Bill would limit credit cards for college students

Legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Senate May 19 would make it tougher for college students to sign up for credit cards, which often put young people in debt and subject them to high interest rates before they graduate and start in the workforce.

The bill–which also curbs credit card issuers’ ability to raise interest rates and card holder fees–passed the Senate 90-5, and the House is expected to vote on the legislation later this week. President Obama could sign the bill before Memorial Day, and the law would take effect early in 2010.

People under 21 would have to have parental permission before they signed up for a credit card, unless they could prove financial independence or pass a financial literacy course that demonstrated understanding of payments, interest rates, and other crucial details of obtaining credit.

The new law would affect college campuses that have become primary targets for credit card companies marketing to new customers. Lobbyists for the banking industry wrote a letter to senators this week warning that placing a new series of restrictions on credit cards would worsen the credit crunch the country has suffered through since entering an economic recession last year.

If enacted, the bill would "have a dramatic impact on the ability of consumers, small businesses, students, and others to get credit at a time when our economy can least afford such constraints," the American Bankers Association wrote in its letter.

Curbing young people’s access to credit cards will force creditors to find new ways of marketing to students who are financially dependent on their parents, said Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

"I would think this will make it more difficult [for students to apply for credit cards], but I don’t know if that will eliminate it," said Morici, adding that creditors may take advantage of the legislation’s loose definition of financial independence. "I don’t know how well it’ll hold up in the long run. [Creditors] want to put these cards into the hands of young people, and I believe they will find a way to do it."

College students’ increasing debt was made clear in a recent study conducted by Sallie Mae, the country’s biggest college lender. In 2004, the average college graduate had $2,900 in debt; by last year, that number had jumped to more than $4,000, according to the study, which was released in April. Eighty-four percent of U.S. college students had at least one credit card in 2008, up from 76 percent in 2004.

And students aren’t just paying for books and school supplies with their credit cards. About 30 percent of students pay their tuition with a credit card, according to the Sallie Mae study. That’s a 6-percent increase from 2004.

"Too many students are at risk of overpaying for college by pulling out credit cards to pay for textbooks or even part of their tuition bill, instead of using less expensive financial aid to cover these items," said Marie O’Malley, director of consumer research for Sallie Mae and author of the study.

College freshmen have seen a substantial increase in average debt since 2004. Only 15 percent of first-year students had no credit card debt in 2008. In 2004, nearly 70 percent of freshmen did not have any credit card debt, according to the study. Average debt for freshmen tripled from 2004 to 2008, from $373 to $939.

The need for more comprehensive training in accessing credit was made clear in the Sallie Mae research. Eighty-four percent of student surveyed said they "needed more education on financial management topics," and they thought educators should teach more financial planning in high school and the first year of college. Nearly two-thirds of students said they were surprised at how quickly their credit card debt ballooned as interest rates were tacked on to monthly balances.

Morici at the University of Maryland said federal lawmakers should be wary of placing too many restrictions on who can apply for credit cards, because credit plays a critical role in establishing financial stability for many young Americans.

"You don’t want to be too restrictive with this," he said. "A credit card is a useful tool to get through the world."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Sallie Mae study

University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business


Higher-ed IT costs continue to rise

Technology spending among colleges and universities has swelled in recent years, but experts project only minimal increases from 2009-13, according to a report documenting a wide range of trends in higher education.

The Software & Information Industry Association’s postsecondary market report, released this month, details changes in college enrollment, the number of types of postsecondary schools, demographic changes, and fluctuating technology spending among institutions of all sizes, among other trends.

U.S. campuses spent $6.94 billion on education technology during the 2005-06 school year, marking a 35-percent increase from the $5.15 billion spent in the 2004-05 year, according to the industry report. Nearly every aspect of IT spending jumped in 2005-06, including a 23-percent hike in contracting outside services and a 50-percent rise in hardware costs.

Read the full story at eCampus News



Free webinar series for teachers tackles Shakespeare, marine science, and more

Social-networking site Classroom 2.0 has teamed up with PBS Teachers and Elluminate Inc. to provide a series of free monthly webinars designed to help K-12 educators learn new ways to integrate online instructional resources into their classrooms and engage students. This month’s webinar, “Diving into the Digital World of Marine Science,” featured Jean-Michel Cousteau, famed explorer, environmentalist, educator, filmmaker, and host of the PBS series Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures. Participants learned how to access the free videos, standards-based lesson plans, and online games available on the Ocean Adventures web site. Previous webinars in the series included “Looking for Lincoln: Changing Views of History, Changing Views of Race,” “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives,” “Remixing Shakespeare for 21st Century Students,” and “Using 21st Century Resources to Enhance Math Teaching & Learning.” All events are archived for viewing at any time.


No guidance on how to rein in the flu

As schools continue to shut down in New York and elsewhere because of swine flu, health officials are asking a question for which there is little guidance, even in pandemic plans, reports the New York Times: What is the best way to stop an epidemic that spreads mostly in schools rather than in nursing homes? Many school officials have shut their doors and had custodians disinfect the empty buildings. But that leaves parents confused and frustrated. Those whose schools remain open might fear that their children are in danger, and those with healthy children whose schools close might feel that officials have overreacted, burdening them with day-care costs and denying their young ones an education. Even guidance from the top is ambivalent. On May 4, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Richard E. Besser, said "closing schools is not effective" at halting the spread. Previously, the centers had advised schools to close for up to two weeks if a confirmed case was found. On May 18, New York City closed four more Queens schools after outbreaks of flu symptoms, bringing the total to 16 ordered shut since last week. In Texas, hundreds have been closed at various times. "The lack of definitive information is causing great stress on families," said Eric Gioia, a City Council member from Queens who wants parents to be given the results of flu tests at their local schools and daily attendance figures…

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Dell aims new netbook at younger students

Dell Inc., already the largest seller of PCs to schools worldwide, is trying to extend its lead with its first low-cost "netbook" designed for young students at a time when schools, businesses, and general consumers are cutting back on technology spending.

Dell’s new Latitude 2100, which is being unveiled at an event May 19 in Australia, is part of a newly popular category of computer that is much like a laptop, but cheaper, smaller, lighter, and less powerful.

Unlike Dell’s other netbooks, the 2100’s shell is made from brightly colored, easily gripped rubber, not slippery plastic. Its underside is free from vents and other openings, so plopping the computer on spilled milk won’t do any damage. And a light on the lid of the computer tells teachers when kids are connected to the internet.

"There’s no question that technology can play a role in improving outcomes for students," Dell Chief Executive Michael Dell said in an interview with the Associated Press. "This is not to say that putting computers and [information technology] systems in schools solves all problems–there’s no chance of that. But it is to say that, look, these are required skills that people need to be successful."

The 2100, aimed at students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has a 10-inch screen and a keyboard that’s a little bigger than regular netbooks. It can be configured with a touch screen, which Dell says is useful for kids’ small hands, and an anti-microbial keyboard, because those hands are often grubby. A web camera add-on also is available. It can run basic versions of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP and Vista operating systems and the Ubuntu version of Linux.

Unlike the $200 XO laptop sold by the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child organization, Dell’s machine starts at $369, which might put it out of reach in developing countries. Add on popular features, and Dell said the price will be more like $500. David Daoud, an analyst for the technology group IDC, said schools typically negotiate prices down by about $100 per machine.

Dell would not say how much money it makes selling computers to schools. Michael Dell said the company’s public-sector segment, which also includes governments and health-care institutions, takes in $14 billion a year, about 23 percent of Dell’s 2008 revenue.

PCs for schools and universities made up just 6 percent of the total shipped last year worldwide, according to IDC, with about a third going to the United States. Worldwide, Dell was the top player with nearly 20 percent of the market. In the U.S., its grip was even tighter–about 36 percent for kindergarten through 12th grade and 43 percent at the university level.

In the U.S. in particular, there’s room to grow in kindergarten to 12th-grade classrooms as schools push toward a one-computer-per-student ratio, Daoud said. (Today, the ratio in U.S. primary education is more like one PC for every three or four students, said Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University.)

At the same time, universities are pressing students to come to campus with their own laptops rather than stocking computer labs, Daoud said.

Dell is a relatively late entry into the netbook market for schools. Last spring, Dell rival Hewlett-Packard Co. debuted its Mini-Note (see "HP unveils small laptop for students"), joining the XO, Intel’s Classmate PC, and various models from Asustek, among other options.


Dell Inc.

"Netbooks’ popularity set to rise in 2009" (eSN, Jan. 2009)

"Mini laptops a hit with schools" (eSN, July 2008)


Higher-ed IT costs continue to rise

Technology spending among colleges and universities has swelled in recent years, but experts project only minimal increases from 2009-13, according to a report documenting a wide range of trends in higher education.

The Software & Information Industry Association’s postsecondary market report, released this month, details changes in college enrollment, the number of types of postsecondary schools, demographic changes, and fluctuating technology spending among institutions of all sizes, among other trends.

U.S. campuses spent $6.94 billion on education technology during the 2005-06 school year, marking a 35-percent increase from the $5.15 billion spent in the 2004-05 year, according to the industry report. Nearly every aspect of IT spending jumped in 2005-06, including a 23-percent hike in contracting outside services and a 50-percent rise in hardware costs.

Nicole Engelbert, a senior analyst for Data Monitor, a New York-based data analysis provider, said projections show that higher-education technology spending will slow to a rate of 1 to 2 percent annually from 2009-13, with many campuses seeing a drop in IT spending.

In 2008 and 2009, IT directors saw their campus operating budgets trimmed as the economy plummeted and colleges were forced to rein in costs during the current recession. IT chiefs’ expectations showed the change in fiscal attitude. Forty-five percent of technology administrators were expecting budget cuts in fall 2008, a marked increase from 16 percent expecting budget cuts one year earlier.  

With half of universities’ technology costs dedicated to new and updated hardware, experts expect cloud computing to help decision makers trim those costs in coming years by outsourcing some IT services. Mitchell Weisburgh, co-author of the SIIA study, said linking campus computers to a larger off-campus network will help schools slash costs associated with eMail and other services once provided by every college.

Forty-two percent of campuses included in the survey had converted to outsourced student eMail services, according to the survey, while 15 percent of colleges said faculty eMail had been outsourced. Google eMail –also known as Gmail– was the most popular option, with 56 percent of campuses choosing Google.

The SIIA study said this trend is expected to gain traction in higher education laregly because "unlike their predecessors, today’s students arrive on campus with an email addresses and established email identities and preferences."

Weisburgh, a managing partner at Academic Business Advisors in New York, said IT directors would have to make their case for new technology budget items in the next few years, since higher education operating budgets are expected to stagnate.

"You’re going to have to show that it will be something that will attract more students, reduce costs for the entire institution … or that it’s absolutely necessary for security on campus," he said. "You have to tie your request to something that will actually bring value to the university. … It’ll be a lot more like it is in corporate IT."

The postsecondary market report also showed that private institutions have spent more on IT in recent years, catching up to their public university counterparts. In 2003, private colleges spent about $70 million on administrative IT, compared to more than $200 million on public campuses. By 2005, private schools were spending more than $100 million, and public institutions’ average administrative IT costs fell below $200 million.

The SIIA data show a growing urgency for campus emergency alert systems, which often consist of text messages or eMails sent to students and faculty during a campus shooting or cases of extreme weather. A 2008 report conducted by the Campus Computing Project showed that 5.5 percent of U.S. postsecondary schools do not have an "operational emergency notification system." That number was 25 percent in 2007, according to the study.

Community colleges are more likely not to have an emergency notification system, with 13 percent reporting that they lack such a system. Only 2.8 percent of public four-year colleges did not have an emergency notification system. Every public university included in the survey reported an operational system.

The SIIA report said the growing frequency of emergency text message and eMail systems was spurred by horrific campus shootings in the past two years. These systems have become so common, in fact, that the market survey predicts that emergency notification companies will have to alter strategy to attract higher-education customers.

"These statistics should come as a surprise to nobody–after tragic shooting incidents at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and Northern Illinois University, communicating to campus users instantly became a top priority," the report said. "Campus notification is thus reaching market saturation, and companies looking to grow in this area are going to need to steal market share through features, integration with other systems, or cost reductions."


Software & Information Industry Association

Campus Computing Project


Scribd opens new market for online texts

Hoping to do for the written word what iTunes did for music, the online document-sharing service Scribd is opening an internet store that will offer new sales opportunities for publishers and authors — including teachers, professors, and others who have written educational texts — and could spawn more bargains for students and other readers.

Scribd’s commercial channel, which debuted May 18, marks the first time the 2-year-old service has charged for the material posted on its web site. It claims to have amassed 35 billion words in an eclectic mix of books, essays, PowerPoint presentations, legal briefs, and other documents.

Until now, access to all the material on Scribd had been free, although two months ago the company began to let publishers upload books with links to other web sites where a copy could be bought.

Now, San Francisco-based Scribd will pocket 20 percent of each sale completed in its own shop and will pay the remaining 80 percent to the creators or copyright owners of the written material.
It’s a concept similar to other publishing sites, including, but Scribd appears more likely to shake up the market, said Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner.

Scribd’s biggest advantage is a system that will allow any document bought from its store to be read on different gadgets–a personal computer, an electronic book reader like Inc.’s Kindle, or a sophisticated mobile phone.

"That’s the Holy Grail right there, so I think this could turn into a really big deal," Weiner said. "Its ultimate success will be determined by the number of publishers and authors it can get on board."

As its site has grown, Scribd has turned into a piracy magnet as people post unlicensed copies of books and other material. But Scribd Chief Executive Trip Adler says his site quickly removes any unauthorized documents when it’s notified of a problem. And the new store on the site will have copyright management tools, letting writers limit the number of devices that can store books or other material bought from Scribd.

The publishers already committed to Scribd’s store include O’Reilly Media, which specializes in books on technology subjects. O’Reilly is turning to Scribd to sell a primer on Twitter before the book is even available in print.

Scribd’s store gives authors a way to bypass the publishing industry so they can bring their books to market more quickly and perhaps make more money than they would have from following the conventional route. Book lovers, in turn, could benefit from prices below those found in traditional bookstores or even on

Three previously published authors already have banded together to sell their latest books for just $2 per copy on Scribd.

At that price, Kemble Scott will collect $1.60 for each electronic copy of his latest book, The Sower, that sells on Scribd. That’s more than the roughly $1.13 he got from each sale of his first book, SoMa, which carried a $15 cover price.

"Paperback books really took off during the Great Depression, so we thought, ‘Why not make a pricing statement during the Great Recession?’" Scott said.

The other writers selling books for $2 on Scribd are Tamim Ansary, who previously wrote West of Kabul, East of New York and is now peddling The Widow’s Husband; and Joe Quirk, who is following up his novel The Ultimate Rush with Exul.

The minimum price in Scribd’s store will be $1, with no maximum. A research report on business in China will start in Scribd’s store at $5,000.

Scribd’s store also will allow publishers or authors to sell individual chapters from books, much like Apple Inc.’s iTunes enables music labels to sell single tracks from albums. Lonely Planet, which publishes travel guides, plans to use Scribd to sell chapters about specific cities to people who might not want to read about an entire country.

"Our goal is to liberate the written word," Adler said.


Scribd store


Inadequate support infrastructure: Adversely impacting students

After 42 years in education and 37 years as an educational technologist, I recently retired from my latest position, chief technology officer of an extremely large urban school district.  Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about the various changes I have witnessed in educational technology over this span.  People laugh when I tell them that I earned my doctorate in educational technology in 1977, before the advent of microcomputers, for they cannot comprehend the concept of educational technology without them.  But something I recently read reminded me that while some things may have changed dramatically over the years, others seemed to have barely changed at all.

In March 2009, eSchool News published the results of a second annual survey and report, conducted together with CoSN and that focused on the unique challenges facing IT professionals in the K-12 environment.  An area that particularly caught my attention was the availability, or should I say lack of availability, of technology staff and other support resources in our nation’s K-12 schools.  Much as the previous year’s study, it showed that there were far too few staff to handle the growing amount of technology in our schools.  It mattered little whether you looked at it from staying on top of repairing and maintenance of the equipment or looked at it from the perspective of enabling instructional staff to use the technology more appropriately and/or effectively in meeting the instructional needs of their students. 

Regardless of how one examined the data, the outcome was the same:  an unacceptably high percentage of our schools and districts do not possess an adequate technology support infrastructure (e.g., people, services, resources) to adequately sustain the expanding role of technology in our schools.  To make matters worse, the survey on which these results were based took place before the exact nature of the next fiscal year’s budget cuts have been identified.  One does not need to be a clairvoyant or posses any great mystical powers to predict that next year will probably see less support for school-based technology than the last several years.

From my perspective, the report succeeds in one area, yet falls short in another.  It is most successful in terms of validating what many of have known for years:  there is simply not enough technology staff or support in our schools.  On a personal note, this was a limitation 30 years ago, and, as the survey illustrates, remains a limitation today. 

But what do the results of the survey really tell us in terms of the role of technology in our schools?  Yes, the report indicated that school-based technology staff will find it more difficult to get things done; but I still needed to put these broad notions in a context that means something to virtually everyone involved in K-12 education.  Yes, technology staff will need to work harder to produce results at a more basic level than in previous years.  But responses such as this don’t get down to the level of what technology in K-12 education is about:  helping students learn.  One way or another, we seem to gloss over the fact, or take it for granted, that insufficient resources devoted for support eventually have a negative impact on instruction. 

The untimely repair of equipment

The timely repair of equipment is one of the first areas to suffer from inadequate support resources.  Whether referring to basic computer repair or server repair, or the more complex and/or esoteric maintenance of routers and switches, it is virtually impossible to sustain a professional maintenance standard when adequate resources are unavailable.  I have seen schools where a single on-site technician, even when backed up by central IT technicians, is expected to stay on top of 600+ computers, several servers, routers, and switches, while hand-holding  teachers who are weak in technology, working closely with experienced technology-literate staff, and implementing new technology programs.  But to get back to my original concern, how does this affect our ultimate end-users, the student?

Unfortunately, it is the student who suffers the most from the lack of timely repair, and this manifests itself in several different ways.  First, and most obvious and direct, equipment that is not working is unavailable to be used by students–computers and printers that are waiting for repair have as much utility as a rock.  Thus, the amount of computer-time available for students becomes limited.  This, too, can have an adverse effect on a well-designed lesson (more about this later).  Worse, servers and switches that are waiting for repair can create technological chaos for an entire room, wing, or building.  The impact of increased downtime of these devices increases exponentially  when compared to computers and printers.

But the students are harmed in a more indirect way as well.  While most experienced computer-using teachers are able to handle in stride the occasional malfunctioning piece of gear, it becomes disheartening when repairs take an inordinate amount of time or when an entire network is down.  When the instructional staff loses confidence in the school’s technology, it begins looking for other, more reliable, tools to use.  Thus, student learning suffers because students will not be using the tool that is the teacher’s first choice, and they are losing because their use of technology is being limited at a time when it should be being increasing. 

Equipment that remains non-functional for an extended period of time impairs student progress in other, sometime, less traditional ways.  As schools move toward distributing curriculum guides and instructional materials to staff digitally rather than via more traditional paper, insufficient support staff and resources only lead to students once again not receiving full advantage of the district’s technology investment.  Similarly, with increasing use being made of distance learning opportunities or server-based courseware, an inadequate or insufficient technology support infrastructure once again impairs the focus and purpose of our efforts–student achievement!  While I could continue to give examples of how repair and upgrade delays adversely affect students and the instructional program, I think it best if we move on to a different aspect of the responsibilities of technology support staff and resources.

Limited time working with staff

While the discussion of how an inadequate technology support infrastructure is most often directed at its effect on hardware, we can’t ignore the fact that many districts and/or schools expect some of their IT staff to provide staff development activities to the instructional and, quite frequently, the support staff.  But once again, if there isn’t sufficient staff or other resources to adequately maintain the basic equipment, one can only wonder the degree to which this component is fulfilled.  

First, as suggested above, all too often the professional development component takes a back seat to the equipment maintenance function.  In spite of the school technology specialist’s best intentions of working on-on-one with teachers, they are frequently called away to handle hardware-related "emergencies."  Try as they might, it is difficult to turn down a request from a teacher whose lesson is falling apart due to an apparent equipment issue or a plea from a principal whose printer stopped working an hour before the report he/she was working on was due at the central office. 

But as one digs just below the surface of these fairly common situations, we once again discover that due to insufficient technology support in our schools it is our students who are again the victims. For example, if the technology staff cannot provide the weaker technology-using teachers with the extra support they need to grow professionally, their students will not only continue to receive sub-standard instruction in the specific content area, but they will similarly have narrow and inadequate experiences using technology.  Some teachers or groups of teachers, while possessing adequate technology skills, require additional support to plan and implement creative and innovate technology applications.   The failure to provide this support will only lead to sub-standard implementation, teacher frustration, and reduced learning outcomes for our students. 

Final comments and suggestions

More than 30 years of experience, backed up by two consecutive surveys have led me to the uncomfortable realization that there is something wrong in the way in which we have sold technology as a tool of instruction.  While the instructional side of the house has generally bought into this concept and has continued to purchase more and more technology resources, I am not certain that they and district funding mechanisms have generally grasped or kept up with the funding required to support a technology-rich environment.  Failing to maintain an adequate technology support infrastructure will generally lead to the disappointment in expected learning outcomes, as well as not getting full value from the investment in technology.

Potential solutions are certainly not easy and, in some cases, may even be unpleasant to implement.  To help get you started, you can consider some of these approaches:
• Convince school/district to provide additional resources needed to enhance the technology support infrastructure.
• Reduce new acquisitions but maintain current support level.
• Analyze current support policies and procedures with the intention of reorganizing the technology support team for greater efficiency.
• Determine the level of support required prior to purchasing new equipment, software, or courseware.

Finally, I would like to raise the flag of caution to IT staff about their tendency to blame others for all of their problems.  It frequently appears that in their effort to provide support for all, as well as serve as chief technology evangelist, IT staff makes promises it can’t keep, particularly in the realm of providing adequate support.  So before blaming others, I suggest a good long look in the mirror.

These are but a few suggestions for reducing the magnitude of the problems associated with inadequate technology support infrastructure.  Unless your school or district is one of the few that has an adequate support infrastructure, I suggest you begin by considering these or developing your own.  Failure to improve your support infrastructure will only lead to disappointment and disillusionment. 


Facebook users hooked in new ‘phishing’ scam

Facebook on May 15 was blocking links to bogus web sites set up to look like the home page of the popular online social network in a "phishing" attack by hackers, AFP reports. "We’re aware of the attack and are already blocking links to these new phishing sites from being shared on Facebook," the Palo Alto, California, company said in a statement. "We’re also cleaning up phony messages and wall posts and resetting the passwords of affected users." Facebook did not say how many of the 200 million users of the social network had been affected in the latest hacker attack. An unknown number of Facebook users received a message on May 14 from a friend’s account urging them to visit web sites such as "" The sites were realistic-looking replicas of the social network’s log-in page but were actually controlled by the hackers. The bogus page would capture password information when a user logged in. Facebook advises users to avoid messages, posts, or links asking for log-in information and to always make certain they are visiting its legitimate address,…

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