Officials at Boston College have made what may be a momentous decision: they’ve stopped doling out new email accounts to incoming students. The officials realized that the students already had established digital identities by the time they entered college, so the new email addresses were just not being utilized. The college will offer forwarding services instead.

Starting next year, freshman enrolled at Boston College won’t be given an actual email account complete with login and inbox, just an email address. This address, in the format of [email protected] will simply forward mail to the student’s already established inbox, be it Gmail, Windows Live Mail, Yahoo Mail, AOL, or whatever else they may be using.

The college reached this decision after first looking into outsourcing their email to the cloud. They considered offering from both Google and Microsoft, but eventually decided against both in lieu of the new forwarding option.

A Smart Decision

While the Boston College decision may have been made for cost-saving reasons more than anything, we can easily imagine this as being the start of a new trend.

Can you even imagine a U.S. college student who didn’t have an email address of their own by the time they were a freshman? It’s practically unheard of. Today’s students are digital natives who have been immersed in technology from the day they were born. It simply doesn’t make sense to give them yet another account to manage when they enter college.

Some Challenges

By going this route, there are still some challenges to overcome, though. For example, a student who changes their email carrier will probably forget to alert the institution to the change and could then miss out on important messages from the university pertaining to their courses, scholarship, and disciplinary and/or safety information.

However, it can easily be argued that a change of (email) address is a student’s responsibility to handle, not the institution’s. If a student changed their address or phone number, would they not alert the affected parties? The same should hold true for email. And if the end result is more efficient and effective communication with the student body as a whole, the outliers who didn’t follow through on managing their email transition are ultimately the ones at fault for any missed messages.

The only danger in drawing a hard line like that would be if the college or university was in the habit of sending out critical safety information utilizing the students’ email addresses. If that was the institution’s main way of communicating this urgent info, they may want to devise another solution. Urgent messages should ideally be sent out using multiple pathways: email, IM, text messages, and, these days, Twitter alerts would also be a valuable tool to use, too. In fact, Omnilert’s e2Campus emergency notification system  already integrates with Twitter and Facebook as well as email, SMS, and RSS.

In the end, we think the decision Boston College made could easily be the start of a new trend, especially for smaller institutions looking to reduce I.T. infrastructure and support costs. We’re sure the students like it, too.