Sample group in U Internet study skewed

The results of a University study released last week show that more low-income high school students are using the Internet, but those surveyed were part of a program that already used the Internet in its curriculum.

The survey’s main finding was that social networking Web sites like Facebook and Myspace enhance students’ technological skills.

According to the study, 94 percent of low-income high school students are using the Internet, but an April 2008 Pew Research Center report puts that number at 86 percent.

The discrepancy may exist in how the surveys were conducted.

The students in the University survey were part of Admission Possible , an after-school college-preparatory program for 1,200 low-income students in 15 Twin Cities metro-area high schools.

The program regularly uses the Internet to research colleges and search for scholarships, according to a University news release.

High school juniors in Admission Possible use the Internet about once per week and high school seniors in the program use it “almost every session,” said Taylor Swartz , a senior coach for Admission Possible.

“We use (the Internet) a lot for college and scholarship searches,” Swartz said. “My after-school sessions were actually in the computer lab.”

But the study’s lead University researcher, Christine Greenhow , said she didn’t know that the students surveyed were using the Internet as part of the Admission Possible program.

She said that after looking at the program’s curriculum, she thought that the students were only using the Internet to fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Regardless of the sample, Admission Possible students are still using social networking to their academic advantage, Greenhow said. The study’s main focus was to research the beneficial use of social networking sites, which she said she accomplished.

“There is a lot more work that needs to be done,” she said. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”

In contrast to the University’s study, the Pew study was conducted using “random digit dialing” that polled teenagers ages 12 through 17 across the country, Pew Center spokesman Aaron Smith said.

Pew identifies households with annual incomes of $30,000 or less as low income. The average for households of students in Admission Possible is $25,000.

Pew research from 2005 found that only 44 percent of low-income households had access to the Internet. In households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, the percentage of teenagers who used the Internet reached 97 percent.