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IBM goes to college

The company announces a venture with the University of Minnesota that lets students use a Web browser to register for classes, pay tuition, and more.

    Combining IBM Corporation's brand power and the brains of the University of Minnesota, a venture was announced today to bolster online student services and the partners' revenue streams.

    Using the university's in-house developed technology as a See special report: Wired schools: It takes a village springboard, the two have united to create a system for commercial sales that lets college students use a Web browser to register for classes, pay tuition, buy books, drop and add courses, apply for financial aid, and order transcripts, among other things.

    About 38,000 of the University of Minnesota's 70,000 students already registered online this semester via its current setup, which protects digital communication through user names, passwords, and encryption. IBM will enhance the system with customized e-commerce applications. In addition, PeopleSoft Corporation's human resource management applications are being incorporated.

    The host of services resulting from the agreement will be pitched to at least 20 other colleges in the first part of 1998, and will be fully implemented at the University of Minnesota within two years.

    The deal marks yet another profit-driven partnership between a public higher-education institution and a high-tech company. As reported by CNET's NEWS.COM, Microsoft is expected in January to seal a deal with the California State University system that could make it the dominant desktop presence for the almost 350,000 CSU faculty members and students. (See related story)

    "The overall corporate strategy for IBM is e-business. This is providing student services using the Net and the Web, and provides a great deal of self-service. It fits perfect with our overall education strategy," Sean Rush, general manager of global education at IBM, said today.

    Presently, about 300 University of Minnesota students can register simultaneously for classes using its system, which is accessible on or off campus. The University of Minnesota hopes to save $200,000 per year in administrative costs tied to the old paper-based system, and estimates that one-third of its manual services can be automated. Due to the positive response so far, the university has decided not to replace registration administrators who have resigned, which has reduced the staff by 20 percent.

    "We're going to entirely change the student support system. We'll have cross-training of staff so that all our services can be delivered on the Web," Michael Handberg, the university's director of Web development, said today.

    "We believe these new enhanced, Web-based services will be able to break down the university into little chunks that don't overwhelm the students," he added. "We'll have tons of automated things, such as email telling them to pay tuition or to renew their sports locker."

    Other features of the University of Minnesota pilot project include: an electronic personal organizer and course planner that advises students of prerequisites and degree requirements; a financial aid estimator that balances grants and loans against tuition and fees; and a customized enrollment statement that confirms individual students' class schedules, required textbooks, faculty contact information, maps to classrooms, and deadline and exams schedules.

    One major concern about adding online financial transactions is the potential for security breaches. This fear is heightened when it comes to university students who often have to disclose personal data such as their name, address, and social security number in order to register for classes. Although the university does not use social security numbers to uniquely identify students, it plans to receive credit card information and other sensitive data over the Net.

    "The e-commerce solution will be used to capture tuition dollars, which is very exciting," Handberg said. "We now accept credit card payments [online] for transcripts and have had no problems reported."