Some colleges have second thoughts on Gmail

Gmail still preferred on many campuses

Google doesn’t track the number of colleges and universities that use Gmail, but Obadiah Greenberg, a spokesman for the company, said there are thousands of K-12 schools and college campuses using the service today. And many schools report major budget savings.

California State University’s Fullerton campus saved $160,000 this year by changing over to Gmail after the campus was hit with a 24-percent budget reduction at the start of the academic year. Vanderbilt University reportedly saves $750,000 annually by using Gmail.

Other prominent schools that have transferred student and faculty eMail services to Google’s servers include Northwestern University, Villanova University, Case Western University, and Notre Dame. Even brief Gmail outages in the last year didn’t dissuade colleges from looking elsewhere for their eMail services, because Google’s downtime of .01 percent is typically only a fraction of that for colleges managing their own eMail systems.

“To me, you’re more than likely to find a lot more downtime when you’re running the system yourself,” said Doug Darby, director of new media at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, after Gmail was inaccessible for about 100 minutes on Sept. 1. “What service hasn’t been down at one time or another? … Two hours is nothing in the big picture.”

Forty-two percent of campuses included in a recent survey had converted to outsourced student eMail services, while 15 percent of colleges said faculty eMail had been outsourced, according to the 2009 Software & Information Industry Association’s postsecondary market report. Gmail was the most popular option, with 56 percent of campuses choosing Google.

Some estimates of Gmail usage are much higher. Eight in 10 U.S. colleges are using outsourced eMail services, according to a 2009 Campus Computing Project survey. Of those schools, 60 percent use Google. The other 40 percent use Microsoft, Zimbra, and Yahoo eMail, according to that survey.

Google’s Greenberg said his company consults with any school or college that takes issue with its security policy—including Yale—but emphasized that most colleges have been satisfied with Google’s services.

“Any time someone doesn’t like a Google product, we care, and we reach out … to understand how we can improve our products,” said Greenberg, who developed open-access education programs at the University of California Berkeley. “I think there are a couple of stories that caught some attention, but they’re relatively small compared to the bigger story, which is millions of students using our apps.”

Google responds to concerns at Yale, UMass, UC-Davis

The consistently low Gmail adoption rate at UMass, Greenberg said, might have resulted from an inadequate marketing effort on the part of the university.

“It’s unclear how much awareness was raised for their people to adopt it,” he said.

UMass officials did not respond to an interview request before press time.

Greenberg said UC Davis students continue to use Google Apps for educational purposes despite the faculty’s move away from the service. But tools such as Google Docs—which let students, their peers, and faculty view documents online—are not nearly as effective if faculty members no longer use the service, he said.

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