Simpson lags in technology

by Laura Dillavou

Across the nation, college students are enticed with the ring ofa BlackBerry, tunes from an iPod, or the hum of a new laptop.However, Simpson remains silent while the war of campus electronicsrages around it.

As more students chose alternatives to college education,institutions try new strategies to increase enrollment. At privateand public universities throughout America, officials started tobank on technology “giveaways” to get their numbers up.

Large universities often have the means to give incomingstudents a unique campus gift. Freshman at Duke were handed20-gigabyte Apple iPods when they arrived at the Durham, N.C.,university this fall. According the Duke Chronicle, the total costwas $500,000, paid for by a college technology fund. The mp3 playerwill be used in classes for audio recording, downloading campusinformation and assisting with foreign language learning.

In 1998, Winona State University in Winona, Minn., started apilot laptop program. Six years later, all 8,236 students on campusare equipped with their choice of an Apple iBook G4 or a GatewayM275 Tablet PC. The computers are changed every two years to updateprograms and students can install software specific to their major.In addition, students receive a bag, damage coverage, insurance andon-site repair.

“The total cost to our students is $500 a semester,” said RobinHonken, Winona State University project coordinator in technicalsupport. “This fee hasn’t changed since we started, and we will notincrease it. With corporate sponsorships, we have been able to adda lot of value to the programs. The students really get theirmoney’s worth out of this.”

These technology giveaways aren’t just happening at largeuniversities. Two of Simpson’s competitors – Buena Vista Universityin Storm Lake and Loras College in Dubuque – have caught thetechnology bug, giving students new expectations for what collegeshould be.

The issue of technology on campus is nothing new to KelleyBradder, Simpson vice president of information services.

“Financially, we feel it is not in the best interest to thestudents,” Bradder said. “When looking at other schools like BuenaVista and Loras, their tuition jumped more than the price of alaptop, but they may have folded it into the price hike so it’s notas noticeable.”

Bradder went on to explain that although Simpson has looked intothe possibility of laptops, it will not happen, due to the priceand technological hindrances it may impose on students.

“With a wireless laptop, you have access to the Internet, butgenerally, those run on 10 MB, meaning their information comes at10 MB per second,” Bradder said. “On campus, we have 100MB. If youthink downloads are slow now, think of what it would be like 10times slower. Simpson may go wireless in the future, as newtechnology continues to speed things up and better security becomesavailable.”

But to wide-eyed freshmen, low-cost, fancy gadgets may lure themover to other schools. However, the cost for these gadgets may behidden, or simply called a “technology” fee. For students at laptopcolleges, this fee is mandatory. Sources said that parents, ratherthan students were in favor of computer programs, regardless ofcost.

“There was not a technology fee before the computers were oncampus,” said Tom Kruse, senior director of technology supportservices at Loras. “But now, there is a $400 fee per semester. Thatdoes help with the cost of the computers, but also the staff tomaintain them and additional things like software and extraprogramming. Even if we didn’t have the laptops, we would havestarted this fee. It’s become pretty standard at mostcampuses.”

Students at Loras spend $3,200 over four years for computer use.Purchasing a laptop can range anywhere from $700 to $3,000. Whenbreaking it down, who gets the better buy? There are many factorsto consider.

If a student were to purchase a laptop, a printer would berecommended, along with new print cartridges and paper. Inaddition, the student would have to have current security softwareand campus-compatible programs. At schools like Winona State, allstudents have the same programming, and all are connected toprinters around campus, eliminating the need for personalprinters.

“[At Winona State,] we refresh the laptops every two years,everyone remains current with technology and is able to receiveup-to-date training on the programs,” Honken said. “We can dorepairs right here and keep a better handle on all the viruses thatstarted coming out. As for faculty, they are assured that allstudents have the means to turn their work and the ability to workonline.”

It seems the benefits are endless: students have the opportunityto have a state-of-the-art machine in their own hands, availablewhenever and wherever they want, colleges can boast of a commitmentto technology and faculty are better able to electronicallycommunicate with students.

But the advancement of laptops on campus comes with more thanjust a hefty price tag.

“With every student having a laptop, the power truly is in theirhands,” said Ken Clipperton, managing director of universityinformation services at Buena Vista University. “The instructorreally has to keep them on task, but that is an issue of classroommanagement.”

“If students are going to use their laptops to chat or e-mail,the same students would be the ones doodling or staring out thewindow if there weren’t computers,” Kruse said. “Having theresponsibility of the laptop just makes students focus more on theclass. They have to stay on top of things.”

In addition to the distractions of instant messaging, studentsalso use their wireless capabilities to illegally download music.This is not a new problem to campuses. Buena Vista has takenmeasures to cut down on it.

“There is a problem with students downloading music, but we haveworked to limit the bandwidth available for music downloads,”Clipperton said. “Now academic purposes take priority instead ofmusic. It has seemed to work.”

For students attending Loras, Buena Vista, Winona StateUniversity and other schools around the nation, the appeal of newtechnology has far outweighed the price.

“[Winona State’s] enrollment numbers are up about 200 to 250 perclass,” Honken said. “Whether that’s directly related to thecomputers, we don’t know for sure. But we do know about 20 percentof our students came specifically for the laptop program. Besidesthat, our retention has increased as well.”

Kruse agrees with Honken.

“With a wireless campus, everyone is at the same standard,everyone is equal,” Kruse said. “I see no problems with being awireless campus, it has definitely benefited us.”