INNOVATOR 2005: CSU System

Challenge: CSU System
In response to California’s fiscal pressures stemming from 1978’s Proposition 13 and the severe economic downturn of the early ’90s, California high schools have had severe reductions in the number of counselors available to help students learn about postsecondary educational opportunities. “This has contributed to the worst state ratio nationwide, currently 951 students to one counselor, based on a US D'E report,” says Allison Jones, assistant vice chancellor of Academic Affairs for the California State University system. An alternative had to be developed that could effectively provide the necessary information to help students and their families learn about post-high school educational opportunities.
Technology Choice/ Project Design
CSUMentor (www.csumentor. edu) is a Web-based portal system, also designed by Xap Corp. ( The portal was created in close collaboration with CSU campus administration and staff, with the vision of a student-centered (rather than a school-based) information system, available 24/7, and free-of-charge to students, families, counselors, and campuses. Xap’s founding CEO,Allen Firstenberg, saw both the frustrations of existing systems and the power of the Internet to bring people together from all across the state, despite the growth and diversity of the California population.
Key Players
California freshman and transfer students are the key recipients of CSUMentor, as it provides them with information about CSU campuses, admission requirements, the ability to track coursework to meet admission requirements, information about financial aid opportunities, the capability to transfer application data into the D'E’s FAFSA via the Web, and the ability to apply online to any CSU campus.“Designing the project was a systemwide effort using CSU campus and system representatives, high-level campus administration, campus staff who work regularly with potential students, and central IT support to help guide Xap,” says Jones.
Jones says the response to CSUMentor and its usage and growth has far exceeded expectations, with nearly two million online applications processed since its inception. For the college year 2003-04, nearly 95 percent of total applications received came through CSUMentor. “This percentage far surpassed CSU’s goal,” he says. Furthermore, CSU campuses have benefited from the receipt of electronic applications, allowing campuses to be able to build more effective and responsive enrollment management policies. CSUMentor has served as a guiding light for numerous other states that have subsequently developed similar Xap Mentor systems to respond to their educational community needs.
CSU administrators continue to be surprised at the growing number of students who choose to apply electronically. As new systems are implemented, however, there is a learning curve.What’s more, although administrators assumed the campuses would immediately see the value of the online application (and some staffers did understand it immediately), other campuses took a couple of years to “get” the value proposition.
Next Steps
CSUMentor continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of the CSU campuses and their diverse student populations. A tutorial for the entire site has been implemented, and audio tutorial “walk-throughs” for students and counselors are provided to help students complete their applications.
CSUMentor is a model for portals because of its comprehensive approach to college admissions. To succeed faster, says Jones: Engage campus staff early on and involve the staff who directly affect the success of the project; during the design phase, discover the needs of the educational community; articulate goals and objectives—and be willing to accept change; and always be willing to revise the site to meet new needs.