After Gmail adoption, some college students aren’t making the switch

By Dennis Carter, Assistant Editor
March 20th, 2012

Seventy percent of Brown students were already forwarding school eMails to their personal Gmail accounts.

Gmail is unquestionably popular with college students, but IT staffers on some Google-friendly campuses have had to formulate carefully crafted public relations campaigns to get students to make the transition from their school’s legacy eMail system to their brand-new Google inboxes.

Students have been a driving force behind the widespread adoption of Google’s eMail system – the most popular outsourced eMail option among U.S. colleges and universities – so for students to delay their conversion to a university-issued Gmail account has proven baffling in higher education.

Some campus technology decision makers say many students have become so comfortable with forwarding their school-related eMails to their personal Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! accounts that they ignore consistent pleas from campus technology departments to make the change.

Students on college campuses that recently switched to Gmail worry about making the change and losing critically important eMails and eMail attachments in their old university inbox.

Whatever the issue, colleges and universities have seen a spate of early adopters – students who make the switch to Gmail within days, or even hours, of its availability – while large portions of the student population lags behind.

“Some [students] simply prefer to keep that system in place because it’s what they are used to and it works for them,” said Rita Girardi, a communications specialist for the University of Michigan’s Google Project Team, which coordinated a campus-wide effort to convince students to transition to the school’s Gmail system. “We’re really not surprised and anticipate that we’ll have a segment of the student population that won’t feel the need to migrate their current information, most likely because many of them already forward their [university] eMail to a personal account.”

Hundreds of colleges and universities have adopted Gmail platforms since 2007, including some of America’s most prestigious campuses. Google touted last fall that 61 of U.S. News and World Report’s Top 100 colleges used Gmail as their official eMail system. Yale, Brown, Northwestern, and Boston universities are among the schools giving Gmail accounts to students and faculty.

At UM, the push to switch eMail accounts began with the creation of a student advisory committee that drew up outreach strategies for campus technologists. On March 5, UM unveiled an online tool that allowed students, faculty, and staff members to move their eMail and contacts from the traditional UMICH eMail platform to Gmail.

Two weeks later, about 6,000 of UM’s 42,000 students had used the online tool to transfer their eMail accounts. Students have until August to complete the eMail migration.

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