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