On-line and loving it – historically Black colleges and universities going on-line to lure students and research funding – Recruitment & Retention - Higher Education

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On-line and loving it – historically Black colleges and universities going on-line to lure students and research funding – Recruitment & Retention

by James Michael Brodie

New Students, Research Dollars Lured via Internet Web Pages by a Growing Number of HBCUs

One day, in a land far away, and a future yet to be determined, a prospective college student will be able to push a button and enroll at Hampton University. That day could well be tomorrow.

“We’re just two steps away from that now,” says Dr. Mary R. Ellis, chair of Hampton’s Department of Computer Science. At Hampton’s Virginia campus, Ellis’s students have done more than simply surf the cyberspace net. Instead, in October 1994, they created a multi-level Web page on the Internet for the university that has increased its visibility in an effort to attract new students. As of press time, since its creation some 7,420 people have looked at Hampton’s Web page, says Ellis.

“The students are taking the Web page and giving it voice,” says Ellis of the colorful Hampton Web site. “It is an ongoing document and it is student-driven. This is what we train our students to do, and we try to stay on top of the technology.”

On the Hampton Web is information on admissions, courses, the school’s history, quality of life and other areas of interest. Hampton chose to go it alone in its attempt to attract new students rather than rely on other college search services that offer to connect institutions with hard-to-come-by prospective students. Its student-generated program is now part of the university’s recruitment package.

Trying to Keep Up

“We are going to get to a point where people can request the information they need and get it quickly,” says Dr. Janice L. Nicholson, associate vice president for enrollment management at Washington DC’s Howard University, which also has a Web page on the Internet.

“We get Internet messages daily. It’s easy, and it’s casual. You send information to a Web master and you don’t even have to know where to send it or who to send it to.”

Getting on the Net also has been cost-effective for Howard because information is easier to change than it would be to produce brand-new catalogues, Nicholson says. “The thing with catalogues is you have to produce a new one every year and often it comes out obsolete…there’s no running out of copies of Web pages. If we wanted to advertise, we’d have to select a certain number of newspapers…and we might miss someone. On the Net, you don’t miss people.”

But cyberspace changes are not happening quickly enough to suit Dr. Roy Beasley, senior staff member for Howard’s Information Systems and Service computer center. He credits much of Howard’s technological revolution to students, rather than administrators. Last year, students petitioned the university to upgrade his computer center, complaining of a lack of cutting-edge technology.

“When it comes to the admissions process, some [colleges and universities in their use of the Internet] are way out in front.

Unfortunately, Howard is not out in front. It’s way behind,” says Beasley, who speaks in frustrated tones, and agrees with the student assessment of what he calls the university’s poor computerized communications network.

“Students here are asked time and again to fill out new forms and they are used to it,” he complains. “Howard has been one of the schools that has not kept up, and it has cost us.”

It is believed that about half of the historically Black colleges and universities have joined Howard and Hampton in putting a Web page on the Net.

Dillard University in New Orleans is not yet admissions-accessible on the Internet, but expects to have a Web page “within the next five years,” says Darrin Q. Rankin, director of enrollment management and admissions.

“We are not nearly where we would like to be, but the Internet and CollegeView have been very valuable to us,” says Rankin,.

“All universities are trying to figure out innovative processes for attracting more students. It’s something we’ve got to do to be able to compete with other colleges.”

Pre-sold Image

Such is the power of this exposure that when Charlene Aguilar — director of undergraduate admissions at Santa Clara College (CA) — goes out on high school recruiting tours, her reputation literally precedes her. Santa Clara, like Howard and Hampton, is one of a growing number of institutions that have gone on-line in search of students to fill its classrooms and lecture halls. As a client of CollegeView, a Cincinnati-based publisher of computer-driven interactive education software, Santa Clara can tell its story. What students see is a multimedia show, complete with a live-action video that showcases life on campus.

“When I go out, there are a number of schools that already have the video. It’s very visual, and students seem to like that,” says Aguilar. “It’s a way to get students to say, “I want to see the campus.’ I’m not sure if we are going to see a real change in enrollments for another year. But applications are up, and students tell us that they heard about us from CollegeView.”

Now four years old, CollegeView began as “just two guys in an attic,” says Managing Director Tim Loudermilk. “We wanted to create a new way to make applications easier. The process we went through as students was labor intensive.”

The company teamed with the “Daily Mail,” a London, England-based newspaper and publisher of education materials for British schools. In the first. year, CollegeView offered computers to about 2,500 targeted high schools — primarily magnet schools — that bought their software package, giving those schools complete access to the company’s services.

Students accessing the service can conduct college searches using several criteria, including academic major, location, athletic programs, campus groups and special programs. The colleges that belong to the server have their Web pages filled with text-only information. Colleges such as Santa Clara, which have the full package, have complete multimedia displays that are available on CD-Rom.

“Most of the students who use us are college-directed. Last year 80 percent had a 3.0 or better GPA,” says Loudermilk, whose company offers an on-line version of the Common Application, created by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Last year, Harvard University added its name to a growing number of institutions now using the form, which simplifies the process for potential students.

Hampton’s student-generated Web also has yielded results, says Ellis. Within the past year, Hampton entered into a research partnership with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University and Lockheed-Martin. Ellis says the relationship was forged on the Internet, which Hampton had been visible on for three years prior to establishing the Web site. She says these partnerships can make institutions much more competitive for both research dollars and students.

“We’re a small Black university and there are things that we want to expose ourselves to that are not on the campus.”

Easy Access

Cambridge based USA Enrollment Services produces CollegeLink and Intro App. Both are designed to give high school students easy access to American colleges and universities. Schools, students and parents can access the service on-line or via disks created by the company.

“Students have a chance to take advantage of the technology. They can pick a college or colleges, modem the information to us, and we prepare paper applications,” says Jerry Paxton, USA Enrollment Services president.

Thus far, a typical USA Enrollment Services’ student user tends to come from homes and environments where computers are as familiar as furniture. “We are tending to get the stronger student, whether they are from the suburbs or the innercity,” Paxton says.

Companies such as CollegeView, CollegeLink and others are a recent phenomenon. Many such servers have sprung up during the last five years as universities seek new ways to reverse enrollment downturns.

“Colleges have said that there were not enough students to fill the seats,” said Paxton, whose service offers information on every four-year American institution.

Information on two-year colleges is not included in the databases of most servers, and many two-year institutions might not use it, if they could, because of the cost.

“We don’t use it because we are not one of those schools that have the money,” says Michael Poindexter, vice president of student services at the Community College of Denver. “Two-years are left out of the loop even though this is the point of entrance for many college students.”

But community colleges are using application technology to smooth their enrollment processes, and Poindexter, like other administrators, sees a bright future for it. “It will be more efficient. The problem is making it work, and right now it doesn’t work well,” he says. “Colleges are doing this because they need students.”

Observers predict that a totally computerized process could reduce the times between requests for information and the amount of time it takes to respond.

Paperless Future?

“We are on the bridge of communications,” says R. Russell Shunk, dean of admissions at Dickinson College (PA). “Every piece of what we do has the potential of being done on-line. I think anybody whose afraid of what’s coming shouldn’t be doing this kind of work.”

Shunk and others envision a day when the minutia of the admissions process will be reduced to bits of information flowing across a telephone line. They explain that paper applications now have to be keyed in by someone on staff, wasting person-hours and increasing the chance of error.

“Kids can apply on-line, teachers can send records, and once we can have transcripts from the high schools, we will be paperless,” says Shunk, admitting that of the more than 20,000 American high schools, “there aren’t that many on the Net. When they are, things will change.”

“Unless we have the infrastructure at high schools, and especially in lower-income areas, we can’t do it,” Aguilar says. “We have to make sure access routes are not cut down. Personally, I’m not going to [be completely paperless]. The question 10 years ago was whether we accept applications that were handprinted. Now a typewriter is obsolete.”

“It’s coming,” says Poindexter, pointing out that his office already works with scanned applications that are thrown away once the information has been transferred. “In most admissions offices, there is a computer on every desk. The colleges have that as their number one objective. All memos, all communications are now on e-mail or on voice messages.”

Some college officials admit that one benefit for prospective students will be an unprecedented access to a campus they are interested in attending — not only can they get the university’s official view of itself, but the student will be able to access Web pages of the institution’s students and faculty. It would then be possible to conduct a virtual campus visit via the computer and ask, “What’s it really like there?” — the classes, the town, social life, racial climate, safety for women, etc.

“The best recruiter is another student,” says Nicholson. “If I want to know about chemistry, I would want to talk to a current chemistry student. It’s like a pen pal.”

“The World Wide Web has taken the controls from the university. There is a more instant way of communicating with a school, and there are not the editorial filters,” adds Shunk. “It’s almost a return to what college used to be. In fact, it may make things more personal.”

Search for Tomorrow

Beasley advocates an automated system that would allow the university to track students from the time they first show interest in the institution until they walk out the door. Proper use of the college search information puts the onus on the college to develop programs and course offerings to fit student-stated desires, he says.

“It’s more than just marketing — it’s resource management. If you know students have a certain interest, you should know they are going to be looking for certain electives,” Beasley says. “God help you if you get them interested in a product and you don’t have it. Those students may not leave on their own, but they will badmouth you. This has been the experience of a lot of students here.”

“We use it as a searching resource,” says Lun Ye Crim Barefield, college career coordinator at Evanston Township High School in Illinois. The 3,000-student suburban school, resting in the shadow of Northwestern University, draws students from Evanston and nearby Skokie. Barefield says Evanston Township’s ethnic breakdown is about 40 percent white, 42 percent Black, 6 percent Latino and 3 percent Asian, with the remainder of the population made up of other groups. Routinely, the school sends about 80 percent of its graduates onto some form of postsecondary study, she says.

Barefield, like many of her peers, uses the new technology as an add-on, giving her students tangible information on colleges that they can take home. “A lot of them use the computer to develop lists.”

For many students, the information they glean from CollegeView and other search engines offers a first look at life after high school, and gives them a sense of what to expect. But whether the technology will help increase the numbers of her students going off to college is not clear, Barefield says. She also is not certain if the technology would catch on at enough high schools to keep each on equal footing.

“I always think about the timing of innovations rather than someone being left out, especially for minorities,” she says. “When new things come out they are not on the cutting edge [when they appear] in poorer communities.”

Even at her school, Barefield sees disparities in the use of the technology. While her center has only the basic software of college searchers, down the hall — and a world away — in the computer lab, students and staff go on-line for a variety of reasons.

“When we talk about the Net and e-mail, even my colleagues are at different stages. I’m not going to be quite sure what I’m missing or not missing until I have exposure to it,” she complains. “I don’t have e-mail. Here you have an instance where people are doing a lot and others don’t know it’s there. There is a portion of our population that is either swimming or drowning and another population that doesn’t know the beach is there.”

Star Wars?

Some observers note a growing popularity in a standardized application process, driven by what many see as a growing parental dissatisfaction with the education their children receive.

“People are asking for a standard. People are saying, I want my child to be able to read,'” says Poindexter. “Our society is asking us to be more accountable, and we are losing our uniqueness. There will always be room for creativity, but it’s not the standard.”

So to what destination will the high-tech highway take the next generation? Will they sit in virtual classrooms, observers ask. Will they live virtual lives? Imagine a future collegiate experience in which a person expresses an interest in a college, solicits information, fills out the application, files for financial aid, gets accepted, enrolls in and takes classes, then graduates — all without ever walking out the bedroom door. With the advent of virtual and on-line classrooms, distance education and other emerging technologies, such a scenario is not so far-fetched. On some campuses, it is already happening.

For professors, the location of the lectern could change. Perhaps a professor on sabbatical in Africa could conduct a class simultaneously at three different colleges, e-mailing information to and from students.

“That sounds boring,” says Barefield. “What are you learning? What human being are you interacting with? They are not touchable. And I don’t see enough young people so motivated to do all their business that way. How many young people do you know who are going to do that?”

Says Nicholson: “The centralized campus will become a thing of the past, but there will always be a need for human interaction. I worried ten years ago about little, smart, obese kids in houses playing computer games. But people still want to show off their skills. There’s a sense that I can play the game all day long, but I still want somebody to see my score.'”

Beasley predicts that some colleges will move toward more generic “canned” offerings in order to attract a critical mass of students, with the one-to-one, personal teaching becoming the private domain of elite institutions.

“Look at the impact TV has had on sports. Now all of them have to accommodate commercial breaks,” Beasley says, painting a less-than-optimistic picture of future learning. “There is going to be a real bifurcation between the elite schools and the mass schools. The elites will not only have computers, but the professors will say things like, `You’ve read the material on-line, let’s talk about something else.'”

Beasley predicts that “more schools will have the option to relegate their students to the on-line, canned stuff, while the elite schools will charge more because you will actually have access to the person who wrote the book. Hopefully, the Howards of the world will be able to catch the Black superstars.”

With better tracking, colleges may even get into bidding wars for promising students that mirror the recruitment of top-flight athletes, Beasley added. “A 12-year-old who wrote a good paper will be in hot demand,” he says.

Adds Aguilar, “We need to not get too wrapped up with the technology. If we are going to become more technology based, we need to make sure we are taking the right steps.”

Ellis envisions a world where change will occur, but thinks the up side far outweighs the fears many have. “We always have a way of defining human existence,” she says. “As human beings, we’ve been adjusting and readjusting since first we came out of the cave.”

“For many of us, the opportunity is there,” says Beasley. “If you can operate a computer, the keys don’t care what color your fingers are. Some groups go into areas where stereotypes are nullified. We still go into areas (sports and entertainment) where stereotypes are the strongest. To the extent that we follow traditional patterns, I am very worried.”

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group



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