Education chief concerned about college Y2K readiness

U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley sent a letter on Thursday to the nation's college and university presidents and chancellors expressing his concern that many of the institutions are not yet Year 2000-compliant.

The letter noted a recent report by Education's inspector general that identified postsecondary institutions as the only "high-risk" component of the student aid delivery partnership. According to the department, Education's systems are Year 2000-ready. Riley cited a recent department survey probing the Year 2000 readiness of postsecondary institutions and was alarmed at the low response rate -- 32 percent -- and even more worried about the findings.

Only 30 percent of respondents have all mission-critical systems ready, the survey showed. The survey indicated that 60 percent expect to be compliant by Oct. 1. More than 60 percent of respondents had completed the awareness and assessment phases for their systems, but less than 20 percent had reached the implementation phase.

Perhaps the most alarming finding, according to Riley, was that only 22 of the 5,800 U.S. institutions participating in student aid programs had successfully tested a data exchange with Education's systems. The department's IG has recommended that data exchange testing become a requirement rather than simply encouraged. Riley is considering that suggestion.

All of a university's critical data systems are vulnerable to Year 2000 problems, including basic infrastructure, payroll, accounting, personnel, academic research and libraries, Riley said. He encouraged schools to take advantage of Education's Year 2000 resources, including World Wide Web sites and a contingency planning and Year 2000 readiness planning kit.

Riley will send a follow-up survey to the university and college leaders later this month and is hoping for an improved response rate and significant progress.

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