baby Boomer Report," conducted by the Del Web company. Pastalan, who authored University-Linked Retirement Communities (Haworth Press, 1994), says his book garnered only a ripple of sales when it was released, but in the last five years, the book has received renewed interest.

Given the data--and the potential revenue--it is no surprise that more IHEs are now considering or planning to build retirement communities on or near their campuses, either independently or in partnership with developers.

University-linked retirement communities (ULRCs) are not new. There are some 50 such communities scattered throughout the country, at both small and large institutions, attracting retired faculty and alumni, parents of faculty members, or the population at large, who desire a lifestyle that is tied to both a college community and academic environment.

And ULRCs come in all shapes and sizes, from large country club for-profit single-family housing developments that cater to the active and the affluent, to small nonprofit austere apartments or condominiums that provide continuing care for the lifetime of the residents.

So what is the incentive to consider a ULRC? Revenue. Whether you earn revenue by selling or leasing vacant land, or form a partnership with a developer, or even license your school name to a developer, the bottom line is that such investments can add significant and recurring sources of revenue.

In addition, there are ancillary revenue benefits. Campus retirees spend money on campus events and activities. They are a welcome addition to the community because they pay taxes and do not burden the school system. They also are a reliable source for fundraising and bequests. And, the URLCs can provide employment opportunities for students.

But revenue aside, Pastalan, who is a semi-retired professor of architecture and a principal with Collegiate Retirement Community Consultants, asserts that it is "critical" that IHEs recognize changing demographics and providing services to older Americans should be "first and foremost and extension of their mission," he says. Moreover, Pastalan observes that because alumni who have a presence on campus are IHEs staunchest supporters, "a lot of development officers are missing the boat and don't realize what a goldmine they are." He cites Iowa State University, which has received some $3 million in support from the residents of a URLC that has only 100 units.

Robert Chellis, senior advisor and principal of Chellis-Silva Associates Senior Housing, in Wellesley Hills, Mass., points out the one resource that many IHEs have at their disposal is land.

"Most schools have empty land, and you can build a several-story retirement complex on as little as 13 acres, depending upon your zoning requirements," says Chellis. He mentions Lasell College (Mass.) as an example, where a 107-unit facility was built on 13 acres.

Chellis notes that retirement complexes can be very profitable, generating long-term income in the millions of dollars, depending on the size of the complex. IHEs can make money from the outright sale of the land, leasing land, or setting independent partnerships with developers that can contribute long-term income. He also notes that many CFOs are looking more at real estate opportunities as a way to expand their school's investment portfolio.

"If you lease land for a complex, for example, you earn annual income, and at the end of the lease term, say 50 years, you can decide to continue the arrangement, or use the building, which you now own, for other purposes," Chellis explains. He mentions that IHEs can also earn income from reselling the units, depending on the terms of the contract with the developer and the complex management.

Campus retirees are
a welcome addition
to the community
because they pay taxes
and do not burden
the school system.

Gerald Badler, managing director of Campus Continuum, a research, consulting and real estate developer focused solely on campus-affiliated retirement communities, says IHEs should focus on the age 55-plus age group for a number of reasons.

"This group is more likely to participate in community life," he says, "and they can provide some non-financial benefits to the school and community, such as volunteering at area hospitals and elementary schools, or museum guides and library aides, or mentoring."

The Kendal Corp., based in Kennett Square (Pa.), is one of the largest non-profit developers of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), and has proven success in establishing CCRCs on or near colleges and universities. Kendal has established CCRCs at Ithaca College and Cornell University in New York, and Oberlin College and Denison University in Ohio, for example.

Steeped in the Quaker tradition of respect for the individual, social responsibility and fiscal integrity, Kendal President and CEO John Diffey sums up the difference between for profits this way: "Some IHEs want elitist projects; some egalitarian... We happen to be egalitarian and target our communities first to the ex-faculty and staff members, then to such retirees as secondary-school teacher librarians, for example, who want to be able to reside and afford to live in a college environment."

Kendal will purchase or lease land from an IHE, or buy property in the open market, to build a CCRC. The company then will establish informal ties to the IHE for its residents to take classes and utilize campus facilities, and participate in other school activities. Since many of the residents are ex-faculty members, there is a natural continuing relationship with the school. At Oberlin College about 37 percent of the residents are alumni or former faculty and staff.

"Our values and the college's values have to resonate," says Diffey. "Our mission is to make something good happen for the school and the community," he adds.

Although the extent of the Kendal business model is the land transaction with an IHE, the secondary benefits are closer ties with alumni, which helps fundraising, and fosters interaction and life enrichment between the two communities.

There is a growing surge of for-profit private real estate developers--and even major hotel chains--that see opportunity in the URLC market. The Melrose Company, based in Hilton Head, S.C., is one such developer that is currently constructing two high-end golf-centric, single-family home developments: The Georgia Tech Club and Traditions at Texas A&M.

The business relationship between Melrose and both Georgia Tech and Texas A&M centers on licensing agreements of the respective school names and access to their alumni mailing lists. In return, the schools receive 5 percent of golf club membership sales and 10 percent of annual gross operating revenue from the club. The Georgia Tech Club is estimated to generate $1 million annually for the athletic and alumni association. In addition, Melrose built at no cost two state-of-the-art golf facilities for the Tech and A&M golf teams, which helps recruiting top players and enhances the caliber of both programs.

The Georgia Tech club is located about 12 miles from the Tech campus. The A&M development is about two miles from campus.

Unlike the non profits, Melrose is marketing their developments to alums of all ages who want to live in an upscale community, enjoy golf and the amenities of a country club setting, and have an infinity for the institution.

According to Jeff Quinn, executive vice president of Melrose, the company has 30-year licensing agreements with each school. The Tech and A&M developments are the company's first ventures into the ULRC market but Quinn adds that "trust" is key to developing a successful relations with a university.

"We've been in the resort development business for 21 years and our communities are always centered around golf," Quinn says, noting that the swelling numbers of retirees makes such developments attractive to people who want upscale communities and also closer ties to the alma mater.

Quinn also notes that at Georgia Tech's request, golf club memberships were substantially reduced for residents age 32 and under in an effort to have young alums intermix with older alums. For example, a "junior membership" costs $5,000, while a "founders" membership runs $60,000 and "charter" membership cost $30,000.

Retirement communities can be very profitable, generating long-term income in the millions of dollars.

In addition to the direct revenue each school will earn from the licensing agreements, the bet is that these alums will be a boon to fundraising campaigns and bestow gifts and bequests to the institutions.

Because there is risk in any real estate development project, the last thing an IHE needs is to partner with a developer that could cause headaches for the university if there are problems with the development, lawsuits over shoddy construction, or any problems that could tarnish the reputation of the university. "Obviously the institution has to protect its reputation, so there are clauses in the contracts that allow for either party to terminate the relationship. The key is to partner with reputable companies to create a comfort level for both parties," he says.

The Hyatt Corp., under its Classic Residences division, has been developing and managing continuing care retirement communities since 1987. The company leased 22.4 acres from Stanford University (Calif.) and announced plans in 2001 to construct a 388-apartment center, which includes a community center, cafe, spa, art studio, pool, underground parking, and biking and walking trails. The facility will also include 106 units offering assisted living, nursing care, Alzheimer's, and skilled nursing care.

The complex, which is set to open next year, is first being offered to some 300 leaseholders who own houses on land leased from the university. In addition, some 5,000 faculty and staff members who are age 60 and over were targeted as potential residents of the complex. Units will be offered to the general public after the initial offering to the university community.

The complex offers apartments that range in size from 900 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet. There is an entrance fee that ranges from $600,000 to $1.7 million. Ninety percent of the entrance fee is refundable if residents leave the facility, or it will be refunded to their estate. Hyatt charges a monthly fee ranging from $2,700 to more than $5,000 per month, depending on the number of individuals in an apartment. The fee includes a variety of services, including meals.

There are many options that IHEs have today to consider when thinking about entering the retirement business. Whether it is just a straight-up land sale or leasing deal, or an actual partnership, there are more choices than ever before. And as Pastalan at U Michigan notes, there are numerous secondary benefits to bringing alums and retirees back to campus that can help enrich both campus and community life.

Community Colleges Raise the Bar

The influx of students has spurred a flurry of IT improvements.

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.

At a time when they can least afford
it, community colleges are
being forced to upgrade
older ERP systems.

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.

" We had registration lines the
length of a football field.... Today,
85 percent of the credit students
register online." -Gary Ham, CIO,
North Shore Community College

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.

What happened to e-Learning and Why?

A critical report on e-learning innovation has sparked debate on both sides of the issue.

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.

" If you think about ever" every
other industry, in the country,
in the world, technology is seen
as a way to contain costs."
-Carol Twigg,
"The Learning MarketSpace"

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:

UMass Online has generateUMass generated
$14 million in revenue.

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.

" I think those who peer skepticall" skeptically
at e-learning also have to
back off and give it some time."
-Robert Zemsky,
Univ. of Pennsylvania

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."

Reinventing the Campus Tour

Many universities are enhancing the campus tour by better training and paying student tour guides, and utilizing GPS systems and even tram cars.

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.

Sixty-five percent of students polled
said the campus visit had the most
impact on their enrollment decision.

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."

Weathering the Storm

Following the worst hurricane season in memory, some Florida universities talk about how they kept students safe, minimized damages, and provided communication channels.