Policy Recommendations VI

Virginia Tech Cyberschool

"Providing Internet Services to Alumni"

Len Hatfield and Timothy W. Luke
Coordinators, Cyberschool
September 15, 1997

In May 1997, Virginia Tech graduated its first class of graduates that had been in residence on the Virginia Tech campus from the time of the first Faculty Development Initiative (FDI) during Summer 1993. Of course, not every 1997 graduate necessarily took a class that either was electronically enhanced or had been put entirely on-line by faculty from the FDI project. Nonetheless, an entire cohort of students that had enjoyed high-speed, broad bandwidth connectivity while enrolled at VPI&SU entered the "real world" in May 1997 where Internet connectivity is often much slower and bandwidth far narrower-if there even is any adequate access at all.

Cyberschool faculty frequently hear this complaint from recent Tech graduates: Internet access is difficult to arrange and sometimes inadequate. Consequently, we want to propose that the University investigate establishing a new service for its graduates: a high-speed, broad bandwidth, low-cost Internet service. Whether it is folded into NET.WORK.VIRGINIA or serviced by a new telecommunications contract, this service would greatly enhance the service of the University to the Commonwealth by providing an easy, comparatively cheap, and closely held Internet service to its 145,000 living alumni. Many universities around the nation are beginning to hear this complaint from their graduates, and this sort of new service would do much to boost positive feelings among alumni for the university. Indeed, it could provide the basis for building a new type of virtual community between VT alumni and the University's faculty, administrative, and staff personnel.

Developing a VT Alumni ISP, then, could prove to be a very useful enterprise that would bring several other important benefits, including,

1) A Virtual Extended Campus: When they contemplate additional higher education, many Virginia Tech alumni consider the options afforded to them by Virginia Tech's Extended Campus. A VT Alumni ISP could bring them all of the course offerings and on-line degree programs available through Virginia Tech On-Line. In addition, not-for-credit courses or professional training classes from Continuing Education could easily be provided at this venue. Inside the Commonwealth's borders alone, there are now nearly 69,000 alumni who might be approached as potential clients for this service.

2) A Large Internet Services Market: Signing up a significant percentage of the 145,000 living Virginia Tech alumni with a VT Alumni ISP would create a considerable market whose monthly/yearly cash flow could help fund VT Alumni Association, Communication Network Services, or other Virginia Tech activities. In addition, the University could offer other in-house or out-sourced on-line content over these connections for those alumni who might wish to purchase them. Part of this project could have a public outreach component by providing low-cost rates to recent grads, retired graduates, or those in the military and public service. As each graduate's income rises, then so too would the cost of service.

3) A Large On-Line Support Group: Keeping 145,000 VT alumni informed about the activities of Virginia Tech through an in-house ISP service would give the university administration and its constituent colleges and departments quick access to its most reliable support groups in fundraising campaigns, public information activities, or future planning initiatives. With web casting technologies, a diverse mix of general and focused information could quickly be disseminated throughout the Commonwealth to 69,000 supporters whose collective backing and individual input could be quite vital.

4) A Life-Long Learning Attitude: By presenting alumni with easy to use, comparatively inexpensive, and high value Internet service, the University could reinforce the idea of life-long learning on its virtual and physical extended campuses. VT alumni might leave Blacksburg, but they need not necessarily lose access to Tech's many educational services. In providing an easy set of links to research tools, library resources, faculty expertise, and fellow alumni, a VT Alumni ISP would allow the university to continue adding new value to its degrees and capture a large number of loyal supporters, customers, learners, or clients irrespective of where they physically reside. Creating this sort of service, then, could prove useful for a number of University units, ranging from the Alumni Association, Continuing Education, and Public Affairs to the Graduate School, Communication Network Services, and VT Services.

Consequently, the Cyberschool faculty want to encourage the Alumni Association, CNS, and any other interested units to begin considering this new initiative. Each passing year brings more and more alumni with real Internet skills out into society, and we would like to see these "Cyber-alumni" have the opportunity to stay in touch with the University and each other through this sort of innovative new university service.