ABC News on Campus reporter Adam Yosim blogs:
Before setting foot on campus, most students have at least one e-mail account from a provider such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail.
Jessie Zaleon, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said she prefers the Gmail interface over UNC’s e-mail interface, so she decided to forward all of her messages to it instead.
“I found [the school’s e-mail system] to be slower, the search methods weren’t as easy, and it had less storage space,” said Zaleon.
Now colleges themselves are following suit. As reported earlier this month in UNC's student newspaper The Daily Tarheel, a report released in March by Educause, a non-profit association that promotes information technology in higher education, found “explosive growth” in student e-mail outsourcing among universities. Nearly 20 percent of the 342 institutions surveyed said they outsource their student e-mail system to a private provider.
Northwestern University made the switch in 2007 and partnered with Google to provide e-mail and other services to students. The university now uses Google Apps for Education, a service that provides e-mail, calendars, instant messaging, and other features.
Wendy Weberstein, director of technology support services at Northwestern, said student feedback from the old system prompted the change in e-mail providers.
“By partnering with Google, we are able to provide dramatically improved e-mail, and so much more, free of charge,” said Weberstein.
Weberstein said Google Apps was easy to launch and that students love the new system.
“Just yesterday a student told me that ‘because we use Google we’re the coolest campus around,’” said Weberstein.
Larry Conrad, vice chancellor of information technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says the annual cost of providing the campus-based webmail is a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. While Conrad says this is not “overly expensive,” he says current options for outsourcing “will provide improved capabilities that the University simply cannot afford to offer.”
These options would be free of charge, but Conrad said he does not know how long private providers will continue to offer their services in that manner.
Other universities are also considering outsourcing their e-mail providers in the near future. At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, most students access their campus e-mail from the school's system, but school officials are still looking into value of switching to a private provider.
Brian Rust, communications manager for the division of information technology at Wisconsin, said security and system integrity will play a big factor in the decision to switch providers.
“A person has to be part of the university community in order to get the e-mail account they have now,” said Rust. “We have to make sure that we can enable that to happen using Gmail or Yahoo or another third-party.”