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.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Season for Growth

April 3, 2009- Here in Boston, we're still waiting for the spring bloom. Trees are bare, salt still lines the curb, and the temperature still hovers around 45... on a warm day. But that never breaks our spirit... Of course adding direct flights from Logan to the sunshine state doesn't hurt. Fortunately, we northerners can focus our energies on a different kind of spring growth, like the successful expansion of the ConnectEDU network in Michigan this season.

Michigan is being spotlighted (University Business- Contract News) as a model for success in our national network as a result of quick statewide adoption. In 2006, we partnered with several universities in Michigan to accomplish the unimaginable. We began building the first data bridge between high schools and colleges. Of course, we knew it wouldn't happen overnight, but immediately with the sponsorship of University of Michigan and Michigan State University, ConnectEDU integrated 15 high schools to ignite a new network. The first e-transcript delivery, announced in December 06, demonstrated the first movement of electronic transcript data points between the student information system of a high school and the SIS of a college. This began the final steps in eliminating paper processing in admissions.

Shortly after partnering with these initial high schools, as one of their trusted technology solutions, we began listening more intently. Listening to what counselors were telling us they needed to do their jobs more effectively. Listening to how they wanted technology, beyond e-transcripts, to enhance their ability to counsel their students.

We got to work incorporating their requests into our platforms. Our counselors quickly learned that ConnectEDU is about more than simply electronic transcripts. With their guidance, we now provide solutions, which students, parents and counselors rely on for all their college and career planning activity.

As of the start of this month, we have partnered with 245 high schools and 14 of the 15 public universities in Michigan. This means a streamlined admission process for 40% of Michigan’s college bound seniors. This also means that 136,442 students are being exposed to a new college planning process empowering students and addressing their needs. This unprecedented access to information and resources is undeniably helping students focus in a way that has never been done before; using their language of But that is only half the story…

Our growth in Michigan has also resulted in a savings potential of over two million dollars in the student records exchange process and elimination of over 51 million pieces of paper - that's the equivalent of over 4 acres of forest in Michigan being saved each admissions cycle. In addition, the network has expedited admissions decisions, created a longitudinal data tracking capability, provided for college access tracking/reporting and much more.

So unlike the daffodils and tulips that come and go this spring, we'll keep growing and expanding into more high schools and colleges. We'll continue to help counselors work with their students more efficiently. And we'll continue to make sure students are connecting with best-fitting colleges each admission season.