Google announced 25 new education customers this month.

It’s already higher education’s most popular eMail hosting service, and Google’s Gmail could attract more university IT departments after the company more than tripled its Gmail inbox size for educational customers.

Gmail inboxes will jump from 7 gigabytes to 25 gigabytes “over the course of the next few weeks” for schools, colleges, and universities that use the suite of online educational tools known as Google Apps for Education, according to a June 24 company announcement.

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New customers, however, will see the larger eMail inboxes right away. Google released the names of 17 colleges and universities that recently signed on with the company to manage its eMail services from off-campus servers.

Bolstering eMail storage capabilities will let professors and their students work with Google Apps for Education without untimely interruptions when inboxes reach their limit, a Google spokesman said.

“We know students and teachers are really busy,” Eric Edens, a member of Google’s App Edu Team, wrote in a blog post.  “There’s no reason they should spend their time sifting through spam and deleting eMail to stay under quota. We hope bigger inboxes might offer the first step to helping today’s students think bigger.”

Among higher education’s newest Gmail customers are the University of Northern Iowa, University of Richmond, College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, Corning Community College in New York, Boston University, the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and the University of Salzburg.

Eight school districts also signed on with Google last week.

Harold Knapp, associate director of IT at Holy Cross, a 2,700-student campus, said the school would have converted from its on-campus eMail service to Gmail even if Google hadn’t boosted its inbox size, but the announcement is a bonus for professors and students who regularly store enormous files in their Gmail accounts.

Using the on-campus eMail system, Holy Cross students and faculty were limited to 250 megabytes of storage space.

“Students are spending a lot of time just looking through mail and trying to stay under the quota,” Knapp said, adding that Holy Cross students wouldn’t likely approach to 25GB limit in the new Gmail inbox. “They probably won’t have to worry about that anymore. I can’t imagine that they would fill that 25 gigs in four years, but I guess you never know.”

Not many Google Apps for Education customers were maxed out in the 7GB Gmail inboxes, a Google spokesman said in an eMail to eCampus News, adding that “we recognize that eMail has become an incredibly popular form of communication on college campuses … nationwide” and adding storage capacity ensures students and educators have plenty of room in their inboxes.

Google Apps for Education offers schools and colleges free access to a host of collaborative web-based applications like Google Calendar, Google Sites, and Google Docs, a program that allows several students to work on the same research paper on different computers simultaneously, for example.

Google grabbed campus technologists’ attention in 2006 when the company released Google Apps for Education, which included a 2GB Gmail inbox – double the storage available in Gmail’s first iteration, in 2004.

In April 2005, when Google pledged to increase Gmail inbox storage space, the company “promised to keep giving Gmail users more space as we were able” in a blog post announcing its “Infinity+1 storage plan,” a program to boost storage slowly over the coming years.

The massive inbox increase could give Google an even more drastic lead in college customers using outsourced eMail services.

Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents from public universities who use eMail hosting services said their campus uses Gmail accounts, with 35 percent using Microsoft Outlook and 5 percent using Zimbra, according to the Campus Computing Project’s 2010 survey, unveiled at the EDUCAUSE educational technology conference in Anaheim, Calif. last October.

The disparity is even greater at private universities, where more than seven in 10 respondents said their school uses Gmail accounts, according to the research. Twenty-five percent said they use Microsoft.

Kenneth C. Green, founder and director of the Campus Computing Project, said outsourcing eMail for students is easier than doing so for faculty for two reasons: Many students already have Gmail accounts, and “faculty resistance” to using a web-based service controlled by a company rather than the university still exists.

Overall, six in 10 survey respondents said their colleges or universities use eMail hosting services for students, and 15 percent for faculty members.


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