Student e-mail accounts still face access problem

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Following a 2004 switch to e-mail-only communication at a university level, CSUN e-mail account usage is still low, and administrators say many students are still unaware of their accounts.

The CSUN administration decided last year to change to electronic-based communication in the form of Webmail as its primary way of contacting students. Students were notified of the switch through regular mail or phone calls.

The university is encouraging students to use their CSUN e-mail accounts or set them to forward messages to their personal accounts, said Terry Piper, vice president of Student Affairs.

Freshmen and incoming students are the most aware of the importance of using their CSUN e-mail accounts because the change was implemented a year ago October as they began school, according to Information Technology Resources.

New students are told to check their CSUN e-mail accounts during orientation.

Many continuing students, however, still lag behind.

University e-mail is the primary way the university communicates with students who have not paid their tuition by established deadlines this year. Around 12,000 students did not meet the deadline, and a variety of other mechanisms were used to notify them, Piper said.

A vast majority got the message, but more than 1,400 students were still disenrolled in mid-August for nonpayment.

Financial Aid and Scholarships also uses CSUN e-mail to contact students about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process and to tell students what documents are missing in order to complete the aid. It is university policy for Financial Aid to communicate through e-mail.

According to Kevin O’Leary, senior associate director of Financial Aid at CSUN, Financial Aid recently started using e-mail as the primary means of communication with students.

“We sent (a) communication e-mail letter and a postcard notifying students they have CSUN e-mail.”

ITR has tracked the use of CSUN e-mail accounts.

“Students have not really been aware that they have CSUN e-mail,” said Steven Fitzgerald, chief technology officer at ITR. “More and more students are using electronic e-mail to communicate, and ITR advocates Webmail.”

CSUN e-mail allows students to get important information from the different administrative offices much faster than through regular mail, Fitzgerald said.

Reasons students do not use their CSUN e-mail accounts as opposed to other mail services include a lack of awareness that CSUN even offers e-mail accounts, or fear that they cannot hold on to their e-mail addresses once they graduate, Fitzgerald said, adding that students remain in the system after graduation.

CSUN has 143,000 students, faculty, and alumni in its campus directory, and 73,000 of them have some form of an active e-mail account, according to ITR. Alumni can pay $10 a year to the Alumni Association to keep their e-mail addresses active after they graduate. Fitzgerald said that 30,000 CSUN alumni forward their e-mail messages to their personal accounts.

According to ITR, progress has been made in the last year with students utilizing their CSUN e-mail accounts.

Last year between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15, only 1,700 current students and staff members had accessed their e-mail.

This year, usage increased to 12,000, and most users were current students, according to ITR.

Change is a slow process in an academic environment, Fitzgerald said, who added that ITR wants feedback from students in order to accommodate their needs and find out what specifics are preferred, Fitzgerald said.

Students have a variety of responses about their feelings toward their CSUN e-mail accounts.

“CSUN e-mail is the only thing I use,” said Ashley Williams, sophomore political science major. “Although I couldn’t access my account at the beginning of August for a couple of weeks, I have had no problems with anything else.”

CSUN e-mail is not emphasized at all, said David Koh, sophomore business major. “No one talks about activating it. But I just have all my CSUN e-mail forwarded to my personal account.”

Siobah Martinez, senior marketing major, did not use her CSUN e-mail account until her freshmen computer class made it a requirement.

She didn’t access her CSUN e-mail account again until her business class forced her to use it. She said that she cannot send e-mail from her Hotmail account because messages always bounce back to her.

Martinez said she had to pay her student fees through loans this year. CSUN e-mail only displays 20 e-mails on screen at a given time, and she said a letter from Financial Aid telling her to pay her fees was not listed on the screen. Martinez almost missed her payment window, but was eventually able to get her aid processed.

“What ever happened to a letter or a phone call?” Martinez said.

Michael Sullivan can be reached at michael.sullivan.843@csun.edu.