Monday, December 29, 2008

Change in 2009

December 29, 2008- The subject of Change is certainly a big one as we start a new calendar year… new challenges, new opportunities, and indeed a new list of New Year’s resolutions.

Here is an early draft of my list…

1) Spend an extra 15 minutes at the gym each day, not each week.
2) Check in with my folks more often via phone, not just Facebook.
3) Shut my iphone off after 9pm, and not just on vibrate.

They’re not the most difficult New Year’s resolutions, and I promise to pick at least one. That is what I told myself last year, when I resolved to change my ways. Well, 2009 is a whole new year.

This past weekend while reading about 2008 wrap ups and 2009 predictions, finding a new year’s resolution seemed daunting. It’s all about a recession and regression. How long it will last, who it will affect the most, and what needs to be done to survive it.

While the financial world stole the headlines this Fall, and as we move into the new year, those of us in the education space are drawn to front page stories about dwindling funds for schools – both k-12 and higher education. Now with the spotlight on how well we are preparing our students, it’s time to take a look at what we can do in 2009 to make improvements – and stick to our resolutions.

This week, the New York Times ran a piece on the inequities in funding for education. According to the article, “LOCAL control of schooling — which means local financing of schools — is an injustice, masked as a virtue, so deeply ingrained in the American mind that no politician in either party dare challenge it. But America’s obsession with local finance, which made perfect sense in the 19th century, is now sinking us morally and economically.” The article goes on to remind us just how the affluent communities receive the most resources and the less fortunate districts, the ones that need the extra support, get the short end of the stick. The Times, albeit ambitiously, suggests that in 2009 the system must change – despite the political diatribe that enforces the status quo.

The problem is not a secret, and is far from being breaking news – but what is significant is the declaration that change is the answer. We have to stop relying on the old way of doing business when it comes to our students’ well-being… and what better time to change than in the face of an unprecedented economic short-fall which will force us to do so whether willing or unwilling. The time is now!

Since 2002, ConnectEDU has been about change to improve access for all students to reach their college and career aspirations. We provide our education platforms through college sponsorships so no school, district or student has to pay – we give EVERY student the edge they need to plan their future at no cost to them. The Times uses Detroit as an example of funding inequities – where students from low-income urban neighborhoods receive thousands less in funding per student than students minutes away in posh communities. In our network, students from downtown Detroit are provided the same web solutions as their neighbors in the suburbs – all through sponsorship of 16+ Michigan institutions of higher education intent on changing the status quo and leveling the playing field when it comes to accessing college and career planning solutions and relationships. Schools in our network are taking the steps to make change on their own… and it’s working.

Each year, we resolve to bring our web solutions to more high schools – and each year we’ve expanded the network; 100 schools in 2006; 1,000 schools in 2007; 2,000 schools in 2008; 3,000+ in 2009.

So maybe I’ll skip a day at the gym, post a quick hello on my mom’s wall, or fall asleep with the cell phone on my pillow, but one resolution I know I can keep in 2009- ConnectEDU will continue to welcome more schools into our network in an effort to level the access playing field now!

After all, some things never change!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Giving the Gift of Education

December 23, 2008- The oversized ornaments hung high from the ceilings. The loud music echoed from The Gap to Tiffany’s. Everything was just as big and bright as in year’s past at the mall. But where were all the shoppers? I’d like to think the shopping on the web had peaked, but on a recent trip to find the perfect holiday gift I knew it had more to do with the economy than with any promotion that Amazon, Overstock or eBay could have come up with.

No matter where you look, people are cutting back, including our friends in the education space. Education Week recently published an Associated Press story on the states bracing for the budget cuts to come, while also reporting on the 30,000 schools not measuring up to the No Child Left Behind standards. In a nutshell, schools are being asked to achieve more, and now they are learning they have to do it with less funding.

It might be that I’m watching too many holiday specials, but it feels that our schools are in need of a Christmas miracle. I’m sure many superintendents wish they had the good fortune of George Bailey. Unfortunately, for us it’s not about Mr. Potter taking the money. For our story, it is about state and district level budget cuts. So while some school leaders wait for Clarence to earn his wings, others are receiving the gift that colleges across the country are providing through sponsorship to high schools. One by one, colleges are at the doorstep of our network to offer their support to U.S. high schools. Far from a miracle, our career and college solutions take already proven technology to help students while saving our families, schools, districts and states money. Who knew sending electronic transcripts could save Bedford Falls the $8K Uncle Billy lost, in just one admission cycle?

Currently, over 2,000 high schools are benefiting from ConnectEDU’s no cost technology solutions to do more with less. Colleges throughout the nation are taking the lead and sponsoring the integration of Connect! into high schools in their regions. They understand the importance of providing students the resources, tools and information to make good decisions about college. They also now understand it shouldn’t be at their expense. These sponsorships are our college partners’ way of putting students first. After all, in the end it’s about providing a college education so our students can live a 'wonderful life'.

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Up, Up and Away

December 16, 2008 - So why does Eric D. Fingerhut, Chancellor of Ohio's Board of Regents, think that the higher education system should take a look at the Wright Brothers model of success? Not because they revolutionized the world. Not because they showed how relatives could run a business successfully. Not because they gave an interesting history lesson for grade-schoolers around the country.

According to an article today in the Chronicle of Higher Education ( subscriber log in), Fingerhut “pointed out that they created their flying machine without government grants, a subsidized research laboratory, or even college degrees.”

Fingerhut was speaking at The Higher Education Government Relations Conference, "Making the Case", where some 170 lobbyists for public colleges and universities met here last week to prepare for upcoming state legislative sessions and to discuss how to protect their institutions from severe budget cuts in a nationwide economic crisis.

His take home: DO MORE WITH LESS.

According to Fingerhut in the Chronicle piece, institutions need to find ways to show they can survive, despite government cuts. Perhaps that is why the ConnectEDU National Network™ is gaining so much ground in Ohio. Influenced by leaders in the state, both high schools and colleges are taking matters into their own hands and rethinking how they operate in order to streamline inefficiencies and ultimately save money.

In This Sunday’s Boston Globe, higher education reporter Peter Schworm highlights the efforts of ConnectEDU in helping colleges save money by changing how colleges meet students. With our college partners we share a common goal, which according to Schworm “is a more affordable, efficient system.” More and more, colleges and universities are taking control of their own situation, despite mid-year budget cuts or the threat of them, and finding ways to do more with less.

Using technology in recruitment is just one way to making a difference in the bottom line. As colleges begin to think outside the box and challenge the “ways of yesterday”, our students will be able to soar to new heights; after all, it worked for the Wright Brothers.

Friday, December 12, 2008


December 12, 2008 - Last week, I…I mean a friend of mine, was telling me about his lunch. He stopped into McDonald’s even though there was a Burger King next door. Just this morning, I navigated three blocks north to grab a Dunkins black, 2 Splenda (sugar is bad for you) even though there was a Starbucks near my building. It got me thinking about how competition makes the world go round. With it, we get choices, value and benefits, of course, as long as we are making informed decisions. How would I know I preferred Facebook over MySpace, Coke (diet, of course) over Pepsi, and the Cubs over the White Sox (just kidding, Chicago office) if I hadn’t experienced both, right?

In our world of technology for college counseling, competition is now driving decision-making at the high school level. Last week’s NACAC list serve discussed some of the differences between ConnectEDU’s platforms – Connect! & PrepHQ - and the competition and, in so doing, demonstrated that in this economy high schools are doing their research. Here’s what they had to say:

We have started using ConnectEdu this year with our seniors. Our goal is to have our entire school (1200 students) registered and using Connect by the end of the school year. So far we have found Connect to be a useful tool and look forward to implementing it more in the future. It has helped us organize our college application process and improved our communication with the senior class. The kids that have really used Connect, seem to like it. We have not used (“competitive solution”), as a public school not having to pay for Connect was a real bonus.”

“We are using Connect here and are finding it very helpful to us. This is really our first full year of getting students actively involved in using the program. The support we receive is amazing! The cost effectiveness of this program is also extremely beneficial as we are facing a budget crisis. We cannot afford (“competitive solution”) and therefore only use Connect. I think it’s a great program.”

“We are currently using (“competitive solution”) and would be interested in how ConnectEDU could be a compliment or a replacement…”

“From what I hear, (“competitive solution”) continues to be a fine product, but we could not justify the cost when a free alternative was available.”

“…we switched to Prep HQ, which offers nearly the same services and is free. Prep HQ has now been bought by ConnectEdu. Customer service from Prep HQ has been outstanding, and that has not changed since their acquisition by Connect.”

“Prep HQ/ConnectEdu is free! So I’m saving money in my budget and using it. I have been very happy with it for the last 4 years. It has served our community well!

Clearly, some folks are making financial decisions in light of the looming budget cuts. They are realizing they can receive the same benefits through a solution provided by the sponsorship of our college partners – yes, no cost to the high school. As they begin to send electronic admissions documents, unique to ConnectEDU platforms, they’ll also cut existing costs associated with the college admission process. Sooner rather than later, the savings will run deeper than the competition’s purchase price. We already have some high schools reporting first-time savings of up to $10,000 dollars!

So as we all focus on tightening our economic belts during these struggling times we live in. ConnectEDU remains committed to saving high schools and students money.

Maybe that $1 menu isn’t so bad after all …

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Nightmare is All Too Real

December 5, 2008 - It was dark. I remember I was in a navy suit, but I had no shoes and I was climbing to the summit of Mt. McKinley. I knew it was Mt. McKinley because my assistant, Walter Cronkite told me so. OK, it was a weird dream, maybe more a nightmare, but when I got to the top I was confused and screaming at the top of my lungs about how I couldn’t afford to go to college. All I got was an echo.

I woke up in a cold sweat, checked to make sure my degree still had my name on it, and turned on the evening news.

All dreams mean something, so they say, and making a career out of helping colleges cut costs is coming full circle. This week the media frenzy around The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's Measuring Up 2008 Report shows that people are now listening. No more echo.

Just take a look at some of the headlines:

New York Times - College May Become Unaffordable for Most in U.S.

Christian Science Monitor - A Push to Boost College Graduation Rates

Boston Globe - Tuition Hammers Bay State, Study Says

Kansas City Star – Here’s a No-Brainer: Families in Missouri and Kansas are Bearing More of the College Cost Burden

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - National Study Finds State Lags in Working-Age Adults in College

Huntsville Times - Alabama Students Found Less Likely to Go to College

While every region of the country is examining their state of affairs, the national trends are clear. According to Patrick M. Callan, President of The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, “The key findings this year reveal that the nation and most of the 50 states are making some advances in preparing students for college and providing them with access to higher education. However, other nations are advancing more quickly than the United States; we continue to slip behind other countries in improving college opportunities for our residents.”

The results prove that while we are making small strides in opening access to higher education, cost is becoming a major deterrent. With the cost of attendance outpacing family income, students are not earning degrees at acceptable rates. Colleges are now realizing that spending is not going to improve retention, boost graduation rates, or open access. While luxury dorms and oversized student centers attracted students over the past decade, these expenses only increase tuition and unfortunately, don’t help students with their climb up the ivory tower. With a financial crisis on our doorsteps, it’s time to find practical ways to cut costs to make college more affordable. With the mountain growing steeper every day, we can’t afford to have more students turn back and lose their way!