According to a 2016 study conducted by Pew Research Center, Americans with incomes less than $30,000 have lower access to all forms of technology ranging from smartphones to high speed internet and access to laptops. The digital divide disproportionally affects low income when compared to individuals from higher income brackets. The digital divide persists for an individual even as they hit later stages in life. We believe the digital divide is one more driver on income inequality.
Can Early Intervention Stop This?
Studies by K-12 education researchers at Michigan State University demonstrate positive student outcomes when students are immersed in technology programs and especially if students are provided items that directly influence their success with technology. These items include:
- Free Laptops For Low Income Students
- Access To High Speed Internet At Home and In The Classroom
- Instructors That Are Technologically Savvy
My College Laptop, an education resource website that advocates for technology immersion in colleges, believes that colleges marketing themselves to low-income prospective students and providing them with technology needed to succeed is the key to closing the “technology gap” between high-income and low-income Americans.
In order to test this hypothesis, My College Laptop studied ten community colleges that have programs that supply students with laptops; Houston Community College, Clovis Community College, Shoreline Community College, Mt. San Antonio College, Western Iowa Tech Community College, Montgomery College, Portland Community College, Los Angeles Community College District, Everett Community College, and Harrisburg Area Community College.
If the “technology gap” between high-income and low-income prospective students is the main reason why Americans are not getting their bachelor’s degrees, then having colleges reach out to students and provide them with technology should close this gap and increase the amount of students who graduate.
The Houston Community College (HCC) library provides ADA compliant laptops available for eligible students in good standing. The ADA laptops are available for checkout either daily or on an hourly basis and must be returned on time. The program is partly funded by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Students can use laptops on- campus or off-campus. For students working on long term projects, there is a 3-week checkout program available and students have the option to extend for an additional 3 weeks under extenuating circumstances. HCC’s Library Services also provides students with free laptop loaner equipment, on a first-come-first-served basis with a signed Letter of Accommodation (LOA) from an ADA Counselor.
The other nine colleges observed have similar guidelines for checking out laptops. Clovis Community College’s Laptop Loan Policy program provides computers free of charge to their students who are currently registered. Students may check out laptops for as long as 7 days and the machines are due on the same day of the following week. Students can also check out machines again within 24 hours after the initial machine is returned. Shoreline Community College offers laptop checkout services for students studying online that require a laptop equipped for modern study. The student must be currently registered for at least 1 online course to be eligible for the program. For students that attend exclusively online or live 50 miles or greater from SCC, SCC accommodates them by mailing laptops to the student’s home address at the beginning of each quarter. The check-out begins at the start of the quarter until the end of the current quarter. 8 MacBook Pros, 24 Chromebooks, and 5 PC laptops are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Western Iowa Tech Community College has a device initiative for students that have paid the standard tuition/ course fees and are enrolled in credit earning courses with an Apple MacBook. The laptop is for use while students are enrolled in credit earning courses at WITCC. Students are advised to check with student services for enrollment and eligibility dates. MacBook’s are preloaded with the standard OS and students also can access Office 365 for free if the Office suite is required to complete their studies.
Students who are registered online or with at least one Z-course can borrow a laptop for the entire semester as part of the Montgomery College General Studies LaptopLending program. Laptops are lent on a first-come-first-serve basis. Students can pick up their laptops at the Rockville bookstore during the first week of classes once registration is confirmed. Students can also reserve a laptop before the start of the semester if he/she is registered online. There is no cost to participate in this program. The Portland Community College Bookstore has partnered with Dell and HP to provide discounts to students, faculty, and staff. To qualify for the discount offered, a student is required to provide proof of current enrollment and show their student ID with the current term sticker attached. The Sylvania Campus Bookstore also has a purchasing department (PantherTEK) with demo models on display. Laptop Program Details: In partnership with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Connect to Success initiative, the Los Angeles College Promise (LACP) provides free tuition (2 years) and offers free laptops to students. Students must be first-time Angelino college students to be eligible. All laptops are loaded with the standard PC operating system and come with one-year of free tech support, hardware warranty and assistance to help students access the internet. LACP’s Connect to Success initiative estimates that 6,000 students will receive free laptops in 2019-2020.Students can keep the laptop if they are fully enrolled in the LACP (Los Angeles College Promise) program and attend one of the 9 LACCD campuses.
Harrisburg Area Community College has a PC loan program for students that do not have any form of computer access. Eligible students must be degree-seeking (diploma, certificate or associate degree), maintain good academic standing with a GPA of 2.0 or greater and should be currently enrolled in at least 6 credits (4 credits for students in clinical disciplines). Students at Everett Community College can check out Netbooks for a full quarter. This program is funded by the student ETec fee. The rental Netbook runs on Windows 10 and has Office 365 installed. Netbooks may be used on or off-campus to support student learning needs. The College Library is also piloting a lending program with a limited number of NOOK Simple Touch eReaders, and students can check out these devices for 22 days with renewals. The eReaders can be used to download free ebooks from the EvCC library and other public library collections. Students can also purchase ebooks from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
In addition to providing laptops to students, Mt. San Antonio College has a program that offers students a free $250 book grant, a free $100 food card, a free laptop loan, a free bus pass 24/7 on Foothill transit lines, fee Waivers and free Mountie gear and school supplies. As far as their laptop loaning program, laptops are available for use for all Mt. San Antonio College students in good standing and can be checked out at the Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) Library. Students are limited to a two hour loan period to ensure maximum usage. Laptops are restricted for use within the Mt. SAC Library. Wireless internet is available.
These colleges are all dedicated to providing as many resources to students as their budget will allow in an attempt to close the “technology gap.”
In each of these cases My College Laptop saw high levels of academic performance in the students who were given laptops. They observed the highest performance in the students whose schools provided every individual with a laptop, as opposed to loaning laptops on a first-come first-serve basis. My College Laptop found that when students are given the technological resources to succeed, they are more likely to perform well in higher education, which leads them to see it all the way to a bachelor’s degree. America’s student battle against income inequality is being ambitiously led by its community colleges.