One item of much discussion at the 2000 NASPA conference was the number of dot-com companies at the exhibit hall. In conjunction with the 10 exhibitors, there were 14 educational sessions with a technology theme. With the changing face of technology and the proliferation of private companies entering the higher education market, what is on the horizon for Student Affairs?
In the not too distant past, discussions regarding technology centered on evaluating student information systems, computerized housing assignment processes and the installation of a port for each bed. Now, online student services, student portals, e-commerce and virtual learning communities are a reality. How the student affairs professional embraces these innovations will affect how we do our jobs in the future and how students perceive the role of student affairs in their overall education. Student affairs professionals must understand the pros and cons of this new technology in order to effectively evaluate and adopt these advances.
A portal is an internet site which amalgamates information in one location. A student portal is one where a student can receive news, campus-based information and personalized content. For those portals integrated into the student information system, individual academic, financial aid and bursar information can be provided to the student. Depending on the sophistication of the portal and the level of integration to campus systems, these portals can act as a campus-based intranet.
Some campuses have developed their own intranets while a number of private companies have developed portals to serve the campus market. Currently, there are two different types of student portal providers. The first, such as CollegeClub, StudentAdvantage, MyBytes, and student.com do not affiliate with individual campuses. While a student can personalize their "homepage" on the site, the information they receive is generic to all college students. The sites provide mostly lifestyle-type information, chat rooms and some academic related content. These sites profess to be the site for college students. as I-village is for women.
The second type of portal partners with individual institutions to create a campus specific intranet. These companies, such as, Campus Pipeline, Mascot Network and Studentonline, will provide the technology to give each student (and often faculty and staff) a personalized calendar. When integrated with the student information system, class schedules, exams and other academic information can be placed on the calendar. Student activities offices can send event notices to the students or those that have indicated certain interests. Faculty can send announcements to all students in a particular class. Through e-commerce interfaces, book lists for each class can be posted and links to the campus bookstore or external bookstores can be provided. In some cases these portals are provided at no cost to the institution in order to allow the company to market to the student and faculty/staff users.
As these types of portals become more mainstream, student affairs professionals need to be involved in the institutional decisions regarding which platform to adopt. The use of portals will change the way student activities and residence life promote their events, the manner in which campus communication takes place, the interaction between students and faculty/staff, and the interaction between students themselves. In addition, the placement of e-commerce opportunities or advertising on portals must be evaluated.
Automated student services have been available and utilized for a number of years. Proprietary student information systems have provided telephone registration, web access to student records and web based admission packages. Recently, a number of companies have segmented the market by offering specific student services over the web. The major areas have been admissions, financial aid and career services. In admissions, companies such as embark.com, collegeNET and EducationConnect are offering online applications for students, recruitment and targeted marketing for the institution and a matching service for both sides of the equation. Financial Aid related sites offer financial planning resources, scholarship searching and matching services, and loan and grant information. These sites are both government sponsored (The Student Guide) and private companies (FinAid!, FastWeb). A number of job sites have targeted the college market, offering resume banks, job listing specifically for first time job seekers and internship opportunities. Some sites, in partnership with individual colleges, maintain on campus recruiting and interviewing schedules. Finally, a number of companies are creating and maintaining on-line student portfolios. Companies in the career planning market include Gooeyindustries, JobDirect.com the College Grad Job Hunter.
The type of services and information provided by private companies continues to grow. Sites offering counseling advice (Psych Central), health information (98six.com) and International student services (eduPASS) are now available.
The level of involvement by the campus varies with each online company. Many companies do not wish to develop a relationship with individual campuses other then to have the staff use the resources on their site and send students to their pages. In other cases, a relationship is established to provide direct service to the college and its students. Obviously, the resources offered on the web can affect the level of service expected by the campus-based office and can alter the relationship between the student and on campus professionals. Will students begin to say "I dont need to go to my Career Services Office, I can find all the resources and contacts on the web"? Student affairs professionals need to remain abreast of what is available on the web and use the information to supplement the resources and services offered on campus.
As the amount of information on the web grows and becomes more complex, searching through and evaluating the accuracy of the available resources has become burdensome. In order to ease the search for information and to validate the resources, the major providers of on-line teaching platforms have developed e-learning hubs. These sites provide resources for students and faculty through links to existing web sites, content written by professionals for the community or content purchased from third party providers. Regardless of the source, the information has been evaluated and deemed accurate, easy to access and valuable for students, faculty and staff. Use of these sites will ease the search and evaluation process. An additional component of the hub are discussion forums and chat rooms where discussions on current issues and questions can be raised in a community atmosphere.
WebCT has taken the e-learning community an additional step through the development of a Student Resource Center. This center is designed to provide non-discipline specific resources for students; the first "virtual" student affairs division. To serve students who are not physically on campus and during off hours, this community will provide information normally available through an on-campus office. In addition to the major career, financial aid and admissions information previously discussed, resources regarding health and wellness, academic support (writing and research skills) and student development (graduate school, leadership development, international student) will be provided. The site is free, available 24 hours a day and should be used in conjunction with on-campus offices.
Clearly, the continued development of web-based resources will alter the role of the student affairs professional. Most, if not all, services provided by student affairs can be provided over the internet. How we assist students in utilizing the internet and embrace the changes both on our campuses and through the dot-coms will help define our future role. Turning a blind eye, not accepting the fact that students will use the internet more or not beginning to serve distance-learning students will diminish the effectiveness and importance of the work of student affairs offices.