The Future of College Phone Service

More Colleges Give Cell Phones An ‘A’, A Growing Number Of Schools Eliminate Landlines In Favor Of Wireless Service – CBS News

Somtime in the next few years William and Mary will be replacing the College’s PBX system and will have to decide if it makes sense to continue to provide land lines to 4500+ residence hall rooms. Fewer and fewer students even plug phones into the jacks in their rooms and fewer than half activate their voice mail. Email has become passé–particularly the official college address–and instructors, deans and registrars bemoan the fact that many students are virtually impossible to reach through our traditional mechanisms. Colleagues in student affairs relate that this has become a serious problem; it’s difficult to get in contact even with the president of the senior class.

Providing students with College-provided cell phones provides at least one more chance that administrators can get in touch with students–either those in trouble or who are playing key roles in events like commencement. As this article indicates, replacing land lines can also save a lot of money, which can be invested in other services that students *do* use.

One of difficulties of discussing replacing land lines with cell phones is the expectation that has developed among many administrators that universities have some obligation to provide every student room with a telephone.

Officials at Towson University in Maryland worry about potential lawsuits if students don’t have reliable landline service in their dorm rooms in case of emergency.

“While the money we pay for landlines in each room could be reinvested elsewhere, I don’t like the idea of depending solely on a few courtesy phones in hallways,” Towson telecommunications analyst Alex Konialian said.

I think there are real advantages to configuring some of our services so that they can be accessible to students via smart phones, but I’m not convinced that universities have any implied obligation to provide phones–either wired or wireless. (Fogey alert: Generations of students got along just fine with hall phones, even before everyone had a cell phone and IM capability.)

More importantly, I’m trying to figure out what’s gone so wrong with the way that we communicate with our students that we feel we have to issue them telephones because they won’t read or answer our email, provide us with a phone number where we can reach them or otherwise communicate with the faculty and staff they’re paying so much to learn from. Something here just doesn’t compute.

2 thoughts on “The Future of College Phone Service”

  1. Gene,

    As a former (and kinda current student), I think I can provide some insight as to the difficulties of getting a students attention via both traditional and new methods.

    As an undergraduate at William and Mary prior to the prevalence of cel phones but after the demise of the hall phone, I can say that using voice-mail as a method to communicate with the students may just have had the appearance of being effective. Although it was easy to send a broadcast message to the entire student body, there was little metric to see if the message was received or acted upon. Although I can understand the plight of not having a reliable method to send messages to students, is that the right question to ask? Isn’t the more important question whether the students who receive the messages actually hear and act upon them?

    That leads to my second point which deals with your final paragraph: information overload. The shear volume of messages that are sent to students is enormous. As a graduate student living off campus, I don’t receive the bulk of emails that go out to students. I receive a student happenings email twice a week (often with up to 35 entries in it). I also receive at least 2 emails a week from the Graduate Arts and Sciences office plus emails from my department. And all that is before I am looking at anything from my professors. In total, between June 1, 2005 and today, I have nearly 850 messages that relate to W&M, that works out to over 2 emails a day that are related to my schooling. From talking with undergraduates the number is far greater; they receive emails from their RA, their Area Director, Residence Life, the Dean of Students office, as well as many more offices on campus.

    I would say that the problem is not that email is not an effective means of communications, but that students have become numb to email from the College as a result of overload. If email is to be the communications mechanism (and I think it must be), the job the College must take on is how to control the quantity and scope of the emails that it sends. Emails need to be targeted to specific audiences so that when a student sees an email from an official W&M address, they feel it will contain something important to them personally instead of just rolling their eyes and reaching for the delete key.

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