Friday, February 27, 2009

And the Winner Is...

February 27, 2009- Clearly, we’re facing one of the worst economic situations of our time. Our young people are missing out on education. Our homeowners are losing their houses. Our troops are tucked in half a world away. And while I watch the news to see who is going to benefit from the stimulus package, I’m bombarded with reports of who will be voted worst dressed at the Oscars because her earrings were too big. Even though something’s wrong with this picture, you can’t deny that we love awards season.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good film just as much as the next guy – but something about the red carpet and the millionaires’ egregious poses for the paparazzi feels odd in a time of national crisis. But, the show must go on I guess.

So while I am less than enthusiastic about Oscar making his way into the hilltop mansions of southern California, I am excited to announce that award season has begun for ConnectEDU.

This week, the Software & Information Industry Association(SIIA) has announced finalists for the CODiE award to recognize excellence in the software and information industry. ConnectEDU’s comprehensive college and career planning solution - Connect! - is a finalist in two education categories in just our first year of being nominated!

True, we’re not sharing a bottle of Veuve with Branjelina, Leo, or Meryl – but we are in very, great company with fellow CODiE finalists including, Adobe, Schoolnet, and Pearson to name a few. Like the hundreds of entries this year, we are focused on technology and innovation that will positively impact the future; ways to make our lives easier; and progress for the next generation.

In the education space, we too work long hours on the set under glaring lights to build our networks, fine tune code, and QA our products. It’s our craft to make a difference in the lives of educators and students and these awards represent our accomplishments – yes, we too have amazing casts, crew and support folks.

We may not be as entertaining as The Dark Knight or the concept of growing younger, but nonetheless we’re doing our part to try and make the world a better place – and no matter which movie you starred in this year, that’s a tough act to follow.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In the Spotlight

February 20, 2009- Every school kid that’s read 1984, will tell you that big government hovering over your shoulder is a “a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness”, right?

According to George Orwell and your English class curriculum, the fact that “it was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time” became one of our greatest least until we passed the test and moved onto A Tale of Two Cities. Now we knew for sure oppression could be overcome.

Fortunately, we’ve long survived the year 1984 with no Big Brother and our revolutions these days are more musical than military. Now here we are in 2009 welcoming a sweeping government stimulus package designed to hone in on certain sectors in need of help. Far from fearing the Thought Police of American fiction, industries like banking, mortgages and education are hoping the government steps in to turn things around. In addition to securing funding, stepping in means more attention, more support and more accountability.

For example, this week the Department of Education, through its new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, announced that it will take a close look at the City of Detroit and its educational system.

At ConnectEDU, we hope they do take a close look so they can learn about how counselors in the Detroit Public School system are proactively finding opportunity in the wake of a crisis – long before talks of a stimulus package and long before the federal spotlight descended upon the schools.

The Detroit Public Schools are bringing their students new technology to help them plan their future. By deploying innovative college and career planning tools at all the high schools in the district at no cost, counselors are making strides to improve college access and to connect their students to higher education opportunities. Already, over 3,000 students have been registered in the network and over 2,000 electronic admission documents are being exchanged. Thousands more are being registered this spring to make sure all students have the tools and resources they need to help them succeed.

With the hard work of the counselors in the Detroit Public Schools, we know DPS will be a success story. We know counselors will help their students find the best options. And we know students from Detroit will make it to the spotlight for all the right reasons. Just watch and see.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Still Waiting for the Stimulus?

February 13, 2009- A firm believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the other day when it finally passed 50 degrees in Boston, I was meeting a friend at our neighborhood eatery. Unfortunately, I never got my eggs due to the new “Recession Hours”. They cut breakfast. Later that week, I decided to head out to the local electronics store in search of a new GPS device, only to be met with a colossal STORE CLOSING sign. I even missed the big closeout sale.

Unfortunately, hospitality and retail aren’t the only industries suffering while the government grapples over a stimulus package.

As we approach the April budget season, our schools are telling us the cuts are running deep. Twenty staff members at this school. Eighty-five staff members in that district. Class sizes over 30 again. Junior varsity sports eliminated. No more music program. Of our 2,000 high schools, these are not isolated reports.

Education leaders all across the country are looking for ways to trim the fat and save money where it hurts the least. For schools in our network, saving money in the counseling office is now a proven reality that superintendents are celebrating.

We recently asked counselors to cost out how much it actually costs them to deliver transcripts to a college as part of a college application. We found that some schools bundle the costs because applications, recommendation letters, school profiles, transcripts and any other supporting materials fall upon the counseling office. But regardless of how the school operates, we also found that the processing of an official transcript is the most time-consuming and costly piece of the puzzle. On top of that, in many instances records need to be sent with the initial application, then the 7th semester report, then the final transcript. More compounding costs that often get taken for granted, even with data that says application numbers are on the rise.

Once a school determines that it can save anywhere from $3K to $20K by delivering transcripts electronically, changing “business as usual” becomes more appealing. In Michigan, where schools are already sending over half their transcripts electronically, the word is spreading. H.H. Dow High School broke down their costs. The official transcript paper, the school envelope, the stamp and the salary cost per minute of pulling a student record from the data system, then printing, stuffing and sealing. It costs them on average $6.71 to process one transcript one time. Do the math based on the number of college-bound students and the average number of colleges on each college list and the cost approaches $10,000.

Now take the education budget in the state of Michigan, for example, where Dow is one of 215 high schools already positioned to connect electronically with 15 colleges in a rapidly expanding network. Simple math demonstrates a savings potential of over $2 million– just by sending transcripts electronically. Implement the initiative in all 1,127 high schools and Michigan could stand to trim its budget by over $11 million. There’s a reason why education technology is a key ingredient highlighted in the stimulus package and just think, this e-transcript technology does not cost a high school a cent.

So while the dwindling aid to education outlined in the stimulus package continues to be reconciled, schools can wait to see what piece of the pie makes it to their plate. Or schools can take control and re-think how they operate to save money before the cuts reach them. Now that’s stimulating news.

Friday, February 6, 2009

More Students Apply to Publics

February 6, 2009- Remember the Jetsons? Press a button and a machine popped out a 5-course meal. Pull a lever and another contraption dressed you head to toe. Long before PC’s snuck into every household, the Jetsons represented a society longing for an automated future, a tomorrow where technology made life easier. Although Astro is long gone in TVLand, that future has arrived.

OK. So you might still have to cook a turkey 15 minutes for each pound and put your pants on one leg at a time. But don’t take for granted the things that are done automatically with technology. Time saving and cost saving tasks that used to be a burden – like renewing your license or registering for your bridal shower. I know most of you can remember long lines at the registry waiting for number 1, 304 or 2 hours at a department store pricing crystal… don’t even get me started about the time I saved when I renewed my drivers license online last week.

And I’m sure that higher education remembers registering students on handwritten rosters until each section was filled. It wasn’t that long ago when the processes we complete today with the push of a button were labor-intensive and expensive jobs. Unfortunately, some still are.

Processing an application is still costing many colleges thousands of hours of labor and hundreds of thousands of dollars. But not every school calculates the true cost of an incoming application, so we did for them. Our survey shows a range of costs associated with one applicant file, depending on the school’s current automation systems. Clearly, colleges which choose to implement WEB SERVICES to automate the process are saving unprecedented time and costs – over $25 per application compared to the traditional method:

Now more than ever, colleges can’t afford to do things the same way. The new generation of college applicants, coupled with an unstable economy, have changed the playing field and altered even the most predictable yield rates. Why? Students are applying to more schools and re-thinking their reach and safety schools. This has led to admission offices processing more applications for the same amount of spots. Is anyone considering ROI or how to fund the ballooning application process while in the middle of a recession?

On top of that, consider the fact that more students than ever are applying to PUBLIC institutions – where they aren’t likely to build more dorms or add more students quickly, but are spending more money processing applications of students that will never pay a penny in tuition. ConnectEDU has determined that during this admission cycle, more students are applying to public institutions at a staggering 10% increase in just one year. If we continue to process applications the same old way, it means more labor and compounding costs. Who will pay? It’s time to modernize the process with technology. Save time. Save money. And make sure, in the future, students are given the same opportunities, automatically… just like Astro would want it to be.