U might require PCs in 1999

by David Hyland

Along with paper and pens, students will need another tool when they come to the University in the fall of 1999 — a computer.
Over the past year, the University’s Council of Undergraduate Deans has discussed a proposal to make sure all students own or have access to a computer. In the coming months, talks will intensify as the deans try to put finishing touches on the policy.
But with concerns ranging from students’ varying computer needs to the financial burdens of buying a machine, the proposal is still in the formative stages.
Don Riley, who heads the University’s Office of Information Technology, said the proposal was launched to raise education standards and options for all students. Illustrating a proficient knowledge of computers will be vitally important as graduates hit the job market, he added.
Discussion of the issue at the University mirrors a national trend of schools mandating their students to possess computers.
In the past year, universities like Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Carnegie-Mellon and Virginia Tech have implemented specific computer requirements. On the University’s Crookston campus, all incoming freshmen are issued laptop computers to use during their academic tenure.
Members of dean council, Dan Detzner and Peter Hudleston, agree the size and complexity of the Twin Cities campus would make the Crookston model undoable here.
The council is debating what basic policy it could enact that would be applicable to all colleges. From there, some colleges could tack on additional computer criteria for their students.
Most of the administrators want to make the computer mandate loose enough to include both PCs or Macintosh computers and include loopholes for students that already have computers.
But Hudleston, the associate dean for student affairs in the Institute of Technology, questions the need for a computer requirement. Increasingly, students are purchasing their own computer already without a requirement, he said.
If the requirement is passed, however, Hudleston said IT would not impose any additional computer requirements on its students. Instead, the college would expect students to continue to pay a fee and use the more sophisticated IT computer labs.
“If access were really excellent everywhere in labs on campus, classrooms and the dorms,” Hudleston said, “the need for this would not be there.”
Detzner, the associate dean of Academic Affairs in the College of Human Ecology, said the council has no plans to suggest funding changes for the University’s computer labs if a new policy is enacted.
Still, other concerns remain. Foremost is the impact a requirement would have on lower income students.
In a survey of General College students presented to the council on Friday, a quarter of participating students said buying a computer would be a financial hardship.
Terry Collins, director of Academic Affairs for General College, conducted and presented the survey.
“If there’s somebody who can’t afford this … we need to find a way for them to still be able to come to school, to still be able to get access to good computing,” Collins said. Allowing students to apply financial aid to leasing or purchase costs is one option.
“You can reduce the impact on lower income students but you can’t eliminate it entirely,” Hudleston said.
The survey of 450 students found that half of incoming freshmen owned their own computer. An additional 35 percent had easy access.
Collins said he also found that 88 percent of students surveyed said it would be helpful to own or have on-demand access to a computer.
Sociology junior Jennifer Molan said she thinks the decision to buy a computer should be left to the students. She adds that buying a computer is even a hardship for students not requiring financial aid.
“College is enough of an expense as it is,” she said. “If the University’s willing to pay for it, that would be great. That would be an expense that most students couldn’t afford.”
Riley said he hopes more student opinion will be heard on the individual college level where the council’s deans are conferring with faculty about their college’s computer needs.
But with the fall 1999 deadline approaching, most administrators expect a policy to be adopted in the next few months.
Riley said he fully expects the computer requirement to be implemented in one form or another.
“People genuinely agree that you need something like chalk and an overhead projector,” Riley said.
“There isn’t yet 100 percent agreement that you need the technology.”