The Carolina Computing Initiative’s yearly laptop grants for students do an ample job of making sure every student on the UNC has a dependable computer within their reach.
But there are still a handful of students who receive the grant and choose not to use it because they already own a computer — or worse, they can accept the grant and have two laptops.
CCI needs to find a way to use these grants as efficiently as possible. Solely basing eligibility on finances is likely not accomplishing it.
CCI has issued laptop grants to financially-eligible students since the fall semester of 2000. The Office of Scholarships and Student Aid determines which students qualify for a grant, and how much of the computer is paid for by the grant.
This year, CCI distributed 1,820 laptop grants to students. Of these, 1,526 have been redeemed, and students still have until Oct. 15 to do so.
But with no accountability as to whether students truly need a laptop, these grants are surely not being put to their best use. And since more students than ever come to college already owning a laptop, it will only become a bigger issue.
CCI finances the grants through The Chancellor’s Technology Funds, a recurring budget backed by state money. UNC has committed $3.5 million yearly to this fund, and the fund is used solely for the grants. If a student rejects the grant, they cannot receive the money in any other way through financial aid. But this is a perverse incentive — it encourages students who may not need a grant to take it anyway.
Shirley Ort, the Associate Provost and Director of the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, said that it is common for new students with laptops to redeem the grant and replace their computer with a CCI one. Most computers that students own before coming to UNC do not meet the University’s minimum requirements, she said.
But it would be beneficial for the University to inquire before offering grants. And if the money could be applied to other types of financial aid, students would be discouraged from misusing the grant.