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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The digital divide: laptop equity at the University

"College is expensive: tuition, rent and social expenses can add up to tens of thousands of dollars per year. Smaller expenses, including the cost of buying a laptop, can get lost in this grand total." reports Samantha Wintner, Daily Staff Reporter.


News outlets often write broadly about the effects of socioeconomic status on success in school, but more specifically, how does restricted access to technology impact a student at the University?

Students are not required to own laptops in the majority of schools and programs at the University. According to the University’s Computer Showcase website, the University maintains computing sites on both Central and North Campuses equipped with both Macs and PCs for student use. However, the site also advises students “to consider a laptop computer.”

Photo: E. Royster Harper
E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, spoke to this contrast in a March interview with The Michigan Daily.

“As you can see, in the Unions and every place we can, (we) have computers and computer centers available for students,” she said. “But we know that that’s different from you having your own and being able to have the flexibility of 4:00 in the morning.” 

Individual school requirements
Students in the School of Art & Design are required to obtain a specified computer package, which the school website says they can purchase for about $3,500. This is the only school with such a requirement. 

Joann McDaniel, assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the School of Art & Design, said the cost of this computer package is included in the cost of first-year tuition for Art & Design students — which is sometimes covered by financial aid.

“Our students have a larger budget for financial aid,” she said. “The cost of being a freshman in the School of Art & Design is greater than the cost of being a freshman in, say, LSA. And the difference is that our students are required to buy a computer package. So it’s included as part of their budget — if a student qualifies for financial aid, then they get aid for their Art & Design tuition (including the computer package).”

She said students are given a four-year warranty for their purchase of the package, which is discounted through the Computer Showcase, so the laptop should be a one-time expense while they are attending the University.

McDaniel added that the Art & Design computer package is necessary because every discipline within the school requires a significant amount of computer-based work. She said standardizing the package puts all students on an equal playing field.

“When everybody has the same equipment, it’s a little bit like wearing a uniform,” she said. “(The package) doesn’t mean that there is perfect equity, but it’s one more step (towards equal opportunity).”

Ross School of Business students are not required to purchase a laptop but are warned that they will likely be at a disadvantage in both class and group work if they do not own a personal computer. The Business School’s website says that while students do have access to several public-use labs around campus, they should consider the fact that space in those labs will be limited.

Similarly, the School of Information does not have any specific laptop requirements. Education and Information Prof. Barry Fishman said decisions about what technology is required for classes are left up to the instructor.

Furthermore, neither the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the School of Kinesiology nor the College of Engineering require students to obtain a personal computer.

Monika Dressler, director of LSA Instructional Support Services, said in an e-mail interview that LSA does not have a laptop policy and does not require students to own their own computers.

“While some instructors do encourage students to use laptops in their classes, other faculty discourage or even ban the use of laptops or other mobile devices because they find them disruptive and distracting for students,” she said.

Source: The Michigan Daily