Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2008- In a matter of hours, I’ll be seated around a festive Fall table reflecting on the past year and, as is our tradition, sharing with my family the many things for which I am thankful. My nephew will take the lead and let us know he is thankful for his mom, dad, teacher and 12 soccer goals… as always, a tough act to follow. Beyond those things in my personal life that I am thankful for, I wanted to share some holiday thoughts with my ConnectEDU family…

This has been a fantastic year for ConnectEDU. If you’ve read previous posts you know that our network has grown by leaps and bounds – resulting from lots of hard work. Less than a few years ago we were virtually unknown, and after months of knocking on doors, I am thankful that we no longer have that problem.

Thankfully, this Fall we’ve seen a shift in the network as it begins to grow on its own. In the old days (less than two years ago) the team did plenty of leg-work to get a school to join. Lots of school visits, voice mails, emails, and presentations and then more follow up presentations, school visits, voice mails and emails. It was an era of long sales cycles, sore knuckles, and living out of a suitcase. Nothing unusual for a start-up, right?

So while the son in me will be thankful for my parents; and the husband in me will be thankful for my wife; and the brother in me will be thankful for my extended family; the CEO in me will be thankful for the small milestones that represent a new era for ConnectEDU like:

• I am thankful that we’ve more than quadrupled the number of students visiting Connect! in last three months and are beyond measurement relative to a year ago.

• I am thankful that high schools join the Network within days of their online demo.

• I am thankful that one of our champion colleges invited over 50 high schools with the network’s new invite to Connect! tool in one day, demonstrating their ability to impact these problems directly.

• I am thankful that a high school in Michigan could send nearly 60% of their transcripts electronically in their first admission cycle using the Network as a result of our rapidly expanding college partnerships.

• And, I’m most thankful for the wonderful people that give their heart and soul to our organization and mission! As well as the fantastic counselors, admission officers, students and parents that we have the privilege of working with on a daily basis.

Happy Thanksgiving! 'Tis the season of thanks!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Braving The Cold

November 21, 2008 - It was a busy night for a cold Monday in Boston. I thumbed through a photo album from mom; my room is now their office? I did some holiday window shopping; a vacuum or a set of knives? I paid some bills; who made a call to Ecuador? Then I got us some take out; Italian or Chinese?

And I did it all from my laptop while lounging comfortably on my bed. So I spilled marinara on the duvet. Type in Google “dry cleaners park plaza Boston.” Problem solved.

More and more aspects of our lives are being made easier with the Web. For a younger generation– they are simply growing up online and can’t imagine things being less convenient. I know, up hill in the snow with no shoes. But it’s true and their transition from high school to college is no exception.

The web has opened up a world of possibilities to students. I had never even heard of Brown University when I was growing up, let alone imagined I’d spend four years (sorry, make that five) there. Now students are using the web to search for colleges using individualized data to determine a best-fit. They are hearing about colleges for the first time because colleges are seeking them out – not because their dad’s second cousin went there in the 70’s.

Technology is changing the landscape of college admission. ConnectEDU is playing its part in bringing students the tools they need to explore. We’re linking students to opportunities that even my generation could not have imagined.

This week, thousands of students in the ConnectEDU National Network™ accepted our invitation to attend College Week Live – a virtual college fair recently featured on ABC News.

No more circling the convention center for city parking that doesn’t actually exist. No more missing hockey practice and your chance to start because there aren’t two 6pms. No more walking aimlessly up and down endless 200’ aisles to stuff a bag with view books. No more missing the “perfect opportunity” because you live in a rural environment and college fairs don’t make their way to your hometown. No more missing the opportunity to meet a college because you live in Detroit, MI and the perfect college for you is 9 states away but doesn’t come to your high school college fair.

You can leave the car in the garage, hit the ice at 6, and toss your sneakers back in the closet – as long as colleges are using web technology to make the process better for students, we’re bringing it to them virtually and literally every day… and in so doing, leveling the playing field and making the world a little bit flatter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Getting from A to B

November 19, 2008 - What’s worse than squeezing onto an airbus for the first leg of a cross-country flight? Maybe sitting next to a guy with a carry-on Big Mac. Then, once I survive the ketchup spills, the “just an air bubble” take off, and the near crash landing I get the pleasure of trying to find my connection so I can do it all over again; of course, with 3 hours of downtime in one of the terminals super-soft seating. With luck, I get the gate change in time and actually make it to my destination. I’ll take a direct flight any day, but for a variety of reasons, it’s not always possible.

Now picture the same logic being applied to community college students. If you have the resources to start at one of the nation’s 2,475 4-year schools, you’ll be directed differently. But, if you start at a community college with intentions of transferring to a 4-year school, it can be a labyrinth of wrong moves, changing info, delays and confusion – enough to not only cause you to miss your next flight, but to just turn back home. All this lack of attention, despite the fact that about 40% of all U.S. institutions of higher education are 2-year schools.

This month’s issue of University Business addresses the importance of improving the transfer process for community college students. UB reports that according to the National Center for Education Statistics, one out of five students who enroll for the first time in a 4-year college is a transfer student. And, according to the article writer Ann McClure, “community colleges will become more important to a wider variety of students if the combination of a weakening economy and increasing tuition continues.”

Having spoken to the community college partners embracing our technology to prepare for this trend, it’s the perfect time to address the issues – issues that clearly proliferate higher ed. Even the ubiquitous Wikipedia reports that, “transferring credits can sometimes be a problem” backed up by Michelle Cooper, President of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, who says in the article that "less than 30 percent of students who want a BA get a BA.”

The good news is that change is coming.

Cooper notes that, “community colleges have been very responsive to the concern about transfers.” We see that every time one joins the nearly 40 community colleges already in the ConnectEDU National Network™. They are taking steps by using our technology to make change. We see that in the forward-thinking initiatives our partner UMASS Boston is creating to provide transparency to its transfer students at Boston area community colleges. Technology is helping make connections, guide students, and open doors.

The more resources we provide students, the more tools we make available, and the more information we make accessible – the more success our transfer students will have getting from A to B – without a layover.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Self Reported Data, Take Another Look

November 17, 2008- 6’, 190, sandy blonde hair, likes long drives and loves Mexican food.

Well, for starters, my insides can’t handle chili. I’m prone to car sickness; even worse if I’ve had chili. And my hair hasn’t been sandy since my last vacation to Bermuda.

With the web, it’s easy to take some liberties when creating a profile – luckily for me, I met my wife long before online dating.

Today’s most popular social networks are using the same profile logic to match college-bound students with college admission officers. Now, in its first admission cycle, online enrollment marketing is proving to be a cost-effective media for finding prospects. Unlike the Facebooks and MySpaces of the world, new sites dedicated to college recruitment are flooding the market. Students log on and self report a profile, then colleges pay to meet them. Sounds ideal, right? Quick, easy, and to the point. No more 13 points of contact in the recruitment funnel. No more overflowing mailboxes. No more inflated costs per student acquisition.

If you’re a college recruiter, new studies highlighted in The Chronicle of Higher Education last week should make you think again. Subscriber’s can log in at:

According to The Chronicle, “The papers, being presented this week at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, found that many students paint a distorted picture when asked in surveys about their own academic success.”

Furthermore, “the papers' assertions have serious implications for higher education. Many education researchers rely on college students' accounts of their own performance because of the difficulty of collecting school transcripts and other academic records.” The student trend on how students self report data is now documented. But what if there were a way to populate these profiles with actual academic data from the student’s school transcript? In comes ConnectEDU.

We’ve built our model on a seamless integration with high school student information systems so the profiles of the students at our 2,000 high schools come from their high school, not their memory or their best intentions. There’s no more white lies when it comes to test scores, grades and academic performance, no matter how badly a student wants to get the attention of a college.

As we continue to hone best practices in building our network, we’ll continue to focus on the movement of data to help our students and our college partners make better informed decisions. Take a test drive of ConnectEDU’s Enrollment Marketing to preview the levels of verified data students make available in their profiles.

So while there’s no social network out there to verify whether or not I’m still at my high school wrestling weight (phew), in our student network you’ll always be sure that what you see is what you get when it comes to academic performance.

Community Colleges To Be Hit Hard by Budget Crisis, Report Finds

November 13, 2008- Unless you just got back from an extended Caribbean vacation where the only news you got was a weather report, you’ve probably been following the financial crisis as it unfolds. Although seemingly distanced from the mortgage industry and stock market, those of us entrenched in the education space are quickly seeing its effects as it hits close to home – especially among our community college partners.

A recent survey previewed in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education reports that community colleges in nearly half of the states will probably face midyear reductions in their appropriations. State budget cuts, which are looming, will only compound the issues that higher education, as well as secondary education, began to experience in the past year.

Stephen G. Katsinas, a Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, who, along with Terrence A. Tollefson, a Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at East Tennessee State University conducted a survey of members of the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges. According to The Chronicle that previewed some of the findings, “The study paints a bleak picture of a widening fiscal crisis among state governments, which started in the most recent budget year and is expected to have a major effect on all higher-education sectors.”

The Chronicle reports among the surveys key findings, “Of six key community-college functions, including general education and remediation, budget cuts are expected to have the greatest effect on vocational, occupational, and technical education and the fine arts.”

For the past year, ConnectEDU has been focusing its technology on this segment of higher education and the importance of workforce development in preparing students for the future. As a partner with ConnectEDU, Dr. James Kellerman, Executive Director of the Council of North Central Two Year Colleges, has been advocating for technology to streamline community college operations while enhancing services to career-minded students and REDUCING OPERATIONAL COSTS. In fact, some community colleges are realizing that the deployment of ConnectEDU’s Connect! and integration with their primary employer partners could actually result in a profit center. Very exciting in these times!

Like many of his colleagues, Dr. Kellerman understands that there are ways to streamline inefficiencies for long-term cost benefits. Implementing technology now will help change how community colleges recruit, admit, service and graduate students into the workforce while potentially creating a new source of funding.

Read Dr. Kellerman’s recent editorial on how technology is streamlining workforce development efficiency.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Finances Must Be a Part of the Decision Making in This Economy!

November 5, 2008 - While standing at the chip bowl (my favorite location) at a family party recently, I overheard a discussion that intrigued me – it’s a conversation I hear more and more, both at work and just about everywhere else I go.

It went something like this… (just an excerpt)

(Parent A)- “Johnny” is applying to colleges and I’ve started to take a look at how much some of them can cost – did you know that XYZ colleges is $50,000 a year?

(Parent B)- Yah, our daughter, “Cindy”, was slated to finish last year at XYZ college, but she didn’t have all of the credits for her double major so she has another semester to go. It’s going to cost an extra $20,000?

(Parent A)- The thing is, I don’t know how to engage “Johnny” in this conversation. He’s not sure if he wants to go to medical school or he’s been talking about being a teacher too. Medical school can cost as much as another $50,000 per year. I was doing some quick calculations on how much all of this could cost and …

Instead of just finding the dip and moving on, I couldn’t help myself … I jumped into the discussion.

Never before has it been more important for families to address the college decision making process with a firm grasp of the financial tradeoffs. And, never before has it been more critical for students to understand the relationship between the debt that they will incur by comparison to the median salary of the career (or careers) that they might desire to pursue.

The transition to college has never required more foresight than it does now. Will a biology major at the regional university lead to a good medical school? On a starting teacher’s salary, will Johnny be able to repay the hefty debt burden after earning an education degree from a private four year college? And, will Johnny need to go back to school to get a master’s degree in order to fully maximize his earning potential in his teaching career? Or, would two years of community college and then transferring to a more expensive college be a more cost-effective option? Can we make the numbers work?

While in decades past, many of us like Johnny’s parents attended college to figure out what we wanted to do after graduation. We had the wiggle room to try things out, change majors, test the waters so to speak – of course all at an expense far less than the cost of a college credit today. Now, with an education becoming one of life’s most significant expenses, knowing the direction prior to enrolling in college just makes the most sense.

Additionally, families need to consider that the average duration to graduation in the United States is over 5 years. (In fact, I was on the 5 year plan myself) And, that when you are calculating your family expenses, there is no reason to plan that your child will out-perform the national average. And, ideally, you should probably plan for the worst … that is to say, plan, from a financial perspective, that your child might take a little longer than 5 years. Stranger things have happened.