• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Email and The Void

When students won't use college-provided email accounts.

August 12, 2015

I’ve worked at several different colleges now, and at every single one, I’ve heard the same discussion. It goes like this:

“Why don’t students use their college-provided email?”

“Maybe if we forced them to, like by making important things available only that way…”

“But that could impact enrollment and retention.”

“Can’t they set their emails to forward to whatever address they actually use?”

“Yes, but they don’t.”

“Maybe if we texted them…”

For a while, many students didn’t have internet access outside of class. At this point, though, mobile devices have achieved enough presence that I suspect most students could access email if they wanted to. The issue is that they don’t want to.

Back in the paleolithic era, when I was a student at a small residential college, students had physical mailboxes in the student center. We’d have to go there to get our snail mail, or as we called it, mail. Official college messages could be dropped in mailboxes without postage, so we’d get whatever college notices we were supposed to, along with our magazines, letters, and care packages. (Yes, we actually wrote letters, because we didn’t have email and long-distance calls were expensive. You, in the back, stop snickering. Also, get off my lawn.) The system was slow and flawed, but reaching students wasn’t terribly difficult, and nearly everyone checked mailboxes on a regular basis. Care packages were too valuable to leave behind. Students might choose to ignore something, but they couldn’t really dodge it.

In the slang of that time, though, many messages now get sucked into the void.  

I’m thinking that the lack of something like care packages may be part of it.  Students don’t really use email to communicate with each other socially; they’ve moved on to all manner of apps for that. Email is relegated to institutional communications, many of which are negative, dull, and/or irrelevant. That’s not to say they aren’t important, but they aren’t enticing.  

When letters from the college were mixed in with letters from friends and brownies from Grandma, they tended not to linger in the box too long. But if friends and Grandma weren’t there, and all you’d ever find would be the student equivalent of memos from HR, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mailboxes grew cobwebs.  

Replicator technology remains in the early stages, so we aren’t yet at the point where we can beam brownies over the interwebs. We could do coupons, I suppose, but they aren’t exactly the same thing.  

I’d be fine with them forwarding it to whichever address they actually use, but many don’t even do that.  

Has anyone out there found a way to get students to use their college email on a regular basis? Right now, far too much crucial information is falling into the void.


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