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June 1, 1998
The World Is Calling–What Is Your Answer?
A Review of Telecommunications and Higher Education: Issues, Opportunities, and
By Dr. James M. Dodson
Colleges, universities, and independent schools continue to receive numerous calls
related to telecommunications from their constituents–calls for availability,
accessibility, no-fault operation, flexibility, universality, affordability and the latest
technology. How institutions are answering these increasing calls is the subject of Dr.
Sherry Manning’s latest book, Telecommunications and Higher Education:
Issues,Opportunities, and Applications.
Manning, as founder, chair and CEO of the Educational Communications Consortium Inc.
(ECCI) and as one with a wealth of experience in higher education, continues to be a
champion for the consumer in higher education telecommunications. She plays an active,
vocal and visible role in educating higher education and independent school
administrations to be better prepared and more informed consumers of telecommunication
The purpose of Telecommunications and Higher Education: Issues, Opportunities, and
Applications is two-fold. First, it is designed to "challenge educators to shape
telecommunications applications to fit educational strategies, not change educational
delivery to fit tech-nology." Second, the book attempts to make readers "think
out of the box, shift paradigms, and do things differently on campus with regard to
telecommunications." Manning speaks to these two purposes with a series of
thought-provoking essays, selected interviews with educational administrators, and several
short essays by others. The overriding theme of the book is that telecommunications is an
educational strategy, not a miscellaneous service or existing utility.
Section one of the book contains nine short essays by Manning that focus on national
telecommunications issues. The implications of the passage of the Telecommunications Act
of 1996 are explored with the conclusion that higher education institutions and
independent schools are now active service providers instead of passive consumers of
As institutions adapt to this new role, several cautions are given to administrators.
First, the increased availability of information provided by print, voice, and Internet
media often leads to less interpersonal communication and to more individuality and
isolation among users. Thus, educational institutions have to be more active in assisting
students and others in building relationships and preparing for complex roles in society.
A second caution is that colleges and universities and independent schools are not hotels
or hospitals and should not be lumped together with other industries for regulatory
purposes. Educational administrations need to develop a voice in regulatory areas. A third
caution is that billing and accounting practices vary widely in telecommunications and
that caveat-emptor is descriptive of the industry at present.
Section two of Telecommunications and Higher Education: Issues, Opportunities, and
Applications discusses opportunities in telecommunications for educational
institutions. This section is composed of four essays by Manning, two essays by
educational administrators, and four interviews with individuals active in education and
telecommunications. This entire section reinforces Manning’s theme that telecommunications
is considered an educational strategy and one that is beginning to be managed and
understood in that way.
Several of the interviews in section two remind educational administrations that
assessment of telecommunications on campus should be priority. Chief financial officers
should be the first to understand, or at least investigate, the phenomenon of lower unit
costs but significantly higher total costs for telecommunications that exist in their
organizations. The benefits being received need to be assessed in relation to the
investments being made. As pointed out in an interview with Dr. Caspa Harris, retired
president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers
(NACUBO), "Technology has the ability to transform educational institutions."
The assessment of these transformations needs to be ongoing, and as one essay in this
section points out, should involve long-term planning, collaborative decision-making and
competitive bidding from vendors. Above all, Manning reminds everyone involved that the
continuing focus should be on the student and not the product or technology.
The final section of the book discusses applications of telecommunications. This
discussion is facilitated mainly through 10 interviews conducted by Manning. She begins
the section by reinforcing the message that revenue is available from telecommunications
usage, that educational institutions need to acknowledge this condition up front and that
these revenue streams can be used to finance the significant investment needed in
equipment and applications.
Applications briefly outlined include student billing programs at Lawrence
Technological University and Appalachian Bible College; a parent helpline at West Virginia
University; information services access and enhancement of summer conference long distance
service at Trinity University; connectivity in international operations at Teikyo
University; establishment of a campus-wide fiber optic network at Hamline University; an
integrated telecommunications system at Westmont College; and facilitation of athletic
programs at the University of South Carolina. The section also includes strong
encouragement for the establishment of a chief information officer at the vice
presidential level to fully integrate telecommunications in the fabric of educational
Telecommunications and Higher Education: Issues, Opportunities, and Applications is
recommended reading for educational administrations, trustees, and vendors who are
struggling to view telecommunications as an educational strategy. After all, the world is
waiting for your answer to a series of complex issues in an area of significant
Dr. James M. Dodson is senior consultant with Braren, Mulder, German Associates,
Inc., an advancement and development consulting firm to educational institutions. He has
served as executive vice president of McPherson College in McPherson, Kan., and has served
on the boards of directors of the Central Association of College and University Business
Officers (CACUBO) and NACUBO.
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