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The basic rationale for a college or university to outsource to a vendor could be summed up this way: I can't do this, others can, I think I'll let them.

The reason for outsourcing food services, maintenance, bookstore management, some IT functions, or any other needed campus service is driven by dollars and sense, so to speak. It is common for higher education institutions to decide that it is simply more economical or more productive to bring in an outside vendor to handle nonacademic tasks than it is to hire and train in-house staff.

"I ascribe to Peter Druker's business philosophy," says Gregg Lassen, CFO at the University of Southern Mississippi. Management guru Druker was known for telling businesses to focus on their core strengths. In a higher ed setting those would be research, instruction, and service, says Lassen. Cooking is not on the list.

In mid-2004, Lassen was part of the team that brought Aramark's dining services to USM, along with the Barnes & Noble franchise, which now manages the bookstore. Prior to last year, USM staff managed these operations. The move to outsourcing is part of the overall redevelopment of the campus, adds Lassen. USM is currently constructing a new student union that will include a campus retail area. Aramark and Barnes & Noble are the two anchor tenants. "We needed to provide a 'wow' factor," he explains, referring to the retail area that is expected to draw not only students and staff, but residents in greater Hattiesburg.

Aramark has already upgraded the dining facilities with new design. Barnes & Noble, also in operation, will eventually become a two-story outlet in the new building. While Lassen will not reveal the financial details of the agreements, he says that both outsourcing agreements are saving money for USM.

Outsourcing has taken on negative connotations during the past few years due mainly to the term being associated with corporations outsourcing jobs to foreign countries. Outsourcing has come to mean "offshoring" to many people because of the issue over companies using cheaper labor from such countries as India, which especially has been singled out for handling call center and IT support positions for U.S. companies. Outsourcing in higher education bears no resemblance to this. Further, outsourcing is nothing new to higher education.

Temple University (Pa.) has outsourced a portion of its IT work to SCT, now SunGard SCT, since 1977. (The contract was most recently renewed in November 2004.) Specifically, SunGard SCT manages Temple's mainframe computer and data center, much of which runs on legacy systems. "It is a 24/7 operation," says Tim O'Rourke, vice president for computer and information services, who adds that SunGard SCT, which is based Malvern, Pa., employs 37 IT professionals to work on the Temple campus. These outsourced employees run daily reports, manage accounts payable, and handle payroll reporting. The arrangement assures O'Rourke that key functions will be completed, while freeing him from worrying about HR issues. "If someone critical is sick, it is SCT's responsibility to fill that position. Otherwise, I would have to find other resources." O'Rourke estimates that Temple pays several million per year to SCT; the university is responsible for buying equipment.

More recently, Temple has outsourced some telecommunications functions to Verizon. "Cost is a major factor in any outsourcing decision," he says, declining to give specifics about that arrangement. He adds that bringing expertise to campus is another important criteria. Bottom line, says O'Rourke, is the realization that the money spent on outsourcing will "buy" a team that can do the job more efficiently than an in-house team.

This is because a vendor will often pay a professional a higher salary than a college or university can afford. Vendors can make this affordable by dividing an employee's time across various campus projects, or between different institutions. SunGard SCT might pay a database administrator--a very in-demand job that does not need to be done on-site--an annual salary of $70,000 to $90,000, whereas a higher education institution might start a professional at $50,000, estimates Mike Macos, the company's vice president of outsourcing and hosting.

On the surface, outsourcing in higher education really doesn't look much different than it did a decade ago, says Ronald Phipps, senior associate for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit think tank. The services that have most likely been outsourced by higher education have not changed much over time. These include food service, bookstore management, and facilities, he says.

But a closer look reveals some hints of change.

According to a study supported by UNICCO, a Newton, Mass.-based facilities maintenance firm, and presented in a white paper by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, 91 percent of higher education institutions surveyed in 2002 outsourced some type of campus service. This was up from 82 percent in 2000.

Of the 112 colleges and universities that participated in the study, 65 percent outsourced two to five services; only 13 percent outsourced five or more. Food services were far and away the most likely to be outsourced, with 61 percent of IHEs reporting that they do so. The bookstore came in second, at 52 percent. Next came the endowment fund, legal services, housekeeping, and janitorial functions

While there is some predictability to higher education's use of outsourcing, there are twists. More schools are slowly adding IT to the list of outsourced services. Temple's 28-year history with SCT aside, outsourcing IT will continue to grow as more and more IHEs look to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

There may be more contracts, such as the ones Community College of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Health System have with the Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, to handle mainframe operations, processing, web hosting, storage, and disaster recovery services. Other higher ed technology vendors, such as Datatel of Fairfax, Va., are being tapped for IT outsourcing contracts. A company partner, Verifications, Minneapolis, is conducting background checks for Doane College (Neb.) and Elgin Community College (Ill.).

George Washington University (D.C.) relies on the Washington, D.C.-based Blackboard to handle certain financial transactions related to its campus card system. Since fall 2003, Blackboard's BbOne program has supported the university's campus card program. George Washington's GWorld One card is like an ATM/debit card, used by students, staff, and faculty who shop and eat at restaurants on campus and off. Blackboard's technology is licensed to handle the volume of merchant transactions generated by on-campus and off-campus restaurants and retailers who are part of the GWorld One program.

Ninety-one percent of
higher education institutions
surveyed in 2002 outsourced
some type of campus service.

The card program is nothing new at George Washington, adds Debbie Cary Wright, director of the GWorld Card Program. In 1997, the university began allowing students to buy campus services with their ID cards. What is new is the partnership with Blackboard. By fall 2003, the program had expanded on campus and off. There were 60 to 70 partner merchants and an additional 60 interested in coming on board. "We were becoming victims of our own success," Wright says.

The number of merchant transactions climbed to 5,000 per day. At first, the staff of the internal card office tried to handle the workload. It was clear that the staff--made up of Wright, an additional four customer service representatives, two application analysts, and an assistant director--needed help. Besides, juggling the transactions is not where Wright and the administration wanted to be putting their energy, she adds. Outsourcing to Blackboard gave George Washington's staff access to an infrastructure that would deal with the merchants in setting up the program and rectifying transaction balances on a daily basis. While Wright cannot release the details of the contract, she asserts that the merchant program generates revenue for George Washington. Blackboard is paid an undisclosed percentage on each transaction.

According to an Educause Center for Applied Research summary titled "The Outlook for ASP and IT Outsourcing in Higher Education in the U.S. and Canada," such IT outsourcing activity in higher ed is forecast to grow at a 17 percent annual growth rate between 2001 and 2006. This trend, which some observers dub "netsourcing," includes schools such as George Washington which pay licensing fees for ASPs, otherwise known as application service providers, that allow them to access browser-based applications without having to install software and successive upgrades on campus.

The growth statistic should not overstate the trend, however. The Educause summary notes that IT outsourcing in higher education accounted for only $782 million in spending in 2001, a very modest number when compared to the $57 billion for IT outsourcing spent by the U.S. commercial sector that same year, or the $6.4 billion spent by the U.S. federal government.

Still, the trend will continue, says the Educause report, as more colleges and universities incorporate e-business solutions. Vendor services will be needed to enable seamless money transfers, online registration, tuition payments, grades and transcripts, and student loan data.

IT outsourcing can be divided into two distinct categories, adds John Krieger, president of Bridger, a property, operations and technology firm. One group of vendors is being tapped to manage software applications, including ERP, admissions records, and financial data. SCT, Datatel, and Jenzabar, Cincinnati, Ohio, are some of the vendors who provide these services. The other IT category is network administration. SunGard Collegis can handle this, as does Datatel and Krieger's own firm, Bridger.

Some colleges and universities are banding together to form consortia that, in turn, seek outsourced services that benefit the group. The Boston Consortium took shape in 1995 when the CFOs of 11 Boston-area colleges and universities came together to compare operating budgets, explains Philip DiChiara, managing director. Since then, executives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Harvard University, Berklee College of Music, Boston University, Brandeis University, Wheaton College, and other member schools have worked together to save money and find resources.

Its scope includes much more than outsourcing. Specific to outsourcing, though, members have worked together on risk management, professional development and management training, and some internal audit services. Each member school in the consortium pays annual dues that equal no more than the "average tuition of an FTE (full-time, equivalent student)," says DiChiara. The investment has been worth it, adds DiChiara, who reports that collectively the member schools have saved at least $800,000 by working together.

Still other schools, such as Rockford College (Ill.) have gone as far as to outsource the entire outsourcing operation. Just 18 months ago the college hired Bridger. The company, in turn, hired a full-time director of finance and administration to work on campus and to handle all outsourcing. The director, Rob Werthman, is technically a Bridger employee, but he reports to Rockford's president and is involved in strategy.

During his time on campus, Werthman--who happens to be a Rockford alum--has signed contracts to outsource maintenance to Aramark, food service to Chartwells, and bookstore management to Follett. Werthman also has outsourced fleet management to Enterprise, a move that he estimates has saved the school $30,000 in annual car and van costs. No longer are campus-owned cars and vans sitting idle, he explains.

How does an administrator break the news that a campus function is being handed to an outside vendor? Carefully, says Don Aungst, vice president for Resource Management and treasurer at Capital University (Ohio). "Get buy-in," advises Aungst. "There shouldn't be someone in my seat saying, 'We are going to outsource because we are going to save money,'" he cautions. Such sentiments and edicts from the administrative office create resentment. They can also set staff fretting that administrators are going to sacrifice quality of service. The best approach is to enlist a team of staffers and managers who are responsible for, or impacted by, the task being considered for outsourcing. This way they will be invested in the cost and quality concerns.

In Capital's case, Aungst and others formed a team last year to review the best options for housekeeping and custodial services. The group included those who had the most contact with the custodial staff.

The team then issued a "request for proposal," or RFP, which is another best practice. The RFP gives very specific needs and guidelines to interested vendors. The RFP provides a reasonable means for evaluating and comparing one to another. Within three months, the team selected UNICCO.

This was not Capital's first experience with outsourcing. The university had already outsourced its food service to Parkhurst Dining Services. At one time Capital also outsourced security, adds Aungst. That program was brought back in-house after staff and students grew concerned about customer satisfaction. "The types of employees the firm was supplying had no higher education experience. We had to train the employees ourselves," he says, adding that the security staff had high turnover. Aungst's experience can be interpreted as another best practice: Review the situation regularly.

'Netsourcing' will grow as
more colleges and universities
incorporate e-business functions.

Lassen was part of a similar review team at the USM. He organized road trips to other campuses. "We had about 12 people go to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. (The latter school's recent downtown campus transformation was particularly impressive, says Lassen.) "They came home realizing how things could be here."

Mark Olson, executive director of sales and marketing for Campus Partners, Columbus, Ohio, and co-author of the book The Business Value Web: Resourcing Business Processing in Higher Education, a text offered by the National Association of College and University Officers, adds that higher ed staffs typically worry about losing control. It takes time to build "consensus."

"There is often the notion that university employees are going to lose their jobs and that outside employees won't be as loyal," acknowledges Keith Polizzano, vice president of business development at Aramark. He directly addresses these fears at the beginning.

In addition, Aramark, like some other vendors, provides training and advancement to employees who will now work for the company. In the end it comes down to proving that a vendor can serve the campus community better while making more financial sense for the school. Once established, the IHE and the vendor can establish solutions that can benefit both for years.

Whether it's ordering supplies, paying bills, or selling merchandise, many IHEs are embracing web-based, e-commerce as a fast, efficient, and economical means to conduct business.

Web infrastructure has become a many-tentacled monster on campus, and the feed and upkeep of this once-quaint pet has taken over budgets, departments, and agendas across the university. But there's no checking the growth of this amazing animal because what was a sideshow 10 years ago is now an integral part of the main attraction.

Never doubt the importance of good surveillance technology. Take, for example, the case of a missing former University of Wisconsin-Madison student, which occurred last spring. Police searched for Audrey Seiler and after finding her in a marsh, went on the hunt for a "bad man" Seiler accused of abducting her from her campus apartment and holding her captive. Several hundred volunteers joined the effort and a national media blitz followed.

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."

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.

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.