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Have computer, will matriculate

The University of Florida becomes one of a growing number of colleges requiring students to have their own computers. USF and FSU are keeping an eye on the policy.

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 17, 1998


For new students at the University of Florida, it's BYOC -- bring your own computer.

UF is one of a growing number of colleges around the country that are requiring students to have their own computers when they arrive and know how to use them before they graduate.

"The university is responding to what students will need to do to be successful once they leave," said Sue Legg, director of the office of instructional resources at UF.

Unlike UF in Gainesville, whose new policy became effective this summer, the University of South Florida in Tampa and Florida State University in Tallahassee do not require students to have their own computers.

USF intends to watch how UF's policy works, but the Tampa school has some major differences, according to Patrick Riordan, a special assistant to USF president Betty Castor.

USF is mostly a commuter campus with its students living at home, many with access to a home computer; UF is mostly residential with students living away from home.

In addition, many USF students are the first in their families to go to college, don't come from affluent backgrounds and have jobs to help pay their way through school.

Requiring students to buy a computer could "stretch them to the limit" financially, Riordan said. "It might discourage people from actually attending. We don't want to price ourselves out of the market."

USF agrees that it's "absolutely essential" for students to have access to computers and computer skills for the job market when they graduate, Riordan said. The school has computer labs throughout the campus and offers a variety of courses on computer use.

In Tallahassee, FSU strongly recommends that students have a computer. Surveys show that 75 percent of incoming students own computers, and about two-thirds are comfortable or can use the equipment with ease, according to Carl Baker, FSU's director of academic computing and network services.

The university may reconsider its position.

"Some people felt that we didn't need to require (students to bring computers) since so many were doing it already," Baker said. "The reason to revisit is that financial aid would help cover the cost of it then. We don't want it to be a have and have-not situation, where people who can't afford it are at a disadvantage."

FSU students who don't own computers have access to university-owned equipment in places such as the library.

No national survey is available on how many universities around the country are requiring students to have their own computers, but the number is growing. Wake Forest University started a program last year in which it gives laptops to freshmen (paid for through a tuition increase). Dartmouth College freshmen will need a new iMac from Apple this year, according to Bloomberg News. The University of North Carolina will require freshmen to have laptops starting in 2000, according to the New York Times.

Surveys conducted by the Campus Computing Project and published in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year showed, among other things, that e-mail is used in a third of college courses and that 40 percent of the schools surveyed require students to show basic computer skills.

UF decided to allocate its technology money to wire the campus with high-speed fiber-optic connections in labs, classrooms and dorm rooms (a program called "a port for every pillow"). UF will participate in Internet 2, a new high-speed network for universities.

To keep computer labs current was too expensive, Legg said, requiring the university to replace computers every two years.

"We decided it made more sense to put money into infrastructure than into computers that were going to become obsolete," Legg said. "It seems to make much better sense to increase the computing power of the university."

That means replacing some computer labs with pods, with laptop connections for students and a work station. Students can collaborate around the pods or work individually in what Legg called a shift in instructional style. Some traditional labs will still be available, as well as specially equipped classrooms and ports available for access.

UF's policy and system recommendations can be found at www.circa.ufl.edu/computers/. Parents of students at other schools should contact those schools or check their Web sites to see what their individual policies and system requirements may be.

-- Times news researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. 



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