Mass. Takes Step for Laptops

Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) — Education leaders endorsed a plan Tuesday that would make Massachusetts the first state to require full-time public college students to own a laptop computer.

The Board of Higher Education approved the policy as part of a $123 million program aimed at wedding high-tech skills to higher education and giving the poor better access to technology.

The proposal still requires legislative approval, which may prove difficult amid concern over whether other programs will be ignored.

``It doesn't do any good to have laptops if you have buildings leaking — which we do,'' said Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Several schools in the country already require computer ownership, including the University of Florida, Ohio University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But Massachusetts would be the first state to make laptop ownership a systemwide requirement.

There are 176,000 students in the state's university system, full and part time. About 70 percent of students at four-year colleges now have their own computers, board vice chancellor Jack Warner said.

The plan would provide $54 million for laptop purchases, vouchers for low-income students and loans, plus $69 million for faculty training, facilities, equipment and academic programs.

The plan comes as the state's need for high-tech workers is growing. Between 1989 and 2000, the number of high-tech jobs has grown from 46,000 to 164,000.

Dan Santella, 21, a senior at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, praised the plan's goals but has no desire to own a laptop.

``I think laptops are great,'' he said. ``But I'd rather have a TA (teacher's assistant) in some of my classes than a laptop.''

Grace Carolyn-Brown, president of Roxbury Community College, said the plan will give the poor greater access to high-tech tools. She said the school's computer facilities are always packed, reflecting the students' restricted access to computers. The school is located in one of Boston's poorest neighborhoods.

``It's a great, great opportunity,'' she said.