The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday December 9th

National Disparity Manifest in CCI's Plan to Equip Students With Laptops

Joy Diggs knows firsthand how not owning a computer can be a bump in the road when navigating the information superhighway.

During her high school days in Houston, Diggs depended on others to use their computers or take her to the library where the Internet was accessible.

Diggs, a UNC freshman, received her first computer through the Carolina Computing Initiative. "I didn't own a computer while growing up because of monetary problems," she said. "So coming to UNC helped me to learn the computer. I didn't know the Internet or even how to e-mail before I came here."

Her story is indicative of the national gap between the computer haves and the have-nots, causing the country to recognize technological disparities in socioeconomic classes.

And Diggs' transition from novice to computer literate is an example of how CCI is working to overcome these disparities.

With online resources, networked classrooms and e-mail assignments becoming popular, the Internet is an ever-growing tool for students.

The term "digital divide" was coined by President Clinton to refer to the lack of Internet access available to students in inner city and rural areas, taking into account economic and racial factors.

Clinton has endorsed federal programs to wire schools and libraries to the Internet. Since 1994, he and Vice President Al Gore have joined volunteers in wiring schools around the country.

The federal Commerce Department issued a report in 1997 titled, "Falling Through the Net," in which statistics show that the gap between families with and without computers has widened since 1994.

The report further explained how a family's economic factors can affect its likelihood of having a home computer.

According to the study, 42 percent of American households owned a computer in 1998. The percentage has risen 51.9 percent since 1994.

Moreover, the study shows that 19.3 percent of black and Hispanic families have a household computer, compared to 40.8 percent of white homes.

This year, UNC began CCI - a program outlined by the late Chancellor Michael Hooker, requiring freshman to own laptop computers.

UNC faculty agree on how vital computers are to the learning process.

Todd Taylor, assistant professor of English, said he believes the educational benefits of programs such as CCI improve the academic experience. "When each student has a networked computer, they can learn to share ideas and write more effectively," he said.

Yet University officials realize that the national digital divide prohibits some freshmen from buying laptops.

According to a UNC Office of Scholarships and Student Aid report, the number of students on financial aid has been at 35 percent for the last few years.

While formulating CCI, Marian Moore, vice chancellor of Information Technology, and other officials concluded that some students could not afford a computer on top of tuition.

"We are experiencing a digital divide on campus. Students on financial aid are at a disadvantage," Moore said. "UNC would have never required a laptop if the financial aid was not available."

Moore is committed to uphold the words of Hooker: "No student will be denied admission to Carolina because they can't afford to purchase a laptop."

The University has allotted grants for freshmen to cover portions or all of the two IBM laptops offered.

"Over one-third of the freshmen class qualified for some degree of financial aid in the form of grants," said John Gorsuch, RAM Shop manager.

If they buy their computers through UNC, students can choose between the IBM A20 or 600X laptops.

As of Sept. 28, 943 students received full grants for the A20 laptop - the less costly of the two.

Of the grants given, more than 50 percent were for $2,000 of the $2,309 for the A20. There is not a full grant available for the 600X, which costs about $800 more.

To date, CCI has given $2.31 million to incoming freshmen in grants.

But bridging the digital divide is not just left up to the government and UNC officials. Students on campus have been active in closing the gap.

Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity Inc. sponsored a "think tank" on closing the divide. "Reports showed that the gap in computer ownership between blacks and whites widened from 1994 to 1997, increasing from 16 percent to 21 percent," said Charles Campbell, who led the discussion.

The group also discussed ways to bridge the gap. "Ideas ranged from donating old computers to those who do not have one, to asking corporations to donate computers to those who need them," Campbell said.

And as the Internet begins to replace encyclopedias, the digital divide can prohibit students from obtaining a full educational experience.

Moore said the technological knowledge disparity at UNC has been lessened by CCI, but she has yet to stop her efforts. "We need more efficient ways to distribute knowledge because there is so much more of it. We must make information more easily available."

The Features Editor can be reached

at features@unc.edu.


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