What works for one does not work for all


Editorial Board

The Issue:The Board of Regents is proposing a mandatory laptop program to the South Dakota Legislature.

The Stance:In theory, the plan makes sense, but requiring laptops for all students in the regental system does not take into account the needs of everyone involved.

The Board of Regents is pushing for a “Mobile Computing Environment” for all six regental schools across the state. This would require every student to purchase a laptop-one not of their choosing-at the beginning of their freshman year. This added cost would be on top of tuition, room and board, books, dorm room necessities, meal plans and all those other university fees.

The basis for this program comes from Gov. Rounds’ 2010 Education Initiative. It includes a laptop initiative, which provides incentive money for school districts to initiate one-to-laptop programs, or one laptop to every student, for high school students.

At the Aug. 23 BOR meeting, Regent James Hansen noted that the universities have no choice but to be at least at the same technological level as K-12 schools.

Mobile Computing Environment would also provide public universities with funding to improve the wireless infrastructure at each campus. This is not the problem.

What is a problem is the fact that the Regents are saying that because this type of program works at a smaller university like Dakota State, a computer science based campus that is already completely wireless and requires students to purchase a Tablet PC, it will work at larger schools like USD and SDSU, which have a broad range of study. The regents assume that what works for one will work for all.

Are the regents going to be choosing the computers students have to use for all six public universities, or will it be left to individual schools to decide? Will students have options to choose from, or will there be one computer to meet the needs of more than 32,000 students?

Having a narrow range of choices does not make sense for every program offered in South Dakota. An English major would not need a computer with the same capabilities as an engineering student. A general agriculture student would not need the same software as a graphic design major. Some departments will want PCs; others will want Macs.

Every computer in on-campus labs was replaced this summer, and new computers were added to the laptop checkout programs in The Union and Briggs Library. Requiring students to purchase new laptops would negate any benefits that came from this update, wasting thousands of university dollars.

SDSU is a land-grant university. The mission of a land-grant university is to provide a higher education option for everyone. Traditionally, this means that students from lower income families and first generation students are drawn to SDSU because it is affordable. Mandating the purchase of laptops would increase student cost, making SDSU less appealing to students. Approximately 87 percent of SDSU students already receive financial aid in the form of grants and loans. Having to purchase a laptop would mean that students already receiving financial aid would need more of it and students who do not need it now, would. This would lessen the amount of federal aid available as more and more students apply.

This idea is good in theory, but the Regents should respect the independence of the different schools by allowing them to decide for themselves whether to require laptops. Each school will probably decide to go this route eventually, but they should be able to do it when it is right for their school.