Boston College has decided that disuse of college eMail accounts has risen to the point that it no longer makes good sense to provide their students with a @bc.edu account. They will have a @bc.edu address that will forward their mail to an account of the student's choice. Whereas some schools such as IU have contracted with Google and/or Microsoft, BC has decided that that just was not worth their trouble.
Now for the problems that may encounter. When I taught at NVCC, we were instructed that we could not discuss private information with students on any eMail account other than their college-sponsored account, which was @nv2.cc.va.us, @nvcc.edu, or @vccs.edu. Among the reasons for that policy:
- We did not know who had access to that account. FERPA regulations limit to whom student information can be released; some commercial accounts can be read by anyone in the family.
- Student eMail accounts are always readily identifiable. One of my colleagues received an eMail from FunkyToes@PopularISP.com or some similar address with no indication who that student was, or even what class the student was taking. I had a student whose eMail address was anotherrandomemailaddress@PopularEmailService.com or something of the sort.
- There are the reliability issues. Everyone.net discontinued many of their free eMail services a couple of years ago. When crosswalkmail.com died in early 2002, I was unaware of the change due to the way I had been logging in without frames. When the College controls the eMail server, there is if not continuity in service, at least knowledge within the College that service is down.
- More disciplinary penalties are readily available when College eMail is abused than when off-campus eMail is abused. One of my colleagues (not the same one) received some threatening eMails from the account of a student who had just received a low grade in her course. The penalties that could be imposed were quicker than had it been from the student's aol account.
However, I did not always require my students to use their campus account. I did point out that it was free for them. I mentioned that I could not send private information to other accounts without written (not electronic) permission. But for day-to-day announcements, like the study guide for the test, I would send those to whatever account the student used on an opt-in basis. For the final exams, I had them write the address to which they wanted me to send their results on the final exam itself, with a disclaimer allowing those results to be seen by anyone with access to the account.
The question has to be asked: Is cost more important than privacy? BC picks cost; VCCS chooses privacy. Thousands of preferred customers at the grocery store choose cost, but that's another discussion.