6.0519 Rs: Student Computers (3/139)

Wed, 17 Feb 1993 15:12:24 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0519. Wednesday, 17 Feb 1993.

(1) Date: Tue, 16 Feb 93 21:09:59 EST (34 lines)
From: "Allen Renear, Brown Univ/CIS, 401-863-7312" <ALLEN@BROWNVM>
Subject: Student Computers

(2) Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1993 21:41 CST (13 lines)
Subject: RE: 6.0514 Rs: Student Computers and Internet Dialup

(3) Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1993 14:19:13 -0500 (92 lines)
From: wall@cc.swarthmore.edu (Matthew Wall)
Subject: R: on Student Computers

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 16 Feb 93 21:09:59 EST
From: "Allen Renear, Brown Univ/CIS, 401-863-7312" <ALLEN@BROWNVM>
Subject: Student Computers

Brown made a very deliberate decision not to require computer purchases
but instead to focus on making computers available in public clusters.
We like to think we have one of the highest, if not the highest, ratio
of public computers per student in the country. We believed that
that was the best way, at the time, to provide fair and equitable
access to computing resources at an institution that was also
very committed to promoting academic technology.

But a large installed base of public computers is indeed a very
expensive asset, primarily due to the cost of maintenance and
replacement. The great thing about student ownership is that
the machines aren't on your books and are always fairly current.
(Of course by the 4th year you'll need some upgrades and mayber
even replacements for some users, but few schools plan on much
less than a 5 year cycle in any case). And as required equipment
can be figured in calculations of student out-of-pocket expenses
loans and grants that are based on those calculations can
be used to cover the purchase. Many have argued that this creates
a fairer and more equitable arrangement than what obtains when
there is no requirement. After all, more and more students every
year arrive with computers, or buy them anyway. A purchase requirement
can actually help level the field by releasing grant and loan funds
(mostly loan I think) for the purchase. And, moreover, the money saved
by the university can be used for other things. Like financial aid.
Or the Patrologia Latina Database. Well...like financial aid.

I believe Dartmouth discovered, though, that with each 1st year class
buying the current consumer best buy the typical student machine
quickly outpaced the typical faculty machine.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------16----
Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1993 21:41 CST
Subject: RE: 6.0514 Rs: Student Computers and Internet Dialup

Just for information, at ST. Mary's U in San Antonio I have almost exactly
the same set-up that Kenneth Salzberg describes for Hamline. We are also
using part of an NEH grant for Foreign Languages across the Curriculum to
teach one section of Introduction to Computers with a Spanish component,
teaching our students the technical language of computing in Spanish, and
putting them in touch with Spanish-language BB's and E-mail throughout
Latin America.
The same could obviously be done in any other language if we had professors
who knew other languages. Charlie Miller, St. Mary's U, San Antonio
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------106---
Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1993 14:19:13 -0500
From: wall@cc.swarthmore.edu (Matthew Wall)
Subject: R: on Student Computers

Hi, I'm only a week behind on Humanist, sorry for the late response to:

>Date: Fri, 12 Feb 93 14:02:13 GMT
>Subject: Student Computers
>Some of non-British Humanists may be aware of the crisis facing Higher
>Education funding in Britain (government funding for `marginal' Arts
>and Humanities students is being reduced by 30%, for example). One
>immediate consequence is a cutback in our already overstretched
>computer provision for students (at the moment one workstation for
>every 30, and getting worse).
>It is now being suggested that all students be required to equip
>themselves with a wordprocessor/PC/Mac *at their own expense*. I think
>I remember a similar scheme having been tried in the States (at Brown?).

This can save you money and give the students better service (albeit at
their own expense) if you're careful about a couple of major, major points.

(1) Set standards and enforce them. Don't just tell students 'go buy a
computer'; pick a model (or models if you absolutely must, but keep the
range small) and arrange with a vendor for as steep discounts as possible
for your students, and stick with it. Your support will be easier, students
will have a predictable environment, and your curricular uses can count on
computer access.

(2) You MUST provide for network connections in some way, and bear in mind
that any scheme that involves students connecting with their own computers
- in dorms, at home via modems, whatever - will be >$ to your institution
than providing some lab connections.

(3) Hidden costs - software, access to specialized machines, individual
networking charges (very pricey in the DOS world for not much service)
really add up. Figure them out and be honest with the students about them.

There's also the possibility of doing a chargeback to students in the form
of a mandatory 'lab fee' for computer access. That's not quite the way we
do things here, but if you have no money in your budget, you have no money,
and the lab fee would at least ensure equal access to everyone by spreading
the cost among everybody and not simply having those who can afford to buy
their own computer and those who cannot.

At Swarthmore, even though we've been an all-Mac school for some time, we
haven't yet made owning a computer a requirement. This despite the fact you
couldn't go a day and a half without needing one for a class. Why not?
There would be some good reasons for doing so...the central budget for
"public" access computers and staff to run them could be cut some or
repurposed, all students would have relatively equal and stress-free access
to a needed resource, the student gets a moderately resaleable asset when
they leave, and the base of computers at the school automatically gets
upgraded to the newest technology in a four-year span (which is the maximum
time you want to hold on to computing technology anyway). Instead of
running public access, your staff could concentrate on 'backbone'
technologies like networking and on special educational uses (multimedia
stations, et al).

So what's the hold-up? Here, Financial Aid. Our Sr. Admin seems to think
that requiring a computer would also require the College providing one for
our 40%+ students who are on financial aid, so the college would
effectively have to buy half a million bucks of computers a year
indirectly. As long as it's not a requirement they can stick to the fiction
that the students currently have "equal" access even though the half who
can afford computers have already purchased them and the other half jostle
one another at finals time (mind you, I'm not complaining because we're
very well-funded).

This strikes be as very strange because Financial Aid here also accounts
for a huge book budget every semester and a rather hefty (four digits)
allowance for "personal items" which I understand to mean is to cover
everything from roll-on deodorant to change for pizza. Why this stuff is in
a financial aid allotment and a computer isn't is beyond me.

The real bottom line is that adding even $300 a year in costs (assuming a
$1200 computer spread out over four years; not counting software, repairs,
disks etc.) is more than most colleges want to add to tuition because the
current conventional wisdom is that the 'market' for a college education
can't stand anymore price increases. This isn't any cash-strapped state
school: we're one of the premiere colleges in the country and the tuition
shows it (and covers barely half the expenses, the endowment covering
more). Sign o' the times.

- Matt
Humanities Coordinator
Swarthmore College