By Kathleen Foody

Marcus Vaal has had a Gmail account, Google’s own e-mail service, since its inception in May 2004.

Vaal, a junior in Engineering, said he has all the e-mails his University account receives immediately forwarded to his Gmail account.

“It’s better organized and easier to read and search,” he said.

Colleges and university students across the country have also been introduced to Gmail thanks to Google’s latest service, Google Apps for Education.

Google Apps for Education allows universities and colleges to shift the responsibility of student e-mail accounts to Google, while students still keep their accredited addresses without having to forward all of their e-mails, as Vaal does.

But University officials are still considering the issues that accompany moving the responsibility of student e-mail accounts to a corporation, said Randal F. Cetin, director of Systems and Technology Services for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, better known as CITES.

Kevin Gough, a product marketing manager for Google, said Google Apps for Education was launched in August, but is beginning to take shape now.

The program allows universities and colleges to outsource their e-mail service to Google rather than managing it themselves.

Gough said Google has a long history of working to provide better technology to aid educators and students, and this program is a continuation of those efforts.

“In addition to that, a lot of the people working at the company had those two megabyte accounts that schools provide,” Gough said. “We experienced the problems that accompany those accounts as students.”

The service allows students to use Google’s customizable e-mail accounts, as well as calendar and instant messaging tools.

“Google is all about innovation,” Gough said. “Our goal is to bring as many new features out as quickly as possible and continue to benefit our users.”

Cetin said that the University and CITES are still concerned about several issues, including the privacy of student data and identities.

“E-mail containing confidential information, grades, personal identification information, or research information that resides off and not under the direct control of the University may be violating campus, state or even federal policy,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Gough said Google has always taken special care to protect its users.

“Security is something that Google takes very seriously across our product line,” he said. “We have a very strict privacy policy, and in many ways Google might be more secure than a campus-run service because we have assessed our security program with tens of thousands of users.”

Gough said many colleges and universities are already using the services.

The largest of these is Arizona State University, which has already moved to using Google Apps for Education, including the e-mail services.

Adrian Sannier, vice president and university technology officer at ASU, said the decision was made after looking at all the options.

Sannier said ASU officials considered developing their own capability, but ultimately decided that a commercial provider had the ability to move a product into use and make continuous updates.

Working with Google allows ASU students to take advantage of better services and still feel part of community with a mark of affiliation they cannot get from a commercial address, Sannier said.

An added benefit is that Google is offering its services to universities for free, saving ASU half a million dollars, Sannier said.

The services were put into place in two weeks, and Sannier said students are already responding positively in multitudes.

“Students were converting at 300 per hour,” he said. “It was very easy, just push one button and get all these new features but still keep your existing e-mail address.”