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Colleges axing student eMail accounts

Some campuses are doing away with school-issued eMail addresses as students increasingly enter college with a personal eMail account, according to a nationwide survey by education-technology group EDUCAUSE. The survey also showed that more colleges and universities are offering 24-7 help-desk support for students and staff, and the vast majority employ some kind of bandwidth-shaping practices to manage traffic on their networks.

EDUCAUSE’s annual survey of 930 higher-education institutions showed that about 10 percent of respondents are considering getting rid of student eMail accounts. For doctoral institutions, the number is 25 percent. In 2004, only 1 to 2 percent of colleges surveyed said they were considering such a move.

"This may affect the ability of faculty and/or administrators … to reach all students in a particular class, or all students on campus, to inform them of policies, events, and so forth," the report said.

Community colleges run counter to the eMail trend, as 90 percent of two-year schools issued student eMail addresses in 2008–the highest percentage since EDUCAUSE first conducted the survey five years ago. In 2004, about 60 percent of community colleges offered students eMail accounts.

Other notable findings in EDUCAUSE’s "Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2009 Report" show that 2 to 6 percent of universities surveyed offer 24-7 computer help-desk support, which continues a steady increase in all-day technical support for faculty members and students.

Doctoral institutions offer an average of 77 hours of help-desk assistance every week, while baccalaureate schools average 56 hours weekly. Two-year schools remained steady with 60 hours of help-desk operation. About 90 percent of respondents said they offer some form of computer help-desk support.

Only 5 percent of doctoral, master’s, and baccalaureate respondents do not shape internet bandwidth, according to the survey–a practice that protects campus networks from large downloads. Ten percent of community colleges refrain from bandwidth shaping, which also has become a tool in the battle against illegal file sharing on college campuses.

Congress pressured college IT departments to take measures to stop file sharing in last year’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The law asks colleges and universities to implement network administration technologies that deter illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. These technologies can include bandwidth shaping, traffic monitoring that identifies the largest bandwidth users, or products designed to reduce or block illegal file sharing, according to the legislation.

Although some schools say they might stop creating student eMail addresses, other institutions have gravitated to commercially popular eMail services that are hosted off campus.

Many schools that have switched from campus-run eMail accounts to commercial accounts made the decision before last year’s economic recession hit, slashing campus budgets. But as IT dollars have dwindled, officials say the long-term savings of converting to an eMail provider that offers hosted, web-based service has proven critical to avoiding job cuts and maintaining IT staffing.

"eMail is more of a commodity now, so why should we spend resources running eMail servers when Google could do it for free and do it a lot better than we could do it?" said James Langford, director of web integration and programming at Abilene Christian University in Texas, which began converting its campus to Google eMail accounts in April 2007.

Langford said switching to Gmail meant the school’s IT department did not have to run its own eMail servers–a major cost saving–and had the responsive Google help desk at its disposal.

Campus IT administrators say college-run eMail systems often lack the storage capacity that students have become accustomed to with commercial eMail services. Many commercial options offer individual users up to seven gigabytes of storage–several times the capacity of most university eMail accounts.

"Most institutions do not have commodity storage for mail systems and cannot afford to offer this level of storage," said Ellen Waite-Franzen, vice president of information technology and chief information officer at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where officials are considering a switch to a commercial eMail system. "It’s a constant complaint about our service."

Managing BlitzMail–Dartmouth’s current eMail system–costs the college about $200,000 yearly, Waite-Franzen said.


Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2009 Report

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