Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Networking Imperative

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Networking Imperative

Article excerpt

The high cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to support information is nowhere near the price schools will play if they do not develop this strategic asset.

By the end of 1998, all students living on the campus of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) will have the capability to access the Internet from their dormitory rooms. Just last spring, only a small percentage of students living on this North Carolina campus had such online access.

Although Dr. Joyce Williams-Green, the vice-chancellor for academic affairs at WSSU, says the dormitory networking project represents a noteworthy accomplishment for the small, historically Black university, she adds that the university is struggling to stay current with the computer networking revolution that is sweeping American higher education.

"For us to provide a quality educational environment, we have to build a quality computer network," Williams-Green says.

For years, colleges and universities nationwide have provided computer labs for their students and have automated many administrative functions with computer networks. However, a more recent wave of computer networking, such as the WSSU effort, represents what many see as the most expensive and most far-reaching technology initiative ever undertaken by American colleges and universities.

Schools that serve significant minority student populations are facing a considerable struggle to build and upgrade their campus networks. Yet, those that fail to do so, will find it increasingly difficult to compete for students and faculty.

For Black, Latino, and Native American students attending predominantly White schools, there is evidence to suggest that, on average, they come to campus with less computer exposure and fewer of them own computers than their White and Asian American peers.

A new study released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that nearly 41 percent of White households own a personal computer in comparison to 19.3 percent of Black households and 19.4 percent of Hispanic households. The study found that the disparity is consistent across income levels.

The Push to Network

The $2 million WSSU technology effort includes fixing the year 2000 computer problem, upgrading the campus network, and providing all 165 faculty members with personal computers that can access the Internet, according to Williams-Green. Campus network upgrades will provide administrators with new financial management and student information systems. Administrators are also getting a computerized campus scheduling system, along with upgraded financial and student management systems.

What differentiates the current information technology push from previous ones is that it uses Internet technology to create an entirely new learning and teaching environment for students and faculty. Advanced networking also integrates the transmission of voice, video, and computer data across a single network.

Such networking enables students, faculty, and administrators to collaborate and communicate with each other in powerful ways. Faculty members can use the Internet to interact with students via e-mail and to publish curriculum materials. Students can access instructional software tailored to individual learning styles from the campus network. Course registration and financial aid can be handled online, reducing paperwork and bureaucracy. Distance-learning opportunities become possible when schools develop them with sophisticated computer networks and videoconferencing technology.

In 2007, an Estimated 25 million people will being experiences, including traditional degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate students. The majority of that group will not be pursuing a degree, but instead will be updating their skills in response to the changing economy, according to Dr. …

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