Students sitting at tables with laptops

Published: Nov. 17, 2021

The University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University Pueblo will partner on a research study to investigate whether loaning laptops improves graduation rates and other academic performance indicators for first year students with unmet financial need. 

The initiative for the study emerged during the early phase of the pandemic last year when educators and technologists at CU Boulder became concerned that students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds might fall behind academically because they lacked access to technology after classes and educational programs went fully remote. During that phase, University Libraries and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) helped expand an existing technology lending program administered by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Community Engagement (ODECE) to meet increased demand.

Jamie Wittenberg, the University Libraries Assistant Dean for Research & Innovation Strategies realized there was little data on the impact of technology lending programs on student success in higher education. This realization sparked the Technology Assistance for Student Success program, a four-year pilot that will assess the impact of technology lending on success and retention among selected low-income students at CU Boulder and CSU Pueblo. The program recently received grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Studies for the study. 

“Providing personal computers to undergraduate students who are otherwise unable to afford them levels inequity in access to technology,” Wittenberg said. “Because textbooks are increasingly electronic, coursework must be completed online, research requires access to the internet and classes are now held virtually, being unable to afford a functional, updated computer puts students who are already vulnerable at risk of attrition.” 

The program will provide approximately 35 laptops to low-income students at CU Boulder and CSU Pueblo for the entirety of their degree-seeking studies. The technology will be distributed based on student needs and populations, with roughly 60% of laptops and potentially other technology going to CU Boulder students and 40% to CSU Pueblo students. Dean of Library Sciences Rhonda Gonzales said CSU Pueblo is excited to partner with CU Boulder on this initiative. 

“What’s unique about this grant is that it’s a pilot study,” Gonzales said. “We will be giving these laptops to students to keep throughout the four years they are here. They will check in with us every six months. That will allow us to get data as to whether it makes a long term impact on their success to have access to this technology.”

Students will be given bi-annual surveys to measure the technology lending program's impact on their coursework. The survey results will be used to evaluate the effect of the program on student success outcomes. When the participating students graduate, they will be given the chance to purchase the laptop at a price that reflects its depreciation. 

“CU Boulder OIT is excited to work alongside the libraries and undergraduate education providing not just the support to procure the IT equipment but also provide students the support of the technology throughout the lifespan of the grant,” Orrie Gartner, Associate Vice Chancellor/Deputy CIO said.

If the four-year research project demonstrates that student success is improved by loaning technology to the students in the study, the researchers plan to seek permanent funding for the Technology Assistance for Student Success program. Collaborators on the research project include University Libraries, the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Academic Affairs. 

“Access to a reliable computer and internet are crucial for all students, this became particularly evident during the pandemic,” Assistant Vice Provost for Student Success Initiatives Beth Myers said. “The Technology Assistance for Student Success Program is important in supporting students because it will provide access to laptops and internet for targeted students who might not have the financial means to purchase these.”

The University Libraries see this program as key to supporting student success. It allows students to achieve technological equity with their peers while giving the opportunity to assess the impact of technological interventions on student outcomes.