As the Internet was being built through the 1970s, universities played a crucial role in fostering innovation and development. This trend continued through the 1980s, as collegiate websites were among the first established. By the 1990s, nearly every college campus had its own internal network and email systems. Recently, however, this trend is being broken ‘-‘- at least in the field of college-run email services. More colleges this year are turning to Internet giant Google’s web-based GMail service for student email access, raising questions about the traditional innovative abilities of American higher education.
More than a dozen U.S. colleges and universities have transferred email handling to Google University, a service that promises to save institutions money and provide more Internet-based tools for students. With some schools claiming more than $5 million in annual savings, it seems like a worthy alternative to what can be an expensive and difficult undertaking for schools to handle on their own.
But as the costs of maintaining such large campus networks grow higher than ever, the extra costs ‘-‘- no matter how seemingly insignificant ‘-‘- associated with the in-house email handling are not always wasteful. One of the longstanding institutions of universities is self-sufficiency. For centuries, students at universities have been exposed to the ‘bubble’ ‘-‘- a microcosm of the institutions of the outside world. Far more than just instructional and research-based institutions, every modern university offers basic services including student dining, postal services and maintenance & grounds upkeep.
Furthermore, the benefit of developing emerging technologies ‘-‘- in this case, in mass email handling ‘-‘- would be lost to the schools, and gained by Google. By handling large network systems and managing their inevitable problems, each institution is given opportunities to develop new technology solutions, some of which can become important industry advances. The worth of pioneering Internet technologies shouldn’t be overlooked when universities consider the costs of in-house management.
If colleges are going to look to update their email services by outsourcing them to Google, Yahoo! and the like, then students should expect to see the financial savings passed along to them ‘-‘- even in the small amounts that can be distributed. In an age when college affordability is a highly debatable and contentious topic, students should expect a high level of campus self-sufficiency. If schools can’t afford to provide quality email service, then there are likely bigger problems than email, anyway.