Monday, December 28, 2009

Season's Greetings from ConnectEDU

December 28, 2009-

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway,
came at the evening, cold and gray,
to a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
through which was flowing a sullen tide,
the old man crossed in the twilight dim-
that sullen stream had no fears for him;
but he turned, when he reached the other side,
and built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
you never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
why build the bridge at the evenride?"

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"there followeth after me today
a youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
to that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross int he twilight dim;
good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

-Will Allen Dromgoole

For all the bridges we are building together. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Interesting Conversation on Facebook, Higher Education, and ConnectEDU

December 22, 2009- Recently, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts with the publisher of Today’s Campus Magazine, Jeff Wendt on a whole range of topics from our business and the early beginnings of ConnectEDU to Facebook and how it will continue to impact the industry of higher education. Check out the interview and let me know your thoughts. Would love to hear your comments, particularly around how colleges should or should not be utilizing Facebook in their recruitment and retention strategies. Obviously, the use of social media in higher education is a “hot” topic – one that garners a lot of varying opinions. Share yours!

Interview - Part 1

Interview - Part 2

While we are on the topic of social media, stay informed on these topics and more by following us on Twitter and YouTube.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Seeing is Believing

December 7, 2009 - If you’ve been following us lately on Blogger or Twitter, you are aware of the momentum that has been surrounding the adoption of SuperAPP – our application processing tool. To give you an idea of the rate of adoption to date, we signed over 20 colleges in the first thirty days and have doubled the number of SuperAPP partners since just last Wednesday – from 32 to 64!

Colleges throughout the nation are taking notice of SuperAPP and the numerous benefits, not the least of which are cost-savings and exposure to an untapped audience for many colleges (for more info, read the story on SuperAPP and the University of Iowa in the Daily Iowan).

As colleges continue to explore their application and admission process during these economic times, it is important to put the student perspective at the center of the process. This is how we approach the development of all of our technology tools here at ConnectEDU - with the student at the center. If you haven’t seen the YouTube video circulating around from College Application Week in Detroit, listen to what SuperAPP did for these students in the Detroit Public Schools – truly a game-changer in the application processing industry!

Check out our YouTube channel

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from ConnectEDU

November 25, 2009 - Besides quickly turning the dial when I hear ‘White Christmas’ playing on the radio, every year during this wonderful Thanksgiving week I find myself taking a breath to reflect. Not only to give thanks for the many things that I have been blessed with – good health, family, and friends but also my extended family at ConnectEDU that has once again provided me with the opportunity to look back at a year filled with “moving the needle”…

2009 has brought ConnectEDU some outstanding milestones: 1) a game changer in the application processing industry - SuperAPP, 2) a state-wide victory in our own back yard - Massachusetts, 3) continued growth of the ConnectEDU National Network™, and 4) the ConnectEDU team. What a year!

Our application processing solution – SuperAPP – became the industry’s first tool that allows a student to send a complete online application package to a college, in fact multiple applications – oh, and apply to 1,400 colleges simultaneously with only having to fill out one interview. For this exciting innovation which students, counselors, and colleges have long needed, I am thankful.

For winning the college and career planning portal contract in our own state of Massachusetts, I am thankful. We look forward to continuing to grow our partnership with MEFA, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Higher Education as we help young people throughout Massachusetts maximize their college and career opportunities.

For continuing to grow our network of high schools and colleges so that students around the country have more opportunities and access to reliable and accurate tools and data, I am thankful. Our network now includes over 2 million users at over 2,200 high schools and 300 colleges.

For the folks at ConnectEDU that every day dedicate themselves to making the college and career planning process a better, more efficient process for students… for each of them, I am thankful. And for the addition of key senior leaders that have joined our senior team to make ConnectEDU a better place while accelerating our growth. For the ConnectEDU team, I am thankful!

So, while I will take some time this week to enjoy catching up with family and friends, and partake in my fair share of the Thanksgiving feast, I also will be reflecting on ConnectEDU’s progress in 2009 and looking forward to the goals and milestones that we have already laid out for 2010.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Times They Are a Changing

November 19, 2009 - The good news and momentum around SuperAPP continues to mount here at ConnectEDU. As you read in my last blog post on November 10, ConnectEDU, in conjunction with our partners at the Detroit Public Schools and numerous colleges throughout Michigan, was able to help impact the educational futures of over 3,000 seniors during “College Application Week” in Detroit — thanks again to all who made that 3 day event such a huge success. Check out some insightful and enlightening never before seen footage and interviews from inside the Detroit high schools.

Building off that tremendous effort in Detroit and the recent launch of our application management solution, SuperAPP, at the end of September, I am pleased to inform you that we have added 21 new SuperAPP partners in the past 30 days…a true testament to the need for and importance of replacing the antiquated paper system currently in place for sending and receiving college applications. These new SuperAPP partner schools will now receive all of their application data electronically, and in the preferred format, as they take advantage of the cost savings associated with receiving these applications electronically.

The new colleges represent a wide geographic base of small, mid-sized and large schools and some of the country’s foremost institutions of higher learning, including: University of Iowa, Michigan State University, University of Maryland, Stevenson University, Grand Valley State University, and Mount St. Mary’s College. For a complete listing of our SuperAPP partners, visit our college network. This is a significant paradigm shift in the industry and one that we are very excited about…and confident will continue as more and more colleges see the benefits and cost savings associated with paperless applications.

Allow me, for a moment, to provide you with some context and support. Rather than using my own words, I want to share with you some of what is being said by others, including Michael Barron, Assistant Provost for Enrollment Services and Director of Admission, University of Iowa and Marcea, a senior at Detroit’s Pershing High School.

“ConnectEDU is the first organization to have successfully solved for one of the greatest dilemmas in college application processing – the entire completion of an applicant’s information which includes their electronic transcript. And, ConnectEDU has done this in a way that dramatically improves the ease for a student to apply to multiple colleges from a single web form."

"Today, I filled out and completed five college applications in less than forty-five minutes and it was a breeze,” said Marcea. “I think SuperAPP is a much easier way to apply than other online methods. You can understand the process and you simply fill in one form and send applications to as many colleges as you want."

Everything we do revolves around one question “What can we do to help students find, apply, and finance a college education and transition to a successful career?” Helping students is our passion. And we believe that one of the best ways to help students is to provide support for those whom students turn to for help – from family, to school counselors, to the college admissions office, to employers. SuperAPP embodies that commitment and passion and we couldn’t be happier that it is gaining the traction we envisioned and helping to give every student, from every neighborhood across the country, the best opportunity to achieve their dream of a college education and promising career.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

College Application Week in Detroit a Success

November 10, 2009- More than 3000 high school seniors in Detroit participated in College Application Week held last week in the Detroit Public Schools. This first of its kind event included nearly 40 volunteers from Michigan colleges and universities working alongside members of the ConnectEDU Cares Team. The event, which took place at 28 high schools in 3 days, was spearheaded by ConnectEDU and several college leaders including John Ambrose at Michigan State University, in response to growing concerns over staffing and resource cuts in the Detroit Public Schools.

I could share with you my own personal perspective on the many successes to come from this event, but why don’t you listen to the words of students whose lives we impacted. These students not only applied to college in one day but applied to several colleges many of which waived the application fees for them!

"Today, I filled out several different applications and it was a breeze. It was actually easy. I think SuperAPP is a much easier to way to apply - definitely online. It takes the hassle out of keep having to write things over and over."

- Marcea, Pershing High School

"I applied to Saginaw Valley State University, Central Michigan, Michigan State, University of Michigan... and Harvard. It was useful especially with the help you guys provided because at home sometimes we don't know the answer and no one in the house may know how to answer the question."

- Kevia, Pershing High School

College Application Week in Detroit proved to be a great example of the impact that occurs when colleges and high schools come together and are empowered with innovative technology to help students succeed. Imagine if this same collaboration was sustained by all colleges and high schools in a state, in a region, or better yet – in the nation. The work that took place last week was important because it placed student’s and their future education at the center of the event – colleges in Michigan, and staff at DPS, along with ConnectEDU realized that the situation in Detroit (the students specifically) needed a lift – not a quick fix – but a sustained collaborative effort that will result in students being empowered, along with their counselors, to utilize technology on a daily, weekly and monthly basis as they plan for and manage their college education and career.

At ConnectEDU, we pride ourselves on our ability to enable success for each and every student whether they are in an urban area such as Detroit or a rural area such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. To that end, College Application Week in Detroit is just the 1st, as far as I am concerned, of these type of outreach events that will take place throughout the country in the years to come.

In the end, College Application Week was about results – results and opportunities for the seniors in the Detroit Public Schools. In just 3 days, with the help of the ConnectEDU Cares Team and the college volunteers, students used SuperAPP to complete nearly 3400 college applications to over 150 colleges! Most students were able to complete all of their applications in less than 1.5 hours using SuperAPP.

Again – the students say it best. Here is just one of the thank you’s received from students in Detroit-

“I attend Cass Tech and I was just e-mailing you to let you know that I completed the application, and that everything is ok and going good and thank you for the assistance. It was greatly appreciated!” (student at Cass Tech High School that participated in College Application Week )

That is the reason we are here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Access for More Students—Practicing What We Preach

October 26, 2009 - For those of you who are regular readers of my blog I hope it has become clear that ConnectEDU’s societal mission is to give EVERY student access to – regardless of means – the best opportunity for the best education and career choice possible. Our company and its services were created by and for students, their families and those who serve them. We know how difficult and complex the college and career search process can be. And we know how hard it is to effectively and efficiently navigate that system – whether you’re a teenage student or their parent or their high school counselor. That is why we measure everything we do and every dollar we invest, by one simple question – “how does this help the student?”

This week, we will be melding that philosophy of helping students, their families, and their high school guidance counselors with our proven information technology expertise and first-of-its-kind application management solution, SuperAPP, in order to provide an opportunity for more than 5,000 Detroit Public School students to receive side-by-side assistance with applications and the college process.

As I have also made clear in the past, we are open to working with any organization, institution or application provider so long as the focus is on providing more access to more students, reducing costs and driving efficiency. We will practice what we preach this week when we partner with the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) and many of the leading universities and colleges within the state of Michigan including Michigan State University, Wayne County Community College, Marygrove College, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Saginaw Valley State University, Western Michigan University and Wayne State University. Collectively, ConnectEDU, DPS and these participating colleges from across Michigan will be on-site at 27 Detroit Public high schools, offering resources and advise to students to help them complete their college applications. All high school seniors will participate in the application workshops, utilizing ConnectEDU’s SuperAPP tool which allows students to complete multiple applications at once and submit them online. The goal is to introduce as many students as possible to the college admissions process and help guide them down the educational path that makes the most sense for them.

As we all know, Detroit has been hit hard by the current economic recession and this has, in turn, had a significant impact within the Detroit Public Schools as it relates to budget cuts affecting staffing and resources. We feel that “College Application Week in Detroit Public Schools” is an opportunity to work in conjunction with others that believe, like us, that success in getting to college shouldn’t be determined by where you live, how much money your family has, or how fancy your school is.

We are looking forward to a great week in Detroit and to making an impact in student’s lives and providing some positive momentum for a city and for students who deserve it. Stay tuned for my next post which will provide an update on the the 3 day event.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ConnectEDU Cares Program Active in the Community

October 16, 2009- The ConnectEDU Cares program, an initiative at ConnectEDU designed to improve the physical, mental, and social well-being of our team members while educating and supporting one another on the path to a happier and healthier lifestyle, is making an impact on the local community. In addition to encouraging our team members to help one another, ConnectEDU Cares reaches out to our community to impact those initiatives important to us.

Recently, ConnectEDU team members registered for Hub on Wheels and completed a 50 mile bike ride. On Sunday, September 27th, ConnectEDU’s Andrew Morrison and Erik Peterson participated in the 50 mile bike ride across Boston in the pouring rain to raise over $500 for classroom technology within the Boston Public Schools. And I am told only one flat tire along the way!

Andrew and Erik were among over four thousand riders, and more than four hundred volunteers that came together to raise the most money to date for the Technology Goes Home program, helping Boston Public School students get the technology and skills they need to succeed in today's world.

Technology Goes Home (TGH) has served over 3,500 families through the BPS and community programs during a nine year period. The TGH program, while teaching technology skills to underprivileged families, brings students, parents, and teachers together at school in an atmosphere that fosters trust and community building, particularly between parents and teachers.

Congratulations to Andrew and Erik for continuing ConnectEDU’s mission outside the office to help young people effectively use technology to maximize their college and career potential. We’ll continue to keep you updated on the efforts and accomplishments of ConnectEDU Cares throughout the year.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Comparing Apples to Oranges

"SuperAPP IS NOT an Application Format, It is an Application Management Solution"

October 13, 2009 - As mentioned in my last post, we are starting to see some really passionate and healthy dialogue taking place related to the college application process and how to improve access for all students. I feel this is a great discussion and a topic worth exploring.

In various communications I have had with people on Twitter, or remarks I have seen on comment boards or in the text of feature articles, it has been implied, or directly stated, that SuperAPP is an application format. (For the purpose of discussion let me also define what I mean by “application format”… Application Format means the format in which the application material must be presented, assembled or transmitted. Meaning that the college must adhere to a particular format of an application… such is the case with the Common Application.) That is just not the case with SuperAPP – SuperAPP IS NOT an application format. It is an Application Management Solution.

SuperAPP is far more comprehensive and was designed for a completely different use then an application format solution — in fact, SuperAPP is designed to work with and integrate into whatever college application format a college chooses, including the Common Application. So whether a college uses the Common Application, a custom application that they have created on their own, the Universal College Application, a CollegeNet application, or any other application format solution, SuperAPP can accommodate.

So does this mean that a student can use SuperAPP to complete a Common Application? Yes, it does. In fact, students using SuperAPP can complete their Common Application for Common Application schools while simultaneously applying to colleges that are not on the Common Application network and use a different application format.

Click on images for more detail

SuperAPP is a smart technology that interprets numerous college application formats, identifies the common characteristics, and then creates a single application for the student to complete based on the colleges that they wish to apply and the commonalities of those various application formats. Then, once the student has completed their single application, SuperAPP de-couples the single application into the original application formats of each college — a true application management solution.

The Common Application requires colleges to adopt their format (but most have supplements which means that they all end up with their own “custom” formats anyway, eliminating the benefits for the student, but who’s counting) in order for them to make the process easier for the student. CDU’s SuperAPP makes the process easier for everyone – student, counselor and college – and nobody has to change their application format.

SuperAPP even goes one step further. Because SuperAPP is deployed through Connect!, and integrated with the high school’s student information system, SuperAPP can pre-populate over 85% of the student’s applications before they even start the process. This is a HUGE time saver for students!

As I have stated before, this is the best way to provide a streamlined process to as many students, counselors and colleges as possible. And, at the end of the day, every student, from every neighborhood across the country is given the best opportunity to achieve their dream of a college education and promising career.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments via Blogger or via Twitter (you can follow me at CraigPowellCDU).

Friday, October 2, 2009

“Common or Elitist” Article Creates A Stir… Allow Me To Clarify A Couple Items

October 2, 2009 - By way of background, Inside Higher Ed recently ran an article titled “Common or Elitist” that discussed concerns about college access as it relates to the application process itself and several of the providers that offer college application solutions. Most notably, the article took focus on the Common Application and challenged the notion that it was for the “common” student, applying to “common” colleges. And as is the joy of working in a marketplace of passionate people that are dedicated to helping students succeed, a very passionate debate has ensued as a result of this article.

I think this ensuing debate is fantastic!… not just because I love a good discussion, but because the discussion shines a light on the fact that, currently, EVERY student does not have access to the tools and resources necessary to maximize their education and career opportunities. Instead, many of the streamlining technologies and “process” components are only available to a subset of the student and/or college population- something that ConnectEDU is dedicated to resolving!

I would also like to clarify some of the implications that the article punched up. Specifically, I would like to clarify the context in which the topic of common vs. elitism was raised as it relates to my comments in the article. Let me start by saying that I agree with those that read the article and drew the conclusion that I was advocating that there shouldn’t be any standards in the admissions process; it certainly reads that way. However, that is not the context in which I made my comments. My comment was the following –

“That because the Common Application restricts its member institutions to only those that conduct a ‘360 Degree Evaluation’ they exclude many institutions that are historically known for their dedication to the college access student population. This would include community colleges as well as open admission institutions. As a result we do not believe that the Common Application meets the needs of most students. If that is what it means to be elitist, then, perhaps that is an accurate conclusion.”

I want to clearly state that I am a firm believer in the need for admissions requirements and standards in the admissions process. But I am also a fervent believer that common solutions must meet the needs of the common student. And the common student in the college process is not applying to institutions that require 360 degree applicant evaluations. That said, a common solution must also meet the needs of these 360 degree evaluation institutions as well as those institutions that have a more “open” college admissions requirements. In fact, this is the exact reason that we launched SuperAPP.

However, there are some comments to the article that appear to be very misleading or, at a minimum, are very confusing to me. In particular, those referencing that a 501c3 isn’t focused on market share. This is in stark contrast to our efforts to partner with a number of 501c3’s in the education space, including the Common Application.

For the past two years, ConnectEDU has made a concerted effort to partner with the Common Application to streamline and facilitate the college application process for our students that are applying to Common Application institutions. Each year we have been “played” down a path in an effort that the cynic in me believes was designed to keep us out of the college application process. Most recently, we were told by the Executive Director of the Common Application that they would not work with us unless we refused to work with any other college application providers and entered into an exclusive agreement with the Common Application.

To us, this does not at all feel like a 501c3 that is focused on making the college application process as streamlined as possible and as simple as possible for EVERY student. Instead, this is much more consistent with an organization that is solely focused on maintaining and/or dominating market share. The irony of which is it is us that has said “no” to this behavior… that we were willing to work with and integrate into whatever college application solution the colleges have selected as being the best option for them. Our logic is that this is the best way to provide a streamlined process to as many students, counselors and colleges as possible. Again, this is the exact reason that we have launched SuperAPP. We will work with any and all application providers, but we will not be exclusive to any single provider in their effort to protect their market share. Nor will we assist an individual vendor accumulate more market share. For us, this is about servicing the student, not the volume or transaction revenue generated by any given application provider… even the Common Application.

We continue to welcome the opportunity to partner with any and all application providers; including the Common Application so long as the focus is on providing more access to more students, reducing costs and driving efficiency. Currently, colleges using our SuperAPP platform CAN receive the Common Application as well as any of the applications that they have designed with any of the other major application providers in the marketplace. As a result, we believe SuperAPP is a true “democratizer” of access.

I am very interested in hearing from those that want to join us in our effort to drive college access for ALL students as well as access to students for ALL colleges. I welcome your thoughts and comments via Blogger or via Twitter (you can follow me at CraigPowellCDU).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcome Back to College

September 7, 2009 - It’s back to college all across America. In Boston, it means gridlocked streets lined with Uhauls and sidewalks piled high with mini-fridges, crates of Ramen Noodles, and cases of Red Bull. In a city that bubbles with 113,273 college students, it means Fall has officially arrived.

For college freshman, this Fall is unique in that our students have enrolled in the wake of the recent recession. They have embarked on an academic journey that for 2/3 of the population will severely challenge their wallets – some to the point where they will be forced to end their trip. Hopefully, they have done their due diligence to arrive at the school that is a right fit for them and maps to their career aspirations for after they graduate. Unfortunately, retention statistics tell us that this isn’t always the case and many students don’t figure that out until it’s too late.

This year it would appear that the problems will only worsen. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article reporting that students are borrowing more than ever before to make college a reality. The article predicts a remodeled future for graduates based on grueling loan repayment periods. Delayed marriages, delayed mortgages, delayed families. It’s been a growing trend over the past few decades, but will become more widespread as our young people continue to accrue large debt at a very young age. Of course, that becomes an issue for the students who actually graduate and can find work to start making payments and eliminate their debt– which now is averaging 10 years for students to complete.

WSJ reports that as “New numbers from the U.S. Education Department show that federal student-loan disbursements — the total amount borrowed by students and received by schools in the 2008-09 academic year — grew about 25% over the previous year, to $75.1 billion.”

According to the article, the continued availability of these funds allows colleges to increase tuition, thinking families are still able to afford to enroll. As a matter of fact, the average student debt burden has almost doubled in only the past dozen years. And as the government trends towards lifting loan ceilings instead of monitoring tuition increases, the problems will persist. Students will continue to question whether or not they made the right decision – after the fact.

In my last blog, I focused on our technology’s ability to help students reconcile career decisions with college choices and, ultimately, debt burdens. We believe, in as early as grade 7, students should be making sensible decisions about their college and career planning. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. As reported in the WSJ,

Some recent graduates say they wish they had known more about the consequences of debt before taking it on. Lillian Russell graduated from law school at the University of Pittsburgh last year with $181,000 in debt from her seven years in school. She has spent much of the past year looking for work. In recent weeks, she found a job clerking at a small law office. While she settles into her job, she has deferred payments on most of her federal loans, though interest continues to accrue.

"I wish I had considered the long-term impacts of what I was getting into," Ms. Russell says. When she entered school, "the idea was I'd take out the loans, get a job, and pay it back," she says. It seemed straightforward. But as the economy has soured, "I feel like it's shifted a lot of my life goals.”

The college and career planning process in fact, is everything but straightforward! At ConnnectEDU, we know this firsthand. That is why we will continue to provide our tools to students with the goal of helping them avoid the mistake that Lillian Russell feels she made after realizing she didn’t have enough information in her decision-making… this is becoming a very expensive mistake!

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Price of Education

August 31, 2009 - This weekend, the country mourned as Senator Ted Kennedy was laid to rest. Sure, there are plenty of controversial issues he tackled over his 47 years as the Lion of the Senate, but his desire to level the playing field in higher education access was something in which people from both sides of the aisle took notice. From having dedicated my career to this mission, I have learned that this doesn’t have to be a partisan political issue but rather an American issue. It’s an issue we take very seriously at ConnectEDU.

A recent opinion piece published in the Boston Globe, written by Michael Dannenberg (a former Kennedy staffer BTW) of the New America Foundation sheds some light on how we need to change the course of higher education in regards to cost.

We can all agree that the cost of tuition is getting out of control. Besides outpacing the cost of living increases and inflation, it is becoming unaffordable for large populations of young people. But, families across America continue to invest in a college education, with their large loans, based on the value they place on it. According to Dannenberg, “families choose colleges and borrow almost blindly. They have relatively little information as to how good an investment a particular school is. Ranking guides like that of US News & World Report focus on the top 20 percent of schools and inputs like class size as opposed to outcomes like how much students learn.” (also read my latest tweet on the topic at We are working to make sure families have the information they need to select the very best college for them.

While in recent years, there has been much discussion and policy to get students to get to college – there has been a blind eye to what happens once they arrive or when they graduate from their selected college. What it comes down to is a student’s ability to afford college (i.e. get access to the funds initially) and then repay his or her debt after they graduate from the school. Did the student depart early from college? Did they depart with a degree? Do they have a job? What level of salary can he or she expect to earn in order to make the monthly payment? While a family’s ROI (Return On Investment)is rarely discussed within higher ed circles, it is starting to become a paramount focus for families. While class size, student satisfaction ratings and nice dorms do carry weight in ranking a school, why are outcomes not more of a weighted determining factor? And how much value should I place on these other factors if at the end of the day, I don’t have a job or can’t afford the debt that I’ve incurred?

And while CDU agrees with Dannenberg’s call for a complex new system of ranking schools to construct a higher education value index, ConnectEDU is taking an intermediate, but important, approach to helping families. Our tools offer a student the ability to compare projected debt burden and payback payments to starting salaries for their career choice – and they can do this in as early as the 7th grade! Helping students analyze their debt ratio early on… a first step in helping them make good decisions when it comes to borrowing and determining which schools they can afford.

Providing students these tools to understand what they are getting into, to gain a broader perspective of their future, and to help them make better-informed decisions is a win-win for all involved in student success – students, colleges and lenders!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Think Outside of the Box

August 10, 2009- It was a warm summer evening, a great night to stop over my buddy’s place to escape the humid city air. Besides a cool ocean breeze blowing into the kitchen, I was met with a pile of boxes piling across the breakfast nook. I knew the housing market was reportedly rebounding, but I had no idea my friend and his family were planning to move without so much as a mention. I was quickly corrected when his son came in and dropped a stack of brochures into a box labeled “out of state”. It then all made sense; he was organizing his college recruitment material. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was shocked to see so many pieces ‘inside the box”.

A recent blog in the New York Times caught my attention, on the subject of college recruiting. Although the article, based on a recent Sports Illustrated expose focused on the extreme of athletic practices, the trend is indicative of college recruitment across the country. Consider this: for one gifted athlete, the total amount of paper wasted to get this student’s attention resulted in 135 pounds of paper. Regarding waste, SI reported calculations that if each of the 347 Division I basketball programs sends 2.4 pounds of mail annually to 200 kids, the environmental impact each year of the production of that paper would be:

  • the consumption of 220 tons of wood, the equivalent of about 1,526 trees;

  • greenhouse gas emissions equal to what 39 cars produce in a year, and the use of enough energy to power 32 homes for a year;

  • and 167,034 pounds of solid waste, which would fill six garbage trucks, and 1,423,939 gallons of wastewater, the equivalent of two swimming pools' full.

It might be comforting to believe that this is a special case only for elite athletes, or an exception to the rule, but unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, if anything college athletic recruitment would appear to be “environmental” by comparison to the recruitment of the typical undergraduate. Students who’ve never stepped foot onto an athletic field or competed on a gym floor are being sent endless streams of printed materials telling prospects about their dedicated faculty, academic excellence, and beautiful campuses. Some come addressed to the student. Some indicate they know a data point about the student like an SAT score. Some are simply sent blind. It’s a growing industry getting more intense as competition for fewer students increases. And, in the midst of concern about shrinking budgets and a contracting student population, many in the industry are going to what they know best – paper!

ConnectEDU is focused on reversing this trend. Colleges might support a continued communication plan that involves three brochure mailers, four postcards, a few emails and several phone calls. But at ConnectEDU, we believe enrollment marketing should begin with real data to identify the right students. With a better sense of who the student is, recruiters in admissions can better target their message… actually connect with students, perhaps even BUILD A RELATIONSHIP. If the message is compelling enough for that one student, there may not be a need for 2.4 pounds of paper clogging the mailbox. Remember that student athlete being recruited? Interesting to note he chose a college that never sent a direct mail piece and strictly relied on personal contact with the right message… um, perhaps relationship development is the key!

Imagine a student telling a college they only wanted to stay in the Northeast. University of Colorado wouldn’t need to waste the postage. Think about a student telling a college they only wanted to play Division III baseball. Georgia Tech could stop the presses. Picture a student telling a college they wanted to attend a community college. University of New Hampshire could cancel the mail house. Eliminate waste.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a junior - with a 3.0 GPA, 1120 SATs, who played volleyball but didn’t start on the varsity team, spent two summers on missions in Central America, and won the statewide science fair for his talking robot – actually connected electronically with a college admission officer at a school in suburban Boston with an engineering degree program, a Latin America ministry program, and men’s intramural and Division III volleyball teams? You’re thinking how can that be? Wouldn’t you have to mail at least four different brochures?

It may sound like an impossible task, (and, please, excuse my sarcasm) but it is in fact unbelievably achievable. Just look at an industry such as employment recruiting which made the transition in the 90’s. The ConnectEDU National Network makes it possible as well.

Students within Connect! are showcasing their academic accomplishments, their extracurricular activities, their areas of interest, their college preferences and other data to paint a more complete picture of who they are. In turn, colleges are able to identify and communicate with students using more points of validated data (not only self-reported data) than has ever been available. Soon the days of excessive recruitment materials will be a thing of the past and our college campuses can remain tree-lined.

[Stay tuned til next week when I’ll discuss how these inefficiencies in the paper recruitment process also perpetuate the college access problem for many students.]

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hitting The Road

August 6, 2009 - It’s summer. And all across America, people are packing up their RVs, minivans and SUVs and hitting the road. They’re heading to the coasts and trekking to the mountains. They’re off to sightsee in places they’ve only read about. They’re exploring unknown places they’ve only seen on tv. Now imagine, on a whim, you pack up your family and drive 500 miles away to experience someplace new – someplace educational for the kids. Let’s say, Washington D.C.

After about 10 hours in the car you cruise down Pennsylvania Avenue, take a glimpse at the White House, turn your head and quickly take in the Capital, glance at the Lincoln Memorial, although you can’t see Lincoln inside, then find a parking spot and run through the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Now hop back in the minivan and turn back for home with vague memories of neoclassic architecture and million year old fossils. Not the ideal vacation to say the least in a city that you could spend weeks exploring and still not experience all it has to offer.

Well according to a recent article in the Boston Globe, for graduates of local high schools, that’s what it’s like for our college-bound population. Kids are getting to college, but leaving early.

Educators are celebrating an increase in the number of students who graduate high school and transition to college. Higher than the national average, 78% of the city’s seniors enrolled in a two-year or four-year school. But later in the article The Globe reports, “A landmark study conducted by the Center for Labor Market Studies last year on the city’s high school classes of 2000 found that only about a third of those who enrolled in college had graduated seven years later.” (That’s right SEVEN years later.) It’s one thing to get to college, but if students don’t benefit from all it has to offer, and ultimately leave early without a degree (and likely a significant debt burden) is that success?

Critics say that high schools need to increase the academic rigor to make sure students are better prepared. They believe they are addressing the root of the persistence problem. Others take a more band-aid approach and call for partnerships with non-profits to provide academic support while students are in college. These critics believe this after-the-fact approach will help students persist.
Yet isn’t academic preparedness only one, albeit substantial, determining factor in college graduation rates? There exists a myriad of reasons why large numbers of academically-sound students drop out of college, including financial resources as stated in the article. In fact, the number one reason students drop-out is because they lack a four-year financial plan.

And as more first-generation students enroll in college, a disconnect between the process of “going to college” and “why I am going to college” widens. More students are entering an institution and simply do not have a plan or a career pathway – complete with goals, financing, a checklist of what they need to achieve and the order in which it needs to be achieved, who’s monitoring and/or assisting and guiding them. Why can’t we get this right in this country?

As an education system, we’ve become adept at telling our young people they need to earn a college degree. We require them to visit the guidance office senior year. We hand them applications for schools we think they’d get into. We send them on their way in June. What we (educators and employers) need to do is work with our young people in earlier stages and throughout each of the stages to help them develop a career pathway, ensure that they stay on that plan, that the plan is affordable and doable, that we can intervene and motivate as needed. We wouldn’t drive to Washington DC without a map, road signs and safety nets to keep us well rested and fueled up… so why do we send kids off to college in hopes that they’ll find their way but without any of the basic tools needed to navigate?

Fortunately, innovations are available to bring counselors, employers and students together to empower the student with resources and information for creating a sensible, individual plan. Showing students what is possible – and what they need to do to make it possible - will help guide their decisions as they transition to the right college and the right career. Solutions are available that allow adults to engage the student throughout their process – high school, then college, then their career. With the right tools, students can figure out where they want to be, how to make getting there affordable, the benefits of being there, and furthermore, how to get them on that road to success with no turning back.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wearing a New Hat

July 28, 2009- Community colleges have worn many hats since they proliferated the education space in the 1960s and 70s. We think of community colleges as a place for adult learners to test the waters of higher education and gain credentials for the workforce. That’s still a large segment of their market. Yet, community colleges have been so much more.

Executives with master’s degrees have enrolled to pick up a skill they could use for work- like how to master Excel. Visiting undergrads have stepped on campus to redeem themselves after falling short first semester freshman year at a state university. Even for people in the community who never stepped into a classroom, they may have played in a high school basketball tournament or won a state semifinal in baseball on campus. Community Colleges have always been woven into the fabric of our communities.

This month, the federal government is shining a spotlight on community colleges with another hat to wear, specifically a re-visited role to help displaced workers transition into new positions in the workforce. The New York Times recently pointed out that, “Even before the announcement Tuesday, the Obama administration had put unprecedented emphasis on two-year institutions. Martha J. Kanter, the former chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College district in California, was tapped for the second-highest job in the Education Department. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan chose a Miami community college for his first official visit to an institution of higher education, and last month Mr. Duncan announced a $7 million grant program for community colleges to train laid-off auto workers and other displaced workers. And it has not hurt that Jill Biden, the Vice President’s wife, teaches at a community college.” Those of us who follow higher education, can’t help but notice this shift.

While the story may read as simple as a celebration that twelve billion dollars is going to the nation’s community college network – take a closer look at what that means for our higher education system. Think about all time high enrollments and all time high budget cuts and what that means for the retention of students – students with diverse socio-economic as well as academic backgrounds. Now add to the formula, the additional 5 million students who the new administration is hoping to channel into the community college system for job training and workforce development. It feels like it could be a bit overwhelming to the system – unless community colleges are proactive in their preparation.

This summer at the Council of North Central Two Year Colleges (CNCTYC) president’s retreat, it was clear that progressive community college leaders are rethinking their business as usual. They realize that making small changes can add up to big results when it comes to servicing students and improving the student experience – whether they are enrolling for an accelerated certificate or a longer-term degree program. This means innovation, such as investigating online delivery options as well as new technology-based student service models to guide retention and completion efforts.

We’ve been working with CNCTYC’s member schools to demonstrate the value of providing technology to students to identify a career goal, manage their curriculum and map out their degree path, especially at a time when the link between education and employment is so imperative. The more resources, information, and practical tools we can provide to learners – the more empowered they become as students. We’ll continue to work with community colleges to meet the needs of the growing number of community college students as the federal plan unfolds.

Hats off to those recognizing the value of community colleges and their role in the recovery of our economy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

ConnectEDU Partners Share A Collaborative Vision at Annual Summit

July 20, 2009- Last week, we had the privilege of welcoming our shareholders to the ConnectEDU Annual Shareholders Meeting. Held at the Starr Center in Boston, the annual summit program included a 12 month summary of ConnectEDU’s progressive development and an overview of what is next on the Company’s accelerated growth plan.

The highlight of the evening was hearing from two of our key partners in the ConnectEDU National Network™ – Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, and Chris Anderson, Executive Director at the Massachusetts High Technology Council. Hearing first hand from partners who share our mission and passion to empower students to manage their education and launch their career was energizing to say the least!

Following this year’s annual summit, remarks were made to me that this was our best shareholder meeting to date. I couldn’t agree more! Both the involvement of our partners as well as our staff, brought a synergy to the group that was very apparent. After reflecting over the weekend, I am excited that our shareholders shared in the same passion that I see everyday - both from our partners and from our staff – and realize that all involved are committed to one goal – empowering students to manage their education and launch their career.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Joining Forces

July 10, 2009- In this economy, as businesses are meandering through changing times, there’s no shortage of mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships in every industry imaginable. Is Fiat buying Chrysler? When is ITT taking over Daniel Webster College? While all too common these days, it is nothing new. Think Williams and Sonoma, Proctor and Gamble, and Exxon and Mobil. Fortunately, joining forces often yields a better organization and a better result for the consumer. Such is the case at ConnectEDU.

As we near the first anniversary of Prep HeadQuarters joining Connect! in the ConnectEDU National Network™, I’ve been reflecting on the success of the past year – how taking two platforms with similar missions has strengthened a national network for college and career planning. As I look to the future, I’ve also been thinking about the evolution of other success stories where organizations joined forces to make change on a national scale.

How about when Barnes met Noble, for example?

When in 1873 Charles M. Barnes opened a home book business in Wheaton, Illinois, he probably didn’t envision his son William joining forces with G. Clifford Noble to open the first Barnes & Noble in New York in 1917. It may not have crossed his mind that later during the Great Depression their flagship Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue would become known as the premier bookstore in the nation. Combining forces proved to be effective.

Neither the Barnes family nor Noble probably knew that across town in Greenwich Village several decades later, a college bookstore clerk at NYU decided he could better serve students with his own competing bookstore and opened The Student Book Exchange in 1965 and soon thereafter expanded to operate several other college bookstores. In the 70s, this one-time bookstore clerk turned entrepreneur Leonard Riggio added the flagship Barnes & Noble store to its own operations and turned it into the “Largest bookstore in the World”. Other 1980s acquisitions of B. Dalton Booksellers, Doubleday Book Shops and Scribner’s bookstore name, propelled B&N onto a national stage. Combining forces proved to be effective.

Of course, since there is probably a B&N somewhere near your home, you know the rest of the history. It’s interesting to understand the unexpected twists and planned turns behind the growth of a company – something we never lose sight of at ConnectEDU as we build our national reputation.

Like the various moves that helped Barnes & Noble become a national name, the combination of Connect! and PrepHQ in the ConnectEDU National Network over the past year has been a success story of growth in the marketplace.

Swiftly, we’ve become the nation’s largest and most prolific college and career planning network with 20% of the college bound student population, in part due to the services-oriented philosophy we expanded upon with the leadership of the PrepHQ team. In addition to providing the best experience to our current users, we’ve expanded the network faster than in any previous year, a precarious year when schools are seeking technology to save money.

For our college partners who joined the network to provide greater access to students, expansion means hundreds of thousands of more students to meet and help!

As we celebrate the successful merger of the Connect! and PrepHQ teams under the ConnectEDU umbrella, we continue to make progress in a changing marketplace. We continue to strengthen our network with robust partnerships, expanded offerings, and a dedication to the students and families we serve.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

School's Out

July 2, 2009- Here in the Northeast, the mounds of snow, icy roads, and howling winds are months behind us, yet they echoed in the halls of every school that had to wait until the end of June for their final day. Despite the 50 degree weather and incessant rainfall around me, it’s officially summer and school’s out.

That got me thinking about how some decisions in education are rarely challenged- how change is so hard to muster when it comes to systems that were put in place long before our time. Take summer vacation. I don’t know many school age kids who still hit the fields to help their Ma and Pa plow the land or harvest the crop - and I grew up in a place where that really means something. There was a time when from sun up 'til sun down, during a period in which we were developing our education system, that students stopped going to school and made their way to the fields. It was a matter of survival. The result was a summer vacation, still unchanged today except hoes and pitchforks have been replaced by sunscreen, beach towels and summer camp.

This week at the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ summer meeting in Boston – aggressive models for change were discussed in an effort to deal with the financial crisis. One such model coming out of Arizona is a proposal to create a “no frills” education where the student experience is modified or stripped down, depending how you look at it - meaning greater student/faculty ratios and less services. Reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The program is envisioned as a middle ground between the state’s research universities and its community colleges. Students would receive Arizona State degrees, but they would not have the student-life or research opportunities available to students on the main campus. Tuition would be lower than the cost of attending one of the existing campuses…” And, in New Hampshire they already have a similar model underway with the University of Southern New Hampshire.

The good news is that colleges are thinking about large-scale changes – changing the way they’ve been doing business for decades. And, this new approach seems to be in stark contrast to the over-building era of the 90's and early in the current decade when colleges competed with state-of-the-art fitness facilities, student union game rooms and bowling alleys. Far gone are those days!

Of concern is whether or not these proposed changes are at the expense of the student; perhaps not a monetary expense but at the expense of outcomes. Anyone who’s studied Vincent Tinto’s research, knows how an engaged student experience leads to positive retention outcomes... and therefore completion rates. Minimizing these initiatives, or the “thrills”, may lead to a greater retention issue than that which already exists.

So why in education are we always focused on change at the most drastic of levels? Why not evaluate our operational processes and look for savings and efficiencies in the way that we conduct business... things like admission processing, better yield prediction models, leveraging of endowment and state funds to create capital risk pools and drive down the cost of an education, moving our utilization of our capital expenditures (buildings) beyond the 15% utilization rate that is so commonly accepted today. Aren't there some more basic measures that we can be taking?

At ConnectEDU, we continue to explore cost-saving solutions for colleges including how they connect with students. We’re committed to finding solutions that help colleges save money by using accessible technology for admission and enrollment marketing. We want to improve the admissions process so MORE students have the opportunity of getting into school and colleges can further concentrate on helping students get out of school… with a degree!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Making Connections

June 29, 2009- Imagine you’re 17 again. You still follow the same routine as did generations before you – you rise at the crack of dawn, you know your buddy will be rolling his old, beat-up pick-up truck down your driveway to get you, you’ll swing by and load up 4 of your other cronies, and you’re to school. The same school where your dad drove his buddies 25 years earlier. Once you’re there, you host a small meeting of the minds around your dented locker. The same locker that was a temporary home to at least ten other kids before you, who all similarly struggled to master the combination, which mysteriously got stuck every try. Some things never change.

But some things do change. Look around to see every kid with their thumbs fluttering feverishly on their smart phones texting their friends – the same friends standing about 15 feet away. Perhaps you passed notes when the teacher turned to the chalkboard? Oh yeah, and remember the chalkboard? They don’t exist anymore. Most lessons are delivered using a Smart Board or better yet, on-line. I won’t explain the technology, but you get the point. Students are using technology in ways you might have never imagined when we were younger. And for those of us who deal with students today, using technology to communicate with young people is essential… it’s their comfort zone!

Undeniably, the new generation relies on technology for most everything they do. If they want to see what’s up at the movies, they don’t call MoviePhone – they use the movie app on their phone. If they search for colleges, they don’t thumb through fat guidebooks, they google it.

At ConnectEDU, we’ve learned through our counselors and students that they want to use technology to drive their college planning process. In a world where they are connected to everything and everyone around them, it only makes sense that they also be digitally connected to the colleges/employers that are of interest to them. We use our technology to provide a vehicle for students to meet colleges/employers in the most efficient, validated and targeted manner.

While we may provide the most robust solution, we’re not the only ones involved in online enrollment marketing. And more folks are trying to get in front of students. Recently, it was uncovered that U.S. News & World Report, a leader in college rankings, will be attempting to connect students with colleges. Like many of the self-reported solutions online, the U.S. News portal will commercially try and match students with colleges, the same colleges they rank for their ever-popular and often-controversial BEST COLLEGES edition.

ConnectEDU continues to use verified data to help students find colleges that are a best fit for them and to help colleges find students who will thrive at their college. We’ll continue to help the college planning process change with the times, to modernize in a world of technology, and to make sure students and their best interests remain at the top of the list.

Monday, June 22, 2009

This week I wanted to share a letter that helps sum up why we do what we do at ConnectEDU.

June 20, 2009- As a growing company, our Vice President of Human Resources has the opportunity to meet a variety of candidates from entry level applicants to prospective senior managers. Essentially, she gets to introduce these folks to all that is ConnectEDU. And of course, after each interview, she routinely receives a note or email of thanks. One recent candidate delivered more than the perfunctory thank you note, which got our attention for a few reasons. I wanted to share it:

Dear Katie,

I wanted to thank you for asking me to interview for the position at ConnectEDU yesterday. I hope you’ll agree that my experience and qualifications make me well suited to help the company further its mission among the high school market. Whether or not I am asked to move forward in the hiring process, I wanted to let you know how I value the efforts that the Company is making to change what can be a confusing process for young people. Coincidentally, after we met, I was speaking to my stepsister about the job and I learned she used ConnectEDU this year for her college planning.

Beth and I discussed how different our processes were and, although we briefly discussed this in our interview, I wanted to elaborate and let you know that I understand the problem ConnectEDU is trying to solve on a personal level. I graduated in the top 10% of my senior class and ran cross-country for four years; was captain my senior year. I also wrote for the school newspaper. I had decent SAT scores and my counselor told me that Syracuse had a good communications program; evidently his wife’s cousin went there and had a great job at a daily newspaper. After reading through countless guidebooks and checking out websites, I made it my goal to get admitted into the Newhouse School at Syracuse.

When it was time to apply I filled out a hard copy of the application, wrote a touching essay about some personal issues going on in my life at the time, and ordered my transcripts through my counselor’s office. I did the same thing six more times for six other college applications. That was in December. Then I waited.

The holidays passed and my friends who applied early decision were celebrating, and some were crying. In January, someone from a loan company came to our school for a financial aid presentation. I scrambled to fill out the FAFSA. February came and I still waited. In March I started to receive letters in the mail from the six schools who accepted me. They were all state schools in New England so I was pretty confident I’d get in and actually relieved when I did. Newhouse (Syracuse) was my reach school.

By April, I was tired of opening the mailbox looking for something from Syracuse. I decided to call someone there to check on my status. After about a week of phone calls back and forth, I learned that materials were missing from my application file. The reason it took so long to get an answer was someone had entered my name as Connor not Conner and I was not showing up on the computer. With that fixed we were able to determine that my mid-semester transcripts had not arrived even though the counseling office secretary said it had been mailed. I have no idea where it got lost on its way, but I ended up having one sent (over-night, priority). I saw the receiving signature so I know it got there.

Long story short, I did get admitted. Unfortunately, for me it was too late as I was told the institutional aid had already been distributed and my parents were not willing to take out the giant loans I would have needed for my first year. I went to University of New Hampshire instead and ended up transferring as a sophomore to Syracuse. It was a winding path, but I guess it all worked out in the end.

Before I interviewed with ConnectEDU and talked to my stepsister, I thought what happened to me was just the way things were. Then Beth logged onto Connect! on her laptop and pulled up the search schools section. Now I know why she didn’t need my 4-inch thick guidebooks. Every college in the country was catalogued and accessible with a click. She already had a list of schools that matched her personal criteria and each school had personal comments and suggestions from her guidance counselor. My jaw dropped.

Then she clicked onto something called the “application manager”, she showed me which schools had received her application documents and when… these were the same documents that, for me, got lost. Another jaw-dropper.

I always wondered why Beth never asked me for help applying to college, and now I know. I just wanted you to know that I wish I had Connect! when I was going through this process. I’m glad Beth and high schoolers like Beth have this technology to change the process and make a complicated task, less complex…and less stressful. I hope I can become a part of that change. Thank you again and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Setting the Standard

June 12, 2009- This morning I was organizing a stack of business cards from a recent meeting. I was trying to stack each 2” x 3.5” card uniformly when an out-of-place 3" x 3” card prevented my perfect pile. I pulled it out and took a second look. It then occurred to me that it was someone I was supposed to contact. Interesting how not following the standard format had benefits – albeit to the name on the card, not to my attempt at organization.

But when does a standard make life easier? Think plumbing, especially when you’re anything but a plumber. Case in point, this weekend I was replacing a standard shower head in our guest bath. I just picked out one off the shelf, having no clue that the standard for a shower pipe is 1/2” IPS. I screwed off the old one and screwed on the new one. Voila. No hassle, no measuring, no hack saw. More often than not, having a standard size is a good thing.

At ConnectEDU, we believe in standards, especially when it comes to data. That’s why we are members and supporters of the Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC). As do others in our industry, we follow PESC guidelines as we develop our product enhancements. Recently, our Product Manager Jeff Alderson was named to the PESC Board of Directors to help shepherd the implementation of the organization’s standards, as well as develop new ones for the technologies of the future. ConnectEDU is proud to be part of a forward-thinking organization designed to streamline processes that have previously been fragmented in the marketplace.

We know first-hand how PESC has made great strides in setting standards based on our work delivering electronic transcripts. ConnectEDU developed our e-transcript solutions based on PESC standards allowing for a more universal and scalable solution. We are currently participating in the development of standards for electronic college applications as well, an initiative recently taken on by PESC. As we develop our electronic application technology, we will move forward with standards that allow for as many students as possible to benefit from this technology.

Plus, it’s no secret that standards for data and reporting will continue to become a focus in the education space as accountability becomes increasingly more important on a national level. Last week, USA Today announced, “Dismayed that students are slipping further behind their international peers, 46 states have agreed in principle to develop a set of rigorous criteria — the Common Core State Standards Initiative — designed to prepare high school graduates for college and the workforce.” In developing these new standards, new guidelines will follow, as well as new technologies for reporting the data to ensure students are meeting them. This is a time when education intersects innovation and companies like ConnectEDU are positioned to help.

As education moves to more universal academic standards, more centralized reporting, and more data driven decision-making, technologies like the ones we develop at ConnectEDU will help set the standard for a changing world.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Welcome Ted Fischer to CDU

June 4, 2009- Join me in welcoming Ted Fischer to the ConnectEDU team. Ted begins this week as our Executive Vice President of Sales, Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives. We look forward to the contributions Ted will make to our team... welcome Ted!

Fischer Joins ConnectEDU

Friday, May 29, 2009

Going the Extra Mile

May 29, 2009- I sometimes tell the story of my own experience at my high school guidance office. It’s not an unusual story. It’s not a shocker. There’s no punchline. And for people my age or older, it’s pretty much a common experience.

Here we are, years later and the role of college counseling has taken a new form. Higher credentials, enhanced training, and professional resources have all helped counselors become better prepared for a career in school counseling. The career path to the guidance office is much more prescribed than it had been only a few short decades ago. The close-to-retired teacher burned out from the classroom isn’t getting the desk job any more.

Unfortunately, the caseload for a guidance counselor continues to escalate as more students are placed on a college-bound path, especially as college planning now starts with freshman in some districts. Fortunately, technology, like the platforms provided by ConnectEDU, is designed to help counselors better manage the volume of students they are assigned. It gets them out of the paperwork business and back into the counseling business. That has been our shared goal since day one.

Progressive counselors are putting in the extra effort to take full advantage of what technology can do to make their job more manageable. Counselors at Lisbon High School in Maine, Del Valle High School in Texas, and Midland High School in Michigan are just a few of our 2,000+ high schools making a difference with their students by fully implementing ConnectEDU’s technology. The adoption of our platforms is just one indicator of how high schools are changing their approach to helping students transition to college and careers.

Even more evident to how far college counseling has come, we need just look to David Coates, another counselor in our national network who is dedicated to his students’ success. From Kenmore East High School in Tonawanda, New York, David not only provides the extra effort in the office to help kids, he’s challenging himself outside the office. David is riding his bicycle from Buffalo to New York City for the annual State Conference for the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling (NYSACAC). David has already raised $10,000 for one of the organization's flagship programs, Camp College. Camp College is a three-day weekend residential campus experience for traditionally underserved students who are first generation college-bound, and/or students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The program provides additional advice and guidance to students beginning the college process.

ConnectEDU salutes David and his colleagues and wishes his team best of luck as they go the extra mile, literally, to help students realize their dreams.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect?

May 24, 2009- Growing up, in the fall it wasn’t unusual to see me tackling a football dummy a 100 times, if you consider a tire swing a tackling dummy. In the winter, it wasn’t uncommon to find me on a wrestling mat for hours on end, even if the mat was actually my parents’ worn basement carpet. I loved sports and I learned early on, the only way to be the best I could was to practice, even after coach’s practice. And then practice some more. Like they say, perfect practice makes perfect.

Arguably, the same holds true for academics. If you don’t show up for class, if you don’t finish your homework, if you don’t study for exams, you’re not (unless you’re a phenom) going to carry the best GPA. Colleges have understood that for decades and that is why schools use GPA as a benchmark for admissions. No news there. But another benchmark that has raised a few eyebrows is standardized testing. Such tests beg the question, does an exam predict that a teenager will be a success in college or does it mean that a teenager can or cannot test well? Some colleges believe the latter and have removed scores from their admission formulas. Others have data to prove that a higher score indicates a higher college grade point average.

As long as colleges insist that test scores provide insight into student success, taking the SAT or ACT will continue to be a rite of passage in the going to college process for millions of high schoolers each year. It’s no surprise an industry has evolved to help students prepare for these tests. Students take the prep courses to improve their scores, and data proves that scores improve.

This week, the National Association for College Admission Counseling released an analysis on the impact of test prep, a recurring debate between college admission officers, high school counselors and test prep providers. The report confirms that scores improve. But some ask are they significant enough to justify the investment? Ask a valedictorian-soccer playing-first chair trumpet-class president with a 3.955 GPA and 1750 SAT who’s applying to a selective college alongside the next valedictorian-soccer playing-first chair trumpet-class president with a 3.955 GPA and 1730 SAT. Depends on whom you ask.

Reporting the results, points out several suggestions from the report: “Colleges are urged to avoid using the SAT and other tests in ways for which they aren’t intended. And test takers are cautioned against expecting too much of an impact from test prep.”

At ConnectEDU, we recognize that standardized test scores are currently ingrained in the college admission process. Until they become obsolete, students will continue practicing for the exams. Students with means will afford the formalized test prep programs. Others, with less resources, will turn to the internet or the library for the tools to practice. Still others will simply show up on exam day if they don’t have plans. Like many processes in college admissions, without democratization of resources, socio-economics becomes the more glaring indicator of student success.

Fortunately, college recruiting has entered a new age fueled by technology. Our platforms (free to students) give students a method to communicate their competencies and tell their story. The more students can tell colleges about themselves in the most efficient manner, the less colleges will rely on standardized tests. Until that day, students will continue to take the exams. Test Prep providers will continue to offer services for those who have the means. And students will continue to practice in hopes of getting a better score. And we’ll do our best to deliver the best possible preparation resources that we can deliver to our students as cost-effectively as possible. In the world of test prep, practice might not make perfect, but it surely makes a difference.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CDU Team Member Sings Anthem at Fenway

May 20, 2009- There has been another star sighting at CDU. Jeff Alderson, Director of Product Management, was spotted singing in front of a large crowd again. This time not as part of the acapella group that was a Top Five Finalist in the CBS News Early Show/Boyz II Men Acappella Competition, or as the main act at the CDU Christmas party.

This time, Alderson along with a group of alums from the WPI Glee Club, sang the National Anthem in front of a packed house at Fenway Park. Congrats Jeff!

Check out the video

Friday, May 15, 2009

MA Invests in Students

May 15, 2009- True story. “Johnny T. (aka JT)” is an honors student from the south of Boston. He lives in a small rental with his mother and two younger brothers. Dad left 13 years ago. His mother never stops reminding her boys to put school first. She’s not very helpful with calculus homework, but she certainly helps them understand the importance of an education, even though no one in her family went to college.

JT’s guidance counselor saw his GPA during their “Fall meeting” of JT’s senior year. JT’s counselor made sure he handed him a few state college view books. He recommended that instead of a community college, he should consider a 4-year school. He then prepared for the next 150 seniors he was scheduled to meet. Without much thought, JT graduated and enrolled at the closest suburban 4-year public so he could commute in under 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, JT didn’t adjust to being one of 8,000 students trekking across 200 acres. He’d never been in a class with 125 students before. And he quickly learned that his peers’ idea of “student life” was much different than the church retreats he and his brothers enjoyed.

After a tough semester, JT struck up a conversation with one of his mom’s friends. She started to tell JT about a small, faith-based private college in his hometown. With the help of his mom’s friend, he met with the financial aid office, transferred some of his credits, and enrolled as a sophomore… he finally found his fit. Unfortunately, it cost him a lot of time, money and experiences that couldn’t be recovered.

This is an all too common story… and one that fails everyone involved- JT, his over-worked & under-supported counselor, the public college that lost tuition revenue, and the private college that missed out on enrolling JT as a freshman. Roughly 45% of college students transfer from their initial college w/in the first-two years of arrival. An astonishing statistic that highlights the extent of a broken system for all involved.

MEFA (Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority) in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the Department of Education, have partnered with ConnectEDU to build the Massachusetts College & Career Planning Web Portal. Through this technology, students in Massachusetts schools will be provided web-based tools to make sure they have the information, resources, and guides to identify and learn about colleges that are a best fit for them. The MEFA web portal ensures that all students in Massachusetts, including lower income and underserved populations, have access to college and career planning assistance and mentoring required to make more informed decisions about their future.

In addition, the Massachusetts College & Career Planning Web Portal is being built so that it has full interoperability with ConnectEDU’s existing college and career planning solutions. This will provide students with even greater access to the MEFA tools as well as the benefits of the ConnectEDU National Network. Great stuff!

What does this mean for students like Johnny’s younger brothers? It means figuring out what they want to be “when they grow up”… and how to achieve their goals. It means being introduced to college preparation and colleges as early as the 7th grade. It means building relationships with colleges and employers to truly find the right “fit” and optimal career path.

But more than anything, it means “fixing” a broken process! It’s a new era in college recruitment and admissions in Massachusetts. At ConnectEDU, we’re looking forward to helping more students across the state invest in their future as we help Massachusetts invest in its students.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How's Business

May 9, 2009- I am often asked, “How’s business?” If I’m at a cocktail party…how’s business. If I am back home at my folks house…how’s business. Even if I’m in the barber’s chair…how’s business. Despite the state of the economy, I’ve been extremely fortunate over the past 7 years to be able to answer positively, usually with a quick anecdote.

During good economic times, I told the story about a Connect! parent, who used our technology for tutorials about financial aid options, which opened the door to allow his son to apply to a prestigious private college in the Northeast. When the economy faltered, I told the story of how a college partner recruited a student without having to spend the thousands of dollars executing their slick communication funnel. Either way, our business is always about putting families in the center of the solution to help them make better-informed decisions.

Recently, our local ABC affiliate asked how’s business. Even more specifically, they wanted to know how a web-based company like ConnectEDU is thriving in the midst of a national recession. Channel 5’s Chronicle news program featured ConnectEDU and the services we provide to high schools and colleges. For those of you who wonder what ConnectEDU does on a daily basis, the segment is a perfect summary of how we are solving a problem that challenges college applicants year after year.

In a time when budgets are being cut, staff is being reduced, and education leaders are seeking solutions to streamline their processes, ConnectEDU is finding its niche. While other major industries, such as banking, finance, travel, and hospitality, are turning to the internet to transform their business operations, high schools and colleges are now embracing web solutions to help their students.

Seven years ago we imagined a time when colleges would use the web to meet students they targeted with customized information. Seven years ago we imagined a time when student data would flow securely between education institutions to break the existing administrative barriers. The time is now and ConnectEDU is the solution helping make it possible, in good times and in bad.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Tale of Two Students

May 1, 2009- For most of 2009’s college bound-seniors, the nerve-wracking trips to the mailbox are finally over. The rejection letters are no longer visible, yet their sting still lingers. Some acceptances are being framed. A few have made it to the graduation scrapbooks. And others still hang on the fridge. It’s now just a matter of a million plus students deciding where they’ll find themselves when summer ends.

For many, it’s been a long journey culminating in years of planning, prudent decisions, and plenty of support. For others it’s been a few months of capricious choices, cumbersome paperwork and “let’s get this over with”. College planning in America is still a paradox among youth transitions. Unfortunately, this scenario is not the norm for all students.

A recent report released by the Joyce Ivy Foundation focused on Ohio, one state in America, to demonstrate not only the disparity between the services students receive, but to show how the college and career planning process, as it stands today, needs more focus, added attention and an improved system “democratization”.

According to the report, at a private school a student is likely to receive almost three times the amount of time with a counselor on college planning than at a public. Even more surprising, public high school counselors say they spend a little more than a quarter of their time helping students with college counseling. Maybe because according to NACAC, the national average is now reaching 500 students to every one counselor. And with budget cuts looming, this ratio isn’t likely to improve even with a shrinking student demographic. Who pays the price?

Meet Rachael, a senior at a regional high school in a metro suburb. She shares her counselor with 440 other students. She might appear to be distracted when she’s thinking about what color prom dress to buy or whom she can get to cover her Saturday shift at Applebee’s. But never does a minute go by that she is not trying to figure out what she’s going to do in the Fall. She’s deciding if she should apply her full Pell grant to cover all costs at the local community college as an undecided freshman or use her credit cards to finance the heftier tuition for the nursing program. Too bad she didn’t know she could have qualified for a waiver if she had enrolled in A&P and earned a better Chemistry grade.

Meet Justin, a senior at an all-boys private high school. He is one of 25 seniors his counselor supports. He might look distracted with band practice or the town wiffleball league he founded. But, never does a minute go by that he is not struggling with his admission decision; even when his parents aren’t cornering him in his room where they find him studying for his calculus test. He is trying to decide if he “accepts” at the large public state university with a $4,500 annual scholarship that pays half his tuition and membership in the Honors Program or does he go to the elite private college, in Washington DC, where he has received no aid and a $45,000 tuition bill.

Ironically, as this report was being publicized, ConnectEDU was in Ohio connecting with our many high school counselors at the Ohio Association of College Admission Counseling Conference. In addition to touching base with our district partners from Cincinnati, Dayton, and Cleveland – who are committed to improving this process- we introduced our college and career planning solutions to help reverse the trend that the Foundation pointed out. We continue to show counselors how they can find more time to work with their students on planning & preparation – whether they’re at a private or public school.

Our mission is to fix a broken system in order to benefit students and those who serve them. With more time, perhaps counselors may have set Rachael on a curriculum plan that included Anatomy & Physiology during her junior year. Or even shown Justin and his parents how to manage college finances long before senior year. ConnectEDU’s solutions can help.

These are just two kids out of millions struggling to decide what their future holds. Clearly, the economy in which we find ourselves isn’t making the decision any easier this year – for both sides of the spectrum. For many seniors, things are going as planned. For others, the plan has yet to be mapped out. Unless we do something to improve the system for students (all students) as they plan their future, college decision season will continue to be the best of times, and the worst of times… depending on who you ask.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lucky Seven

April 24, 2009- Seven years, wow! What is seven years? I guess it can be how long it takes to earn a 4-year degree. It is the amount of time it took King Solomon to build his first “wonder of the world” temple. It’s the amount of time a couple has to live together to be considered common law. It can be how long it takes to renew bad credit. It’s about the amount of time that it took my nephew to learn how to crawl, walk, speak, ride a bike, play soccer, read, write, win his first wrestling match and terrorize his older sisters among other things.

Here at ConnectEDU, seven years is how long it has taken to build the largest college and career network in the nation. April 24, is our birthday; the day in 2002 when we began a journey to improve how young people transition into college and careers. Each birthday, we celebrate milestones, but no year has been more significant than the past 12 months.

Since April 24, 2008:

  • Our high school network has grown 230%

  • Our college network has grown 182%

  • Our total weekly visits by users has increased by 331%

  • Our average number of unique visitors per day has increased by 567%

We’re not the only ones keeping track, either. This year, as a first time nomination, we have been selected as a 2009 CODiE finalist by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) for two awards including Best Education Solution. Hard to believe that just three birthdays ago, we were signing up our first high schools and colleges.

With seven being lucky, I suspect that we’ll have some luck in the year ahead as well. As we celebrate turning 7, it’s worth reflecting on the things that we’ve accomplished when many told us it couldn’t be done. Congrats to the team!

As we turn 7 I’m reminded of Thomas Jefferson who said, “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” As long as we’re lucky enough to continue our work with progressive, forward-thinking partners, we’ll continue to make a difference in the lives of young people.

Happy Birthday, ConnectEDU.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back at AACRAO

April 14, 2009- Last week, to welcome clients into our Boston office like any good host, we tidied up to make a good impression. We filled the candy jar, dusted off the framed press clips, and asked our team to neaten their desks. Remarkable was how unremarkable the before and after appeared. Things looked just as good. Then it occurred to me that in just a few short years, our staff has moved from desks with heaping inboxes and outboxes and racks of file folders, to just a flat screen monitor and a keyboard. OK, maybe a coffee ring here or there, or a picture of the kids. But everything we need to do our job is on the computer. More often in business, we are finding that technology is making our lives more efficient – and more paperless. Great for keeping the office clean… and the environment!

Even in our personal lives, we’re more likely to grab a Blackberry or iPhone to make a note than a scrap of paper. And although they do make nifty gifts, I haven’t used a desk calendar in several years, despite my affinity for daily quotes and important dates in history… which I now get over my iPhone, custom to me and my interests. So much better!

Perhaps for a technology company, it’s easier to streamline operations. But even the most notorious paper-pushers in the business are making a difference. Have you filled out a form for the DMV lately – it’s all online. Have you used TurboTax® to file your taxes with the IRS… even if you went to your accountant they likely requested that you provide them with the ability to e-file on your behalf? Quick right?

How about college admissions? Have you or your kids applied to college lately? Maybe it felt cutting-edge to fill in some fields for an online application, but did you know the amount of paperwork on the back end of that process? Ever consider why it takes so long to get an admissions decision? Or why they lost your information? Ever focus on what likely happens when they re-key your transcript… or better yet, the entire application?

This past week, I visited an institution at the very highest rungs of innovation and intellectual development. Guess what? They broke their admissions office elevator lugging the crates of file folders up from the basement for admissions review… AMAZING!

You ever think about this stuff? We do. And that’s why we do what we do at ConnectEDU. To fix a broken system for the good people that are held hostage by it… counselors, students, parents, admission officers, pretty much everyone!

This week, ConnectEDU is exhibiting at AACRAO for the third consecutive year. If you don’t remember, we were the company who stacked up 600,000 sheets of paper, all piled high to represent the amount of paper processed in one admission cycle by a medium sized university. We even color coded some of the paper to represent those applications lost as well as those keyed incorrectly. Just prior to the greening of higher education, we wanted admission officers to take pause and realize not only the environmental waste generated, but the extra time and cost associated with the processing of each piece. Not to mention that 600,000 pieces of paper created a rather large wall between us and the folks we were there to talk to… almost sounds like the wall between admission officers and the students with whom they are interested in building relationships.

Since that first AACRAO conference, 300 colleges have not only taken notice, but have taken steps to reduce the amount of paper in their admissions office. By joining the ConnectEDU National Network, they are able to receive electronic admission documents from high schools and students. Over a million students in ConnectEDU schools are on their way to sending their data electronically when they apply to college. Right now over 5,000 sophomores and juniors are registering each week at ConnectEDU, so they can participate next year. From the 145 high schools in Ohio, to the 135 in Alabama, and the hundreds more in between, the ConnectEDU National Network of schools is helping to streamline the college admissions process for ALL involved. (And, saving colleges a lot of $$$ in the process!!!)

This year at AACRAO, (booth 426), we don’t have a wall of paper to get folks attention. Most of our informational messaging is digital, where our students live. And we didn’t produce a 24-page glossy brochure for colleges to take back to their office. So while we can’t contribute to the growing pile of paperwork on your desk, we are ready to show folks how to eliminate it.