ECCI Celabrates Its First Decade
By Peter Meade
Sherry Manning has enjoyed success as a real estate executive and a college president,
but neither has brought her as much of a sense of accomplishment as her work with the
Education Communications Consortia Inc. (ECCI), the organization she co-founded that is
celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
From its modest beginning, ECCI has grown to become the nation’s largest bulk buyer of
long distance products and services for colleges, universities and independent schools.
The Charleston, W. Va.-based organization now serves 400 educational institutions in 43
The ever-enthusiastic and ebullient Manning spoke with PHONE+ executive editor
Peter Meade about the past, present and future of the organization she founded with her
husband, Charles W. Manning, as she leads ECCI into its second decade.
Peter Meade: You have a varied and impressive background. Two degrees in
mathematics, a Ph.D. in management science, CEO of a real estate development company,
president of Colorado Women’s College, but what brought you into the world of
Sherry Manning: As much as I love the world of education, it does not create
equity. I wanted to find a way to accomplish that, so I spent some 12 months working on
ideas. I had breakfast, lunch or dinner with seemingly every business owner in Colorado,
picking their brains, getting ideas, formulating business plans.
PM: What was the shining moment?
SM: When I had lunch with Tom Wynne, a former MCI (Communi-cations Corp.)
executive and former LCI (International Inc.) president in Denver. He got me thinking
about the telecommunications industry. I had to admit there was a lot to think about as I
didn’t know much about it. But Tom said, "You know business, you have run businesses.
Telecom is a business." I saw it as a way to serve the educational community I love
so much. Nobody was paying much attention to telecom, especially long distance, at the
time. But I kept thinking that I didn’t know much about telecom. Tom made me feel I could
figure it out.
PM: And, obviously, you did.
SM: I realized I had four things in my favor. One: I was starting a business
with no capital. Two: I had Tom Wynne as my coach. Three: I could serve colleges and
universities. Four: I had always used phones a lot.
PM: A lot of people with your broad background would have considered consulting.
SM: I did, but it wasn’t right for what I wanted to accomplish. I could have
built a business on making decisions for colleges, but I wanted a more collaborative
venture. I wanted to build a business on the people we serve, not on a better mousetrap. I
wanted to build a business on the market, listen to the market and change as the market
PM: So at this time the payphone industry was just starting to deregulate. Is
that what caught your attention?
SM: Yes. So I started calling colleges and universities to get their payphones
under the management of the ECCI. Before I knew it, we had 250 schools signed up and had
requests for proposals (RFPs) out to AT&T (Corp.), Sprint (Communications Co.) and
PM: Who won the bid?
SM: We went with MCI. Believe it or not, AT&T didn’t even bid. But we
designed our materials and we were off and running. By pooling the long distance charges
made from our public payphones, even the smallest volumes become something significant
when they are aggregated with hundreds of other phones on colleges, universities and
independent schools across the country.
PM: Tell me about how ECCI became affiliated with the National Association of
College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).
SM: We have a strategic alliance with NACUBO, which audits us. One of the most
influential education associations in the nation, we have formed the ECCI Long Distance
Consortium with NACUBO. The consortium pools the purchasing of long distance service from
hundreds of colleges, universities and independent schools to create new levels of revenue
and savings in their long distance purchases. This relationship is especially effective
for small schools that do not have a telecommunications staff. They can choose ECCI and be
PM: What about the ECCI Message Center?
SM: Many of the delegates attending the national and regional NACUBO shows
didn’t have the time to run up to their rooms between sessions or wait to use the
payphones, so we set up a ECCI Message Center; we install three free phone lines in the
lobby of the hotel for NACUBO members and their families to use. We’re now a regular at
four NACUBO shows–East, South, West and Central–as well as the national show. ECCI
sponsors free long distance through the Message Center at 12 educational meetings a year,
adding up to gift of $125,000.
ECCI also works with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) as well as
statewide gatherings, the Association for the Advancement of International Education
(AAIE), the Association of College and University Telecommunications Administrators
(ACUTA) and the Eastern Association of College Auxiliary Officers (EACAS), among others.
Telecom people are the most undernurtured people in the college and university
PM: Aside from this being the 10th anniversary for ECCI, doesn’t the Message
Center have a milestone upcoming?
SM: This month [July] at the NACUBO meeting in Las Vegas we will celebrate the
100th Message Center. Every chief financial officer walks up and uses our phones during
the shows. It’s good business, an example of how the more you give, the more that comes
back to you.
PM: While ECCI will always be known for payphones, how did you start to grow the
business to include other areas?
SM: Simply, we asked. After payphones, we started asking about managing their 1+
business. We also started working with colleges and universities when they wanted to
install a new private branch exchange (PBX). We don’t want to buy switches–that isn’t our
business–even though we have installed switches. We’re a coach…
PM: And a teacher. Yet when I think of the ECCI, I immediately think of its
management of student billing for schools.
SM: Our goal has been to be the most effective student billing service in the
country. We started five years ago with a pilot application at the University of Northern
Colorado and inaugurated the billing process with Proctor Academy in September 1995. We
now have some 20 institutions serving more than 12,000 students. In addition to providing
timely and accurate bills, we want to help our members use the billing information to
better understand their students. What does the information tell us about the students?
Does a large percentage of the calls go to a certain place? What are the most popular
PM: I recall from my undergrad years that some college students are not the best
SM: That’s why we are very careful to offer a full range of options, including
credit limit management. We’re very careful about collections. The vice president of
student development is likely to have a different viewpoint on student billing than, say,
the business officer, long distance provider or even the parent. ECCI is focused on
managing the needs of each of these segments. It is impossible to create a
one-size-fits-all bill for students. But we’re not a LEC (local exchange carrier), so we
don’t have to play by their rules. We can create a billing solution that fits the needs of
each institution. We can even add a message on the bottom of the bills and run promotions,
such as discounted pricing on Valentine’s Day.
We can do this because we now are working with 400 colleges and universities in more
than 40 states. After starting out with MCI, we now have added alliances with WorldCom
(Inc.), AT&T and LCI. ECCI’s long distance consortium has permitted us to return
millions of dollars to our members in commissions from on-campus 0+ long distance calling.
We give even the smallest colleges the ability to save money as the biggest institutions
PM: Yet the overall payphone business is not exactly thriving today due to
dial-around and the popularity of wireless phones.
SM: True, but payphones are alive and well on college and university campuses.
Students continue to use them, especially during sporting events. We manage payphones near
the stadium at Notre Dame University, and you can imagine how busy they are during
PM: Name some of the other ECCI member schools.
SM: Our biggest concentration is in small four-year colleges, including Ferris
State University (Big Rapids, Mich.), Rosemont College (Philadelphia), the University of
Denver, Wesley College (Dover, Del.) and Westmont College (Santa Barbara, Calif.). We’ve
added a lot of two-year schools, including Atlantic Community College (Atlantic City,
N.J.), Brevard Community College (Cocoa, Fla.) and Delaware County Community College
(Media, Penn.). The fastest-growing segment is independent schools led by Cranbrook
Education Community (Michigan), Miss Porter’s School (Connecticut), St. Stephen’s School
(Texas) and Virginia Episcopal School.
PM: Going into your second decade, what is your goal for ECCI?
SM: We want to do the best job of integrating student life and
telecommunications. Students may choose between colleges based on their telecommunications
capabilities. Would you spend $25,000 to go to a school that didn’t have data jacks in its
dorm rooms? The way a school embraces technology tells you a lot about it. For example, we
know every time cable TV is put on campuses, the crime rate is reduced.
PM: I would imagine that a major new part of this task is the Internet, right?
SM: Yes. Colleges and universities expect to connect everything from everywhere.
We must find a way to do this and networking capability is a real challenge. Yet (colleges
and universities) have the most effective trunking anywhere; the faculty calls by day, the
students by night.
PM: Even in your wildest expectations, did you ever see the ECCI being where it
SM: Never. I’m reminded every day that if you just keep your head down and serve
your customers, it comes back to you. Our country’s telecommunications network capability
is an American treasure. All ECCI wants to do is tap into that treasure to better provide
enhanced telecom services to our members. We are stewards of the most precious commodity
in the country. The extremely low long distance rates we have today in our institutions
have been created in part in response to ECCI’s presence in the market.
PM: Anything else you use as a reminder of what you have achieved?
SM: When I think back to when I started 10 years ago, I always think of a quote
from J. Paul Getty: "In times of great challenge, experience is your worst
enemy." I always think about that in times of great decision.
Academia Gives ECCI Good Grades
"We asked ECCI to help us purchase long distance services and manage student
"ECCI provides leadership with a servant’s attitude. The cooperation and
"ECCI has been a partner with us in telecommunications and that’s made a real
"ECCI allowed us to install a new telecommunications system, allowing students to
"By pooling the purchasing of long distance calling among institutions, ECCI helps
"We are so pleased with ECCI’s long distance consortium that today more than 75
"ECCI works in the interest of all colleges and universities."
"ECCI-NACUBO’s long distance consortium is a model public-private partnership,