IT staff takes on enrollment spike — and wins

Thomas Glaser and his IT staff at Howard Community College (HCC) in Columbia, Md., have maintained the campus’s reputation for standout technology and help-desk service, despite the kind of enrollment spikes that can strain even large universities’ resources.

Glaser, HCC’s vice president for information technology, oversaw an IT department this year that placed the school among the nation’s most tech-savvy community colleges. Howard ranked fifth in the Center for Digital Education’s 2009 Digital Community Colleges Survey among schools with more than 7,500 students.

The college has seen a 12-percent enrollment jump since the spring 2009 semester, with 800 more students enrolling for the current fall semester.

In fact, HCC’s enrollment has grown by 60 percent since 2002, and Glaser and his IT staff are bolstering a technology infrastructure that suddenly has far greater demand, with 7,800 students–80 percent of whom access course materials online. Some of this growth is the result of a population boom in Howard County, Md., but much of it comes from an influx of students returning to school to enhance their skills during a tough economy.

"That’s a very big change over a very short period of time," said Glaser, who became the college’s first chief information officer in 2000 after serving as director of technology in the State University of New York system. "That’s happening on a lot of campuses, and … being prepared and making sure IT works efficiently are very important. Students and faculty can become very impatient very quickly if these things aren’t working."

The college purchased a $20,000 load-balancing unit after Sung Lee, director of student computer support, tracked a jump in use of the school’s Blackboard learning management system. The school’s Blackboard site averages 1,200 simultaneous users this fall, compared to just 700 last spring.

The new load balancer will accommodate up to 1,600 students and faculty members using the site at the same time, Lee said.

"It was simply an investment we had to make," Glaser added. 

Calls to HCC’s help desk have declined even as the school’s enrollment increases, thanks to new software that flushes malware and viruses from computers every time a student or faculty turns the machine off, Glaser said.

HCC’s technology team also is saving the school money with green IT practices that have trimmed energy costs in the past year, said Rick Pollard, director of IT services. Glaser said server racks that require constant blasts of air conditioning were adjusted so that all hot air produced by the servers was expelled in one direction, meaning the cool air remained cold.

Without air conditioning cooling server racks, Glaser said, rooms can reach close to 100 degrees within five minutes.

"And that really affects the equipment in the room," he noted.

Redirecting air flow, he said, has saved $4,300 in electricity costs since June. 

In addition, he said, the college has saved more than $90,000 since August 2008, thanks to software that powers down computer labs that are not in use. Those computers, Glaser said, used to run during hours-long gaps between classes, wasting electricity that colleges nationwide are hoping to conserve during the economic recession.

"That’s money that [many colleges] just can’t afford to waste," Glaser said.


Howard Community College

2009 Digital Community Colleges Survey

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