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HBCUs get wired for fall – historically Black colleges and universities

Summer is the season many colleges and universities schedule
construction and renovation projects on their campuses because it is
when such activity is least disruptive for faculty, administrators, and

This past summer, the sight of workers pulling wires and cables
through buildings, and installing computer terminals and connection
ports in walls was a common one on campuses that designated these
months to build and upgrade their computer and telecommunications

At a number of historically Black colleges and universities
(HBCUs), administrators took advantage of the relatively slower pace on
their campuses to have campus networks built or upgraded.

“We had a busy summer with information technology improvements,”
says Ronald Forsythe, director of technology planning at the University
of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Schools, including Livingstone College, Norfolk State University,
University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Winston Salem State University,
St. Paul’s College, and Florida A&M University, report considerable
activity this past summer with computer network development. Technology
companies have beefed up marketing efforts to win the business of HBCUs
as they build and upgrade campus efforts. Knowledgeable sources say the
HBCU information technology market will range between $40 and $50
million annually for the next few years.

Small, but Not Inexpensive

Students returning to Livingstone College this fall will find their
dormitory rooms outfitted with connection ports into which they can
plug personal and laptop computers, and link to the campus network with
Internet access. Starting this past June, work crews have been building
an entirely new information technology infrastructure that integrates
telephone, video, and computer data transmission into a comprehensive

At the foundation of the new infrastructure will be a fiber-optic
backbone network, which provides the capacity for institutions to
handle the flow of complex data, video, and voice communications across
their campus. A new telephone system, a high-speed computer network,
and a campus video broadcast system are being made possible in the new

“It’s really a leap forward for us, and allows us to be on the
competitive edge as far as the higher education market is concerned,”
says State Alexander, a spokesman for Livingstone College.

For a small liberal arts college, such as Livingstone, the
commitment to develop a sophisticated network is not an inexpensive
one. This summer’s technology infrastructure work at Livingstone, which
enrolls nearly 700 students a year, is costing the school roughly $1
million, according to Warren Williams, president of WANLink
Communications, an Atlanta-based information technology networking
company specializing in the HBCU market. That figure puts development
costs for the institution at about $1,500 per student.

The campus upgrades are considered necessary to “enhance learning
by providing our students better technology resources and by providing
our faculty the tools to produce better curriculums,” according to the
college’s president, Dr. Burnett Joiner.

Network development at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore
took a significant leap this summer with the installation of an ATM
(Asynchronous Transfer Mode) network replacing a lower capacity
ethernet network, according to UMES officials. Forsythe says the ATM
networking technology enables the campus to deploy high quality
videoconferencing and multimedia applications in classrooms and offices
with a high degree of reliability. The new ATM network also will boost
the school’s ability to develop distance learning courses.

“The ATM gives you the bandwidth for heavy duty applications,” Forsythe says.

UMES also had 140 new computers installed on the desks of faculty
members. Forsythe says more than a third of UMES faculty will have the
new computers on their desks this fall.

Forsythe estimates that campus network development and computer
installations over the past summer amount to more than $1.5 million. He
says being a smaller school in the University of Maryland system
affords his campus some cost savings that larger schools, such as the
University of Maryland-College Park, miss out on.

Forsythe adds that he believes the UMES information technology
infrastructure is more advanced than any other in the University of
Maryland system. For the past three years, UMES dormitory rooms have
had computer port connections that allow students to plug in their
laptops and desktop computers.

Start Uprading To Meet Student Demands

Over the summer, Norfolk State University completed upgrades of its
two campus computer labs that saw 160 of the 486 desktop computers
replaced with new Pentium II desktop computers. Four of the campus’ six
residence halls had computer labs constructed in them and nearly eighty
desktop computers were installed in the new residence labs. In
addition, the school established computer labs at several academic
departments and extended the campus network to all of its campus
residence halls.

Judy Marchand, executive director of the Office of Information
Technology at NSU, says the summer work at NSU represents the beginning
stage of a partnership between the school and COLLEGIS, a Florida-based
information technology company specializing in the higher education
market. COLLEGIS, in an agreement announced last March, is planning,
organizing, implementing, and managing the school’s information
technology resources.

Marchand, who heads the COLLEGIS effort on the NSU campus, says the
company manages the responsibility of what used to be shared by NSU’s
Office of Computer Services and its Center for Instructional
Technology. COLLEGIS also manages computing and computing facilities at
Virginia State University.

“We’re strongly dedicated to working With the HBCUs,” Marchand says.

A significant factor driving the information technology push on
campuses is that students are demanding their schools accommodate them
when they bring personal computers to campus. That holds true for
students at HBCUs, according to HBCU officials.

Dr. Joyce Williams-Green, vice-president for academic affairs at
Winston Salem State University, says there is an expectation among
students and parents that the school will provide exposure to and
training in information technology.

“The students are driving this process, too” she says.

By the end of the year, for example, all dormitories at WSSU will
have computer port connections installed for laptops and personal
computers. Wiring of the dormitories largely began over the past
summer, according to Williams-Green.

Nonetheless, when compared to students at predominantly White
campuses, students at HBCUs are believed to not have as high a rate of
computer ownership. At predominantly White colleges and universities
considered to have a highly developed information technology
infrastructure, it’s not uncommon that more than 90 percent of students
come to school with their own PCs.

Williams-Green says she believes that at WSSU where less than fifty
percent of students are bringing their computers to campus, having
computer port connections in dormitories, classrooms and libraries will
motivate students and their families to invest in the technology.

Some HBCU officials say they intend to develop means to help
students finance purchases of their own computers so that all of their
students will own and use them in their coursework.

“I would hope that [Livingstone College] will be in a position to
do that,” says Livingstone’s Alexander. “It’s imperative, especially
for those students in business and information system programs.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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