Economic crisis forces shift in college aid

The current economic crisis has ravaged college endowments and prompted a host of reactions among campus officials. One of the most subtle, yet potentially profound effects of the downturn has been a shift in the way government and campus officials approach financial aid–from a focus on merit to one of real need–as colleges and universities scramble to recruit and retain cash-strapped students.

Johnny’s a middle-class student who worked hard to get good grades and a high SAT score. Jane’s record isn’t as good, but her family is low-income, and without help she might not be able to go to college at all.

Who should be first in line for help from the government to pay for college?

It’s a debate that hits hot-button questions about fairness and opportunity, and lately, many experts think the middle class has been winning.

But the economic meltdown could be shifting the playing field, as the government and colleges themselves are forced to focus on helping the neediest students and try to head off a wave of dropouts.

Some experts think that could prove to be one of the few beneficial outcomes of the downturn.

"For a long time, the discussion was about the middle-income squeeze–wealthy people could pay for [college], poor people were getting grants, people in the middle were having a hard time," said Vanderbilt University education professor William Doyle. While ideally college would be cheaper for everyone, he said, the research is clear that "the most efficient way to spend the money is to focus on the margins, people who wouldn’t otherwise go."

Over the last decade, nearly every state has started or expanded politically popular "merit aid" programs that reward students with high SAT scores or GPAs, even those whose families could afford college costs.

Colleges have done the same with their own money, dangling financial aid to attract students who will improve the college’s ranking and reputation. But sometimes that means well-off students get both a free ride and a new ride (when their parents reward a scholarship by using the college fund to buy them a car).

The federal stimulus package that President Obama signed into law Feb. 17, however, was notably focused on helping the poorest families through college, with the largest increase ever to the Pell Grant program, which mostly supports students from families earning under $30,000 a year.

Merit-based aid, meanwhile, has taken a hit in several states. New Jersey recently imposed tougher standards and cut back on its Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship. Michigan might have to reduce its Promise scholarship. Nevada has already moved money out of a program that gave as much as $10,000 to top high school graduates.

Cutting merit aid won’t necessarily translate into more need-based aid in these tough times. But there are signs it’s a higher priority. In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine’s proposed budget would boost need-based aid $26 million even as it imposes big cuts elsewhere to close a two-year, $2.9 billion budget hole.

Some educators criticize merit-aid programs for distributing public money where it is not necessarily needed, but such programs also do a lot of good.

They raise the academic reputations of state universities by keeping bright students from moving elsewhere. And they encourage high school students to work hard, knowing there’s a financial reward.

And, of course, students from low-income families who get good grades are eligible, too. (In some states, merit scholarship programs have need-based components).

But many people are surprised to learn how much financial aid ends up helping families who aren’t necessarily the neediest.

Twenty-eight percent of state financial aid was awarded for merit in 2006-07, up from 15 percent a decade earlier, according to the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs.

The trend is more pronounced when colleges hand out their own money. Families earning more than $100,000 get grants that average $6,200, the most recent federal figures show. That’s $1,500 more than colleges’ average award to families earning under $20,000. (One reason is athletic scholarships, which are tilted toward sports that well-off kids play; there are 900 more NCAA scholarships available for golf and tennis than there are for basketball).

To be sure, middle-class families have legitimate gripes about college costs, which hit $6,585 this year at the average four-year public college.

For the middle 20 percent of families, that means college now costs 25 percent of income–even after financial aid–according to a recent report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. That’s up from 18 percent of income nine years ago.

But for the lowest 20 percent of families, the real cost of college has risen from 39 percent of income to 55 percent.

Merit aid programs, while desirable, may be deemed a luxury in tough times.
In West Virginia, a report found efforts to control costs by toughening standards for the state’s PROMISE scholarship program have come at the expense of lower-income students, and it asked the state legislature to cap the awards at $4,500. A private college president there called the program a welfare program for better-off families.

Meanwhile, the stimulus plan raises the maximum Pell Grant amount from $4,731 currently to $5,350 starting July 1.

"I hate that it comes because of a recession and this is the only way we can get the Pell increase, but I think it’s going to help a lot of students," said Lloyd Dixon, interim financial aid director at Mississippi Valley State University, where about 95 percent of students receive Pell Grants–among the highest rates in the country.

The stimulus also helps low-income families by making the tuition tax credit partly refundable to those who don’t earn enough to pay taxes. Currently, about 60 percent of the benefit goes to families earning more than $100,000.

Some experts, like Penn State’s Donald Heller, think merit aid programs are too popular for the balance to change much. But Doyle, the Vanderbilt professor, is cautiously optimistic.

"If we come out of this with a recognition of where the college access problems really are, that’s going to be a good foundation," he said.

Links:

National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs

National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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Conference explores benefits of mobile learning

Using smart phones and other mobile devices for learning isn’t just a trend, but rather a sustainable approach to educational technology that can adapt to future assessments and help raise student test scores significantly, said presenters at the first-ever Mobile Learning Conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17.

"Year after year, when students are asked on our Speak Up Survey what they’d most like to have, I get the same answer," said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, a national education group that publishes the largest annual survey of student, parent, teacher, and administrator attitudes toward school technology.

"I hear: I want a laptop," Evans said.

But it’s not the specific nature of the device itself that kids desire, she explained; instead, it’s what a laptop gives them: the ability to control their own knowledge. According to Evans, a laptop serves as a proxy for intellectual freedom–and with recent advancements in handheld and smart-phone devices, these technologies can offer much of the same experience, at a typically lower cost.

"With handheld devices, students can have that freedom," said Evans. "It’s learning on the go, it’s portable, it’s anytime, anywhere access, and it can provide a personalized learning experience."

Mobile devices are not "just shrunken computers," said David Whyley, project director of Learning2Go, the largest collaborative mobile learning project for students in the United Kingdom.

"The mobile device is a case of digital tools at your disposal. It can provide an ultra-portable portfolio of work and provides a full range of resources and capabilities that information and communication technology offers," Whyley said.

"To put it simply, there are three points to mobile learning," said Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan who has developed software for smart phones that allows them to be more like personal computers.

Soloway’s three points are that mobile learning is…

1. Big: By combining the main functions of a PC with the resources of the internet in an ultra-portable device, smart phones and other mobile devices truly give students the ability to practice "anytime, anywhere" learning

2. Sustainable: Because most students will already have a cell phone or mobile device, parents can buy the technology for their kids, and schools can purchase only the software. Also, students prefer handheld technology to laptops because it’s more portable. At the same time, handheld devices, software companies, and educators are creating programs to help implement mobile devices into the curriculum.

3. Able to provide unique opportunities, especially for interaction through blogs and academic-related text messaging.

Soloway and his team of researchers have developed a software suite that transforms smart phones into virtual PCs. The Mobile Learning Environment, which is being tested in a Texas elementary school, gives students a handheld platform that duplicates many of the educational features of a PC, including the ability to map concepts, do internet research, use animation, and run versions of Microsoft Word and Excel.

For Tim Magner, director of the Office of Education Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, the question of whether mobile learning is good for education comes down to one question: "What is the purpose of school?"

"For 150 years, no one has asked this question, and schools have remained the same–based on the model that a school is meant to deliver information to its students," Magner said.

"But times have changed, and students can get information from the internet, as well as many other places. Schools need to be the center that provides not simple information, but collaborative experiences based on that information. School should be the place that connects parents, students, and communities–and technology can leverage all of this by providing the information. Technology makes school progress possible."

Real-life integration

A pilot project using smart phones in North Carolina schools reportedly has helped raise math scores there by 20 percent.

Project K-Nect is a two-year pilot program that began during the 2007-08 school year. The project addresses the need to improve math skills among at-risk ninth-grade students in North Carolina using advanced wireless technology.

To be eligible for the program, students had to have limited at-home internet access, qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program, and have below-average math proficiency levels.

Qualified students were given EV-DO enabled smart phones to wirelessly access the internet both on and off school campus. The phones not only provide access to supplemental math content aligned with their teachers’ current lesson-plan objectives, but also allow students to collaborate with each other and contact after-school tutors who can assist them with mastering a targeted skill set.

The project is an offshoot of Wireless Reach, a global mobile learning initiative from wireless provider Qualcomm that aims to empower underserved communities through the use of 3G wireless technology. Schools in China, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Vietnam also have taken part in the Wireless Reach project. A grant provided by Wireless Reach ensures that the smart phones and service are free of charge to participating students and their schools.

Project K-Nect allows only authorized users to communicate electronically within the system and is monitored to ensure that acceptable use policies (AUP) are not violated.

"Teachers can read every text message that their students send, read every blog post, [and] look through the information on their phone," explained Suzette Kliewer, a math teacher at Onslow County Schools’ Southwest High School. "Once we let the students know exactly how and when … we’d be monitoring them, delinquency dropped immediately. And if a student is misbehaving, the phone’s software allows the teacher to completely disable that phone with the touch of a button."

Kliewer discussed how much the students can do on their phones and gave attendees a brief demonstration of the phones and their applications.

"Students have access to state-standard problem sets created specifically for K-Nect, access to an eContent repository, [and] they can IM, post to blogs, create videos, take pictures, draw and take notes, access Windows 6.1, access Windows Media Player, create PowerPoint presentations, take quizzes, and have access to a virtual hard drive," said Kliewer.

When students complete assessments, all the data reportedly are recorded and stored for the teacher to look at whenever he or she is ready through an application created by software supplier SOTI MobiControl. SOTI MobiControl works in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Onslow County Schools, Digital Millennial Consulting, and Qualcomm.

The software also allows teachers to monitor their students’ phones in real time, as well as create and send out assessments, multimedia, and notes.

“This program has taken average-level kids to the honors level," said Kliewer. "Students who felt shy participating before are communicating via phone, which usually leads to them participating more in class."

The project hasn’t been without challenges, however.

One problem is that not every teacher is cut out for mobile learning. "I’ll be honest: It takes a lot of time outside of the classroom, and a lot of knowing how to integrate solid curriculum. It’s not for everyone," Kliewer said.

Tom Greaves, chairman of the educational technology consulting firm The Greaves Group, echoed Kliewer’s statement, saying that the most important thing to worry about in mobile learning is not the device, but how is it "being put together and used."

"Laptop [use is] up 20 percent a year, netbooks are growing 100 percent a year, and with smart phones, well, staff usage is going up, but not student usage. This can be for many reasons, but mainly because phones and handheld devices are usually banned in many schools, as well as the fact that many phones are not designed with education in mind," explained Greaves.

Soloway believes that if educators fully explain their district’s AUP–a policy that allows for educational uses of smart phones and other handheld devices–students will be less likely to act out.

"There should be open school-wide discussions on AUP, and the more we trust students, the more autonomy we give, the less students behave irresponsibly. I like to think of it as the Responsible Use Policy," he said.

"Too often we say that technology is the fix-all to our schools’ problems, and because of this, the technology fails," said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. "You can’t implement technology and then restrict it. You can’t implement technology without fully understanding what you want to accomplish with it. What skills should your students have? How can you implement technology into the curriculum seamlessly? Cell phones won’t solve all your schools’ problems, but they can help solve some, and they can help to inspire student innovation."

For Evans, adults and teachers need to realize that handheld devices not only engage students, but help them to be productive.

"Mobile devices can help with homework alerts, students can download lectures, they can access school portals, control their own learning … Students want to be just as organized and productive as adults, and mobile devices can help them to accomplish that," she said.

"This is just the beginning. Educators are already ready for the next steps in mobile learning: eight-hour batteries, low total cost of ownership and minimal support staff, functional integration, processors like GPUs and DSPs, OLED and projection displays, connectivity and teraflop research," said Greaves.

He concluded: "The research is out there, pilots are being funded. It’s not just a trend, it’s the future."

Links:

Mobile Learning Conference

Project Tomorrow

Learning2Go

Elliot Soloway

“Project Uses Cell Phones as Computers in the Classroom”

Keller ISD mobile learning project

Project K-Nect

Wireless Reach project

Onslow County Schools

SOTI MobiControl

The Greaves Group

Consortium for School Networking

Additional resources:

IAmLearn (International Association for Mobile Learning)

OER Commons (Open education resources)

ISTE SIG Handheld Computing

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Colleges keep students in school with extra aid

Even as colleges and universities consider layoffs and enrollment caps in response to the economic meltdown, many are also investing additional money in financial aid programs in an effort to keep needy students from dropping out.

Jasmine Young’s stress level was rising as fast as the balance on her unpaid college bills as a new semester approached at Michigan’s Oakland University.

The 18-year-old already was behind on last semester’s bills, and her mother had been laid off from her job at a southeast Michigan auto parts supplier. But Oakland provided $2,893 in aid, one of many schools nationwide to help students cope with money problems—even as they deal with multimillion-dollar budget problems of their own.

"I’m not sure what I would have done without it. … It helped a lot," said Young, a freshman who lives in Canton, Mich. "I was stressing all last semester because I knew I didn’t have the money to come back."

Public and private schools in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Virginia, and other states have set up emergency relief funds aimed at keeping students in school when their families are swept up in the widening recession, which could be the worst downturn of at least the past quarter-century.

The emergency support likely could be even more crucial headed into next fall as the economy worsens and students find it harder to get private loans to help pay for school.

The national unemployment rate reached 7.6 percent in January, the highest monthly rate since July 1992. Some analysts predict the jobless rate will rise this summer and put even more financial stress on families.

Most universities have not had unusually large enrollment drops this winter. But there is anxiety about the 2009-10 academic year.

"There is greater concern about fall enrollment than we have seen in 25 years," said Terry Hartle, a lobbyist with the American Council on Education.

Enrollment at Wayne State University in Detroit, where the recession hit early and hard, already has dropped 1.3 percent compared with the previous winter. The decline would have been steeper, but nearly 200 students took advantage of a grace period allowing those who owed less than $1,500 in back payments to register for classes and stay in school.

More than 600 students have asked about the $250,000 in emergency financial aid Oakland University set up in December. Sixteen, including Young, have been approved for grants ranging from $500 to $4,000. Michigan State University set aside more than $500,000 for students hurt by the economy. More than 2,300 students have contacted the university about the program since it started in early December, and 13 have received an average of about $3,900 each so far.

Hundreds of students have asked about the programs in anticipation of facing financial problems headed into next year. The list of those getting emergency assistance at the Michigan universities this semester likely will grow as applications are reviewed. Many who have asked about new programs are being steered toward existing financial aid programs they are eligible for.

Ohio State University is adding $1 million to its short-term emergency loan fund and will help students dealing with a job loss in the family at any time of year. The Columbus university has promised that financial aid will increase proportionally to tuition.

Virginia Tech University is creating a $500,000 emergency loan fund. At Syracuse University in New York, a private fundraising effort has brought in $1 million since early December from donors in 42 states and 12 countries.

Syracuse says the fund has helped 426 students who might not have returned for the spring semester.

Nykeba Corinaldi was helped by Syracuse after she ran into trouble when a dozen companies rejected her loan applications last summer. A hiring freeze eliminated the job her mother had lined up as a social worker in Georgia.

"There are a lot more people in not-so-good situations with everything that’s going on with the economy," said Corinaldi, a 20-year-old sophomore from Columbia, Md. "I spread the word about the program as much as I can."

Link:

American Council on Education

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Butler Tech to be featured at world education summit

The Butler Tech Board of Education plans to adopt 21st century skills as part of its curriculum requirements for next year. The move would put Butler Technology and Career Development Schools a step ahead of most area districts, which have not yet taken action on a specific plan, according to the Middle Town Journal. "I think it’s one of the ways Butler Tech can be a leader to all of our districts," said board President Katie McNeil, who represents the Middletown City School District Board of Education. The process of incorporating up-to-date skills will begin this summer and will include a focus on global awareness; creativity and innovation; critical thinking and problem solving; flexibility and adaptability; initiative and self-direction; social and cross-cultural skills; productivity and accountability; leadership and responsibility; communication and collaboration; and literacy in finance, economics, civic, health information and media. If approved next month by the board, there would not be a specific class, but rather the standards would be incorporated into courses of study.

Click here for the full story

 

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Stimulus money makes Florida schools’ picture less grim

In one fell swoop, the federal government may have turned the dreary school funding situation in Florida from disastrous to merely terrible. The $789 billion stimulus package that President Obama signed Tuesday is slated to send more than $3 billion to Florida’s K-12 public schools over two years, including hundreds of millions of dollars that may patch massive holes in district budgets next year, the St. Petersburg Times reports. Funding details for individual school districts remain sketchy. But statewide, the federal money could shrink the size of Florida’s pending education shortfall by half. And for some hard-hit districts, it might be enough to save jobs and critical programs and prevent teacher pay cuts. "These are historic levels (of funding)," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said after using Tampa’s Chamberlain High School as a backdrop to tout the stimulus. "They are going to keep teachers teaching."

Click here for the full story

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Duncan wants stimulus to transform schools

President Barack Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, want to do more than save teachers’ jobs or renovate classrooms with the new economic recovery law. They’re hoping to reinvent education for the 21st century–while transforming the federal government’s role in public education in the process.

Public schools will get an unprecedented amount of money–nearly double the education budget of this past year–from the stimulus bill in the next two years. With those dollars, Obama and Duncan want schools to do better.

From Duncan’s perspective, the sheer size of the stimulus bill makes it a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put lasting reforms in place.

"It’s also an opportunity to redefine the federal role in education, something we’re thinking a whole lot about," Duncan said recently. "How can we move from being [about] compliance with bureaucracy to really the engine of innovation and change?"

The bill includes a $5 billion fund solely for these innovations, an amount that might not seem like much, considering the bill’s $787 billion price tag. But it is massive compared with the $16 million in discretionary money that Duncan’s predecessors got each year for their own priorities.

"It’s unprecedented that a secretary would have this much money and this much latitude," said Charlie Barone, director of federal policy for the group Democrats for Education Reform.

Congress laid out broad guidelines for the fund in the stimulus bill that became law on Feb. 17. But it will be up to Duncan and the team of advisers he is assembling to decide how to dole out the money. They have until Oct. 1, when the next fiscal year begins, to start distributing the dollars.

What would the fund pay for? Rewarding states and school districts that are making big progress–and showcasing these entities and their reforms as models for others to follow.

For example, Tennessee recently overhauled its graduation requirements and academic standards as it works to boost student achievement. As part of that effort, officials want more rigorous state tests; Tennessee has been criticized because students pass state exams with flying colors, yet they do poorly on well-regarded national tests. Better tests cost money.

Or in California, school officials would like to expand the ConnectEd curricula, now in 16 high schools, that links academics to actual work in aerospace, biomedicine, and other careers. The program is aimed at getting students ready for college and keeping them from dropping out.

It doesn’t come cheaply; teacher training, equipment, and technical help all are costly.

"We ought to be able to take what’s working in the very best schools and make that common practice across all schools," said Ted Mitchell, president of California’s state board of education.

To get the money, states will have to show they are making good progress in four areas:

– Boosting teacher effectiveness and getting more good teachers into high-poverty, high-minority schools;

– Setting up data systems to track how much a student has learned from one year to the next;

– Improving academic standards and tests; and

– Supporting struggling schools.

Also, at the urging of Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, the fund sets aside $650 million for schools or districts in partnership with nonprofit groups. This could include charter schools or other programs with a track record of boosting achievement.

The nation’s schools are in trouble, advocates of these reforms say. Three in five kids can’t read or do math at their grade level. One in four kids drops out of high school. Internationally, the U.S. is losing ground as other countries surge ahead in math and science.

"There is so much at stake today," Duncan said. "We’re going to have significantly more resources than we have ever had. We need to use every penny of that wisely."

Duncan has experience at turning schools around. He spent the past seven years running the Chicago Public Schools, an urban district with high dropout rates and hundreds of low-performing schools. Under Duncan, federal dollars helped create new programs that tie teacher bonuses to student performance, bring professionals from other careers into teaching, and help start more charter schools.

Those are the sort of ideas the Obama administration wants to encourage with the new fund. Duncan views the infusion as crucial, because with huge budget deficits that threaten to slash funding for schools, there may be little left over at the state level for innovation.

The ideas are not new. The No Child Left Behind education law was supposed to address the education crisis by closing the gap between minority and poor children who are driving the low achievement numbers and white students in more affluent schools.

But some ideas have been controversial. For example, teachers’ unions have resisted performance pay for teachers–raises based in some measure on student test scores–though some have begun to accept it.

Unions are watching closely to see how the fund is spent. The bill itself gives wide latitude over how the dollars are handed out, and unions want to make sure teachers have a seat at the table.

"We would certainly hope there is some requirement that the state has to collaborate with teachers’ organizations in the state in deciding what to do with the money," said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the biggest teachers’ union.

And Republicans, who like Duncan’s ideas for fixing schools, argued against the fund because its main goal is not to create jobs right away. They also criticized the massive infusion the bill makes to No Child Left Behind and special education programs, spending that will be difficult to cut once the economy is back on track.

"I don’t like it," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., himself a former education secretary.

"Now, most people in education are delighted to get the money," Alexander told university presidents in Washington, D.C., last week. "I think the stimulus package ought to be for programs that create jobs now, that stimulate the housing industry. And then we ought to take up the long-term investments that we make."

Link:

U.S. Department of Education

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Students’ exercise helps power university

Thousands of college students regularly hit the cardio exercise machines to work off stress after an exam or stay in shape. Oregon State University (OSU) is harnessing the energy the machines can generate and converting it to electricity to feed back into the power grid.

It is among the first universities in the United States to do so.

With new technology developed by a Florida firm, Oregon State has retrofitted 22 elliptical exercise machines in its student fee-funded Dixon Recreation Center and already is collecting the power produced by students.

The effort will produce an estimated 3,500 kilowatt hours of electricity in a year, according to Brandon Trelstad, the university’s sustainability coordinator.

Its output could be equivalent to what is needed to power a small, very efficient house, Trelstad said, adding: "Our ultimate goal is to maximize both the real power output of the system and the learning opportunities gained by having it at OSU."

In 2007, Oregon State students voted to tax themselves $8.50 per student per term to purchase renewable energy for the campus. Since then, about three-quarters of the university’s electricity has come from renewable production.

"OSU students have demonstrated how big student power can be on campus," said Matthew Pennington, chief of staff for the Associated Students of Oregon State University. "It was a grassroots movement that helped OSU turn green–and this project moves it forward even farther."

The technology from Florida-based ReRev features a system with a pending patent, called ReCardio, that captures and converts the otherwise counterproductive heat energy from exercise machines.

Though some businesses or individuals have dabbled with this type of energy conversion, a program on this scale is unusual, Trelstad said.

"A battery-free system like this, tied to the grid, is quite rare," Trelstad said. "In fact, we’re informed by ReRev–which has done extensive market research–that this is the largest installation of its kind in the world."

"Capturing electricity from exercise machines represents a small, but potentially widely replicable source of energy," said Jan Schaeffer, special projects manager for Oregon-based Energy Trust.

While students pedal, a real-time display screen shows momentary power production, production to date, production peaks, and other data.

Links:

Oregon State University

ReRev

Energy Trust

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Former student shot at Detroit high school

A former student, who sneaked past security, was shot on the second floor of a Detroit high school as hundreds of current students and teachers were ending classes for the day.

Several Central High School students described a panicked scene as teenagers scrambled for cover or rushed toward exits after gunshots echoed through the halls of the school shortly after 2 p.m. on Feb. 17.

"Everybody ran. I stayed inside the girls’ bathroom," said Felicia Boyd, a 17-year-old 11th grader. "The gunshots were right by us."

"I was walking down the hall and I heard a shooting noise, and then I ran to security," said Bridgid Bramwell, a 15-year-old 10th grader.

The victim was in temporarily serious condition Tuesday afternoon at Henry Ford Hospital where he was being treated for at least one gunshot wound to the abdomen.  Authorities did not release his name or age.

The suspect in that shooting shot himself in the leg outside the school and also was taken to Henry Ford, district spokeswoman Mattie Majors said.

Majors said there are three other "people of interest" in the shooting inside the school–all non-students.

No arrests had been made in either shooting as of late that afternoon. Majors said police were searching for suspects.

Detroit Public Schools Public Safety Chief Charles Mitchell said investigators were questioning students inside the school and reviewing tape from surveillance cameras.

It was not immediately known if the former student shot inside Central had graduated, transferred, or dropped out of the school.

School public safety officers and Detroit police were trying to determine why the victim and the shooter were in the building and what sparked the shooting.

"We really don’t know," Mitchell said. "We have conflicting statements."

The victim had tried to enter the school through its main entrance about 2 p.m., but was stopped by security guards, he said.

"They told him to go way," Mitchell said. "Some time later, he came back to an unknown area."

Mitchell said the 26 sets of doors at Central High cannot be opened from the outside, but speculated that the victim may have entered as other students were leaving for the day.  About 1,000 students are enrolled at the school, according to the district’s web site.

A dozen or so students lingered around outside the school two hours after the shooting.

Spectators arriving for an after-school boy’s basketball game were turned away at Central’s main doors. It was not immediately known if the game was canceled.

Ironically, Central was the site of a recent press conference where Detroit police and the district’s public safety department announced better cooperation and coordination following the fatal shooting of a high school student last fall.

Christopher Walker, 16, was killed and two other students and an ex-student were wounded Oct. 20 near Henry Ford High School on Detroit’s northwest side. That shooting followed a fight inside the school, police said.

Two 18-year-olds and a 15-year-old have been charged with murder and assault with intent to rob in that case.

Link:

Detroit Public Schools

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Arizona State University supports aggressive growth plan with rapid ERP implementation

As the saying goes, it’s quality, not quantity, that counts.  Arizona State University (ASU), however, is out to prove that it can successively deliver both through its "New American University" initiative.  Already the fourth largest U.S. university and one of the largest research institutions in the country, ASU is in the early stages of an aggressive 10-year plan to grow in scope and size, while simultaneously raising academic quality. 

ASU President Michael M. Crow envisions ASU as "The New American University," a provider of top-quality and broadly accessible educational programs, ultimately producing a highly educated workforce to fuel the economic, social, and cultural vitality of Arizona.

Among many challenges, the aggressive plan has called for a 56 percent increase in enrollment from the 61,000 students enrolled at ASU in 2005 to 95,000 students by 2020. 

When embarking on this endeavor, perhaps the most significant obstacle ASU faced was replacing its aging legacy systems with a scalable IT infrastructure to support its student administration and human resources management processes, while also enabling improved interactions with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other community stakeholders.  The university selected Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise applications as the cornerstone of this infrastructure. 

The massive enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation project called OASIS–Online Administrative & Student Information System–has replaced legacy systems with the new integrated Oracle system in just 18 months, during which ASU increased enrollment by 2,500. 

Leaving the Technology to the Experts

Early in the implementation process, ASU made a strategic decision to distinguish between core activities (supporting the academic and research enterprise and serving as stewards of the online experience for students) and context activities (developing, implementing, and hosting administrative systems).  The university decided to partner with strategic vendors–such as Oracle and implementation and hosting partner CedarCrestone–to manage these context activities, freeing ASU staff to focus on their primary objectives to better serve students, faculty, and staff.

ASU selected CedarCrestone to host the university’s Oracle applications, which shortened the implementation timeframe because ASU did not have to set up the infrastructure and could gain access to the systems very quickly.  In addition, the configurability of the Oracle software helped decrease the implementation timeframes because the university was able to model the system and make on-the-fly changes. 

"By working with Oracle and CedarCrestone, we were able to hit the ground running and start focusing right away on how to apply the technology to help our students, faculty, and staff," said Max Davis-Johnson, associate vice president in the University Technology Office for ASU.

ASU adopted a philosophy of "Implement, Adapt, and Grow."  Implement the systems as quickly as possible, balancing functionality versus the schedule; adapt through business process or system change; grow the system and associated processes as needed; repeat–this is an iterative process; it does not stop.  

This philosophy allowed ASU to put modules in play very quickly, narrowing the scope and cost of the implementation.  It allowed ASU to get useful systems–not perfect systems–in place. 

ASU received both positive and negative attention for this approach.  In August, when the university rolled out its new payroll system–the last of 11 successfully implemented PeopleSoft Enterprise applications–it experienced some payroll discrepancies.  Primarily a result of the process changes instituted as part of the implementation (including moving hourly employee pay from estimated to actual hours worked), the payroll discrepancies represented less than 1 percent of transactions.  ASU worked quickly to correct the problems and communicate openly with affected employees. 

"ERP implementations can be daunting and, even the most successful deployments will have a few hiccups," said Adrian Sannier, ASU’s chief technology officer.  "With such a complex implementation we knew this was a possibility, and that is why our employees were and are such vital partners in the project’s success. 

They made this implementation work, by quickly learning new procedures, having patience and confidence while we resolved issues, helping to identify remaining gaps, and working together to solve the challenges we faced."

"With the applications up and running, we believe employees will quickly realize the value of the new system and understand why the university undertook this endeavor to support its growth goals," he said.

Early external studies had predicted a five to 10 year timeframe at a cost of $100 million for the ERP replacement, but ASU and its partners delivered in 18 months for a cost of $15 million dollars.

ASU plans to continue to evolve, adapt, and grow the ERP system, but it is already reaping substantial benefits, including real-time student registration, high-yield marketing campaigns, reduced application cycle times, and instant campus integration.

Delivering Real-Time Service

ASU’s new student administration application lets the university live up to its pledge to improve student services.  Now all 65,000 ASU students can view and update information relevant to their enrollment in real time.  Users can access information–including financial aid status, grades, and class schedules–from a single location.  This capability makes life much easier for students, while reducing or eliminating labor intensive tasks for the staff.

Class registration is one process that ASU has significantly improved.  Prior to the roll-out, ASU’s registration process was multi-processed, rendering it both labor- and time-intensive.

"In the past we had pre-enrollment, where students would create a list of classes.  After a month we ran this large process and let students know which classes they got.  If they did not get every class they wanted, they would have to go back and register again," Davis-Johnson said.

Each registration demanded countless hours on the part of administration staff and students, and would take more than a month to complete.  The student administration application streamlined the process virtually overnight. 

"Now students register in real time.  This is a huge timesaver for everyone," Davis-Johnson.

This is especially important due to the scale of ASU’s student system, which, during the peak Fall 2007 registration period, reached 6,000 concurrent users. 
The new implementation also brought students another benefit–ASU took an innovative approach to integrating PeopleSoft services within its online environment.  This includes giving users a customizable experience based on ASU’s branded version of the Google Personal Start Page, in which users create a personal, integrated experience that positions Google’s tools side-by-side with PeopleSoft services.

Increasing Enrollment with Advanced Marketing Campaigns

To increase enrollment by more than 25,000 students, ASU must execute highly targeted marketing campaigns.  The university implemented Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise CRM for Higher Education to meet this challenge.  For example, ASU is using the application extensively in its Extended Education area, which provides distance learning programs.

"Extended Education has really aggressive growth goals–basically they have to grow by 15,000 per year starting next year," Davis-Johnson said.  "We are using CRM to drive marketing campaigns for Extended Education, as well as for our MBA program.  The system enables us to track all communications, record responses, and determine with whom we should follow up."

In addition to tracking every communication, the system integrates with student administration, which lets staff optimize communications based on characteristics of the target population. 

Decreasing Business Process Times and Eliminating Backlogs

As ASU continually expands its student body and academic facilities, establishing highly efficient business processes is critical.  The OASIS project is generating efficiencies throughout the university’s campuses.

One example is the area of Admissions, which ASU now manages with Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise Student Administration admissions module.  ASU currently processes more than 60,000 student applications each year–a number that will only increase as ASU raises enrollment targets.  With increasing volume, ASU began developing a substantial application backlog during the cutover from the existing admissions systems to PeopleSoft.  After migrating to PeopleSoft and reengineering key business processes, the backlog disappeared virtually overnight.

"By automating our system, we basically caught up with our backlogs in three weeks.  We could not have done this with the old system," said Davis-Johnson.

A second case of efficiency gains can be seen in the area of IT integration of new campus locations.  Prior to migrating to Oracle’s PeopleSoft, integrating a new campus location or adding a new college or department could take several months and hundreds of man hours.  Now, with all campuses standardized on PeopleSoft products, ASU’s IT department estimates that integration can occur in less than an hour.  By expediting IT integration, ASU can achieve its aggressive growth objectives, while minimizing costs typically associated with such growth.

Succeeding with an Aggressive Implementation Process

ASU’s ERP project is more aggressive than most projects of this type, both in terms of complexity and the compressed implementation time frame.  Despite the unique challenges, the results achieved thus far are remarkable.  CedarCrestone, along with Oracle Consulting and Oracle University, have served as key enablers of this success.  ASU partnered with CedarCrestone for both consulting and hosting to implement Campus Solutions and HCM in the aggressive timeframe.  ASU has worked extensively with Oracle Consulting to roll out the CRM application.  In addition, as part of the partnership with Oracle, ASU obtained a large block of training credits.  More than 100 ASU employees have completed training courses on the new software.  Educated in the products, staff can take full advantage of application features and streamline project implementations across the university.

ASU is also using Oracle User Productivity Kit to generate content and deliver online courses to its system users.  The tool’s prepackaged content has given the university a jump on its training programs and involved users who were unable to attend in-person training sessions.
 
"One way to put it in perspective is in February 2006 we signed our software licensing agreement.  One year later, on March 1st, we were registering students with the new system.  That is unheard of," said Davis-Johnson.

"In order to provide the best possible environment for our students, we needed the best technology.  We are already seeing the benefits of our ERP implementation as manifested in improved service delivery and efficiency.  The new ERP system provides us with a solid, efficient foundation to carry the university into the future," Sannier said.

Jim McGlothlin is Vice President of Higher Education at Oracle

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Robotics students match wits, kits

Student-built robots whizzed, whirred and clattered around a make-believe lunar surface with the nimbleness of R2-D2 yesterday at Madison High School. The high school engineering event, which drew schools from across the county, was a scrimmage for the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Competition next month at the Sports Arena, reports SignOnSanDiego.com. Nevertheless the competition was fierce. The robots’ assignments were to scoop up balls, load them into hoppers and lob them into cages. They bumped into each other, misfired balls into the audience and evoked both pride and laughter from their young inventors. The machines were controlled by the student, but they also had to work on their own guided only by a program their architects devised.

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