Requiring Chapel Hill students to have their own personal or laptop computers will provide equal access and technology to all students, a university official said.
"Many of our sister schools in the Southeast are already doing this, and we don't want our students to be disadvantaged among our peer universities, nor do we want our own students to be disadvantaged among their peers here," said Marian Moore, the university's chief information officer.
Using computers is nothing new to students. Fifty-four percent of new students in 1996 arrived already equipped with computers. The university's 15 computer labs have more than 500,000 visits a year, and about 26,000 e-mail accounts are set up.
Under the plan, called the Carolina Computing Initiative, students can bring their own up-to-date computers or purchase one from student stores.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill would subsidize the cost for students who need financial assistance. The university also will contract with a private vendor to trim computer costs bought from the student stores.
"We certainly don't want to bankrupt any student or family in North Carolina to do this," Moore said.
The university would be the third major school in the state to add the prerequisite. Wake Forest University began the requirement for entering freshmen in 1996, but uses the students' tuition to buy them notebook computers. Computers will be mandatory for first-year students at Western Carolina University beginning this fall. And the University of North Carolina at Wilmington is considering a similar plan.
UNC-Chapel Hill administrators studied the idea for five months and sought student input before making the decision. Student Body President Mo Nathan was cautiously optimistic.
"The students are interested but uninformed," Nathan said. "We need to talk more about what needs to be done."
Wake Forest provides laptops to its students and pays for them with higher tuition, which now stands at $19,450 annually without room, board and books. Western Carolina freshmen are expected to pay about $1,300 more than a semester's tuition, which runs about $932.
Johnny Graham, a UNC-Chapel Hill junior who won't be affected by the requirement, says the school should pick up the cost of computers for students as tuition keeps rising.
"I think it's ludicrous," Graham said. "... There are so many computers on campus, and now students are going to have to buy them? It doesn't make sense."
But accessibility to on-campus computers is still limited, officials say. UNC-Chapel Hill only has one lab open 24 hours a day.
"Right now, we have a series of public-access computer labs," said Linwood Futrelle with the university office of cademic Technology and Networks. "Everybody can use them, but it's not quite as convenient as having it right there where you're sleeping."
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