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State to Require Laptop Usage

By Mike Hall

NEWS EDITOR

In an effort to improve the technology skills of its college students, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education will require all students at public institutions of higher education to own and use laptops within three years.

Massachusetts would be one of the first states to adopt a comprehensive requirement for computers in its public universities and colleges.

The initiative is part of a $123 million program designed to prepare students for a job market that is growing increasingly dependent on technical skills for traditionally non-technical occupations.

Members of the Board claimed in interviews last week with The Boston Globe that the plan would help its students catch up technologically to private school students, many of whom already are required to own laptops or personal computers.

Board of Higher Education member Aaron Spencer told the Globe that “this is where education is heading, as well as everything humanity is doing right now ... into a computer-oriented experience.”

State education leaders supported the proposal and its plan to increase the quality of technical education for their students. The proposal “allows the public system in Massachusetts to take a giant step forward in terms of instructional capabilities,” said Fitchburg State College President Michael P. Riccards in an interview with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “It prepares students for the world of work.”

According to the proposal, the Board will select three institutions - a community college, a state college, and one of the University of Massachusetts campuses -- to run a pilot laptop program. Facets of the program to be tested during the pilot include discount agreements with laptop companies and vouchers for low-income students ranging from partial subsidies to full subsidies.

Board plans increase in IT faculty

The Board also proposed a plan to attract new faculty with experience in information technology-related fields. Under the proposal, IT professionals will receive incentives to teach classes in technological development and business skills part-time at Massachusetts four-year colleges and community colleges.

In addition, the Board pushed for the creation of new IT courses and programs across the UMass system. The planned new courses will span all traditional disciplines, incorporating new developments in information technology. In their proposal, the Board said that they endorsed these new courses because “the goal for public higher education is to produce IT-fluent graduates in all majors.”

Furthermore, the Board’s proposal outlines a plan to improve facilities and equipment at all public schools statewide. The proposed $20 million infrastructure expenditure include plans for wireless networks running throughout the campuses and for the creation of “e-classrooms,” which will have built-in multimedia facilities including projectors, DVD players, and computers equipped with CD-ROM drives.