the phone and the Internet. The plan would not only add a convenience for
students, but would also save the university money by eventually reducing
the number of paper copies sent through the mail.
Beginning Aug. 13, students can dial an 800 number or log onto Voice
FX Corporation's web site and check their grades. Students checking their
grades by phone will hear a 30- to 60-second advertisement and those using
a computer will also encounter an advertisement.
"We had some concerns about the firm using ads on the service and
whether students would think that it's an annoyance," said Susie Archer,
Dean of Admissions and Records. "But we checked with then-SGA president
Jason Little and later with current president James Kirkland, and they
said that they didn't think students would mind.
"The cost for this service by out sourcing it is extremely reasonable,
and the reason they (Voice FX) can make it so affordable is because they
make use of advertising."
The service costs the university $6,000 per year, but that cost would
be quickly recouped through savings in traditional mailings. According
to David Williams, assistant director in admissions, the cost of mailing
grades is 40 cents per student just for postage and stationary. Multiply
that by the 24,000 grades UT mails out on average each spring and fall
semester and it comes out to $9,600 each semester.
"When you add in processing costs, you're talking about well over
$10,000 each semester," said Williams. Add in the costs for roughly
12,000 grades mailed for summer semester and that means UT spends approximately
$25,000 per year mailing grades.
"We talked to other schools using this service, such as Penn State
and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and after they started
using the service the number of grades they mailed out dropped by 90 percent,"
"The question was, 'How can we save money yet still provide a better
service?'," Williams said. "We have to look at ways to provide
better service, and if we have to go outside the university to do it, then
"The great thing is that we're providing this service, it's something
students want, and we're saving money for the university at the same time."
"I know someone at Georgia Tech, and they started using a similar
service but with a different company," Kirkland said. "He told
me that last semester they didn't have to mail any grades. Everyone used
the new system."
Archer said that UT plans to mail out grades in the usual manner for
the summer and fall semesters of 1997. During this time, students will
have an opportunity to try the new service. Beginning with spring semester
of 1998, UT will only mail grades to students who request them. Students
can request a paper copy of their grades either through the registrar's
office or when checking grades through the Voice FX system.
Among concerns the admissions office had when considering using the
system were security issues as well as the type of advertising that students
would be exposed to.
"This firm, Voice FX, becomes an agent of UT and takes on responsibility
for the safety and security of the information," Archer said. "That
was something we checked on and we wouldn't even consider using the system
until we could be sure that the data would be secure."
"The data is encrypted at UT and sent in a packet to Voice FX,"
Williams said. "It's just indecipherable gibberish."
Voice FX takes precautions on its end to protect the data from tampering
through the Internet.
"If you access their web site and you're using a browser such as
Netscape Navigator 3.0 or Internet Explorer 3.0 or later, then those browsers
are able to handle secure encryption," said Dana Kelly, a computer
programmer in Admissions and Records. "If not, then you get a notice
you're not using a secure web server and someone might be able to read
But they wouldn't be able to access the Voice FX server and tamper with
the grades stored there.
"Voice FX keeps the grades on a separate, firewall server; away
from the server used for the web page," Kelly said. "We really
looked hard at the security issues on this since there's so much uncertainty
about security on the web."
UT also was very careful about not allowing offensive advertising onto
a service used by students.
"They are general information ads," Archer said. "Nothing
about tobacco, alcohol or drugs. The ads are geared to providing information
on things students would be interested in hearing about, such as magazine
subscriptions, calling cards, Coca-Cola.
"You may not want the product, but it's nothing that will offend
Grades will be posted on the Voice FX system as soon as they come in
to the records office. That means that if a student has a class that's
over fairly early in the exam period then the grade for that class will
be available much quicker than waiting for all the grades to come in and
then waiting on the paper copy to arrive in the mail.
Once all grades are in, the system provides information on a student's
GPA, both for the term and cumulative, as well as information on honors,
total hours, and all the other data on a grade sheet. Voice FX maintains
the grades on the phone and Internet for three weeks after the end of a
semester.The system will be available 24 hours a day. Students access it
by using their student identification number and the same pin number they
use with the Vol Xpress system. Once the system is up and running
next week, students can check their grades by dialing (800) 528-3324 or
by checking the Net at www.getgrades.com
and entering the code number 3324 for UT.
A demonstration version is available both on the Internet and by phone.
The address for the Internet is the same, just use 9999 for the code number,
and the demonstration phone number is (800) 889-4569.