Eight California State University campuses will offer Apple iPads to freshmen and transfer students, a technology initiative intended to help bridge the digital divide as students seek more online courses in the largest university system of four years of the country.
By providing an essential tool without further straining student finances, university leaders hope the free technology will make a difference for those who decide to return to college.
“Every dollar is precious to our students and our families,” said California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro, adding that students currently in high school could be encouraged to apply and enroll in the future. “There are so many students in high school learning to use mobile technology, so it’s natural for them.”
Nearly half of all undergraduate students in the state of California receive Pell scholarships for financial need, and nearly one-third of students are the first in their families to pursue a college education.
Cal State campuses in Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Channel Islands, Fresno, Humboldt, Maritime Academy, Northridge and San Marcos have volunteered to be part of the first phase, which Castro hopes will continue indefinitely with other campuses. who will join later. Up to 35,000 students will benefit from the initiative in the fall.
The first year of the program – California State University Connectivity Contributing to Equity and Student Success, or CSUCCESS for short – is expected to cost $23.4 million from various funding sources which Cal State says will differ from campus to campus. other depending on a mix of savings and reserves, refunds of income lost during the pandemic and allocations from the 2021-22 state budget.
Isaac Alferos, president of the Cal State Student Assn. and a senior business administration student at Cal State Fullerton, said many of his friends are struggling to access the technology needed to participate in Zoom classes during the pandemic. Some had to share devices with siblings who were also taking lessons remotely.
“We are really encouraged by this initiative, as the pandemic has clearly demonstrated that digital inequality is becoming a huge barrier to success for so many of our students,” Alferos said, adding that the program “represents how we are helping building the future of education” in the wake of COVID-19.
Freshman numbers dropped significantly at Cal State last year, despite the system’s record overall enrollment numbers in fall 2020. It’s too early to tell whether fall enrollment in the higher education will increase after a national decline during the pandemic.
Students already in school will continue to have access to any technology support provided by their campus. But the initiative focuses on the needs of future students by offering them a 64 gigabyte iPad Air, an Apple Smart keyboard folio, an Apple Pencil and on-campus tech support. Students will be able to use the loaner device for the duration of their stay at Cal State.
iPads are not equipped with cellular data services due to limited program funding and existing programs on some campuses that provide loaner Wi-Fi devices such as hotspots, according to Cal State spokeswoman , Toni Molle.
“Depending on feedback, additional phases [of the program] could include hotspots and potentially other types of mobile devices,” Molle said, “as well as more campuses and more students.
California state officials are moving forward with expanded virtual learning options in the next semester and beyond, with many likely to opt for a hybrid model.
“Many students have been drawn to the flexibility of online education,” Castro said. “They will continue to pursue this because it’s more convenient for them – if they’re caring for a child or parent or struggling to commute to a campus every day.”
Access to technology is the key to this future. However, as students during the pandemic struggled with Wi-Fi or shared tech equipment with other members of their household, access was not without challenges. About 62% of students surveyed in a California Student Aid Commission-UC Davis report said they lacked stable internet access, for example. The struggle has been at least one of the reasons why some students have left school during the pandemic.
Castro hopes the technology initiative will help keep students in school as universities face a new normal and contribute to Cal State’s 2025 graduation initiative that aims to increase graduation rates and to eliminate inequalities.
“This initiative contributes to that goal because it will hopefully remove a barrier that will exist for students – and that is the ability to have a quality mobile device that gives them the ability to learn anywhere and at any time.”