What price education?

editorial cartoon by Yasuyuki Nagasawa
editorial cartoon by Yasuyuki Nagasawa

So what does it take to get into a good college? Is it grades? Ambition? Community involve­ment? Contrary to popular belief, it’s none of those things. In fact, it seems that all it takes to be admitted to a university these days is a desk­top computer.

Beginning in 1995, Humboldt State University, Sonoma State University, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo – with UC Berkeley soon to follow – plan to make owning a desktop personal computer an admissions requirement for all incoming freshmen. “We think com­puters are integral to the curriculum, like textbooks,” said Cal Poly’s Associate Vice President for Academic Resources Charlie Crabb in justification of the policy. “Most of our students will be expected to use computers in their professions, so this is the place for them to immerse themselves in technology.”

Agreed, but what the schools are failing to realize that instituting this measure will nearly double the cost of education at most public institu­tions, according to the September 8 edition of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Additionally, the policy is a virtual act of discrimination against low income admission candidates, who would be forced to apply for special financial aid to fund the expense.

Most campuses give students access to computer labs, with the expense being justified as a “fairness issue, enabling lower-income stu­dents to compete with their better-heeled counterparts.” If that’s true, how can schools justify forcing stu­dents to undertake what can often be a $2,000 purchase-a computer, monitor, printer, CD-ROM, extra memory and software. It seems fair­ness is no longer an issue.

Cal State University Chancellor’s Office Spokeswoman Colleen Bentley-Adler responded to accusa­tions of discrimination by saying, “We’re finding that it’s increasingly difficult for the campuses to keep up with the pace of technologic change.”

Basically, Bentley-Adler is telling students that, although institutions receiving millions of dollars in tuition and grant money cannot afford to purchase the equipment necessary for a higher education, high school seniors should be able to. In addition to tuition and living expenses, of course.

The Campus Times fully agrees with the premise that increased computer literacy and access are a necessity for all colleges students in this day and age. There is a rather large difference between having a knowledge of something and owning it, however. Cal Poly recently confirmed through survey that only about half of its 15,000 students own desktop personal com­puters, while at least 70 percent are pursuing technical degrees in which computer literacy is a must.

So either ownership (or lack thereof) of a computer is not neces­sarily indicative of computer literacy, or none of Cal Poly’ s technical graduates of the past decade have obtained positions in their field. Demanding that appli­cants make a major purchase before entering a university is like asking a 15-year-old to buy a new car before he or she begins driver’s education.

Rather than putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, per­haps institutions of higher learning should live up to their name and provide students with the tools to obtain computer literacy, such as computer course graduation requirements and hands-on experi­mentation in computer labs. Only then can students be truly informed enough to make intelligent choices regarding their personal computer system needs and purchases.

This unrealistic and, moreover, unfair policy has taken a good idea and transformed it into an adult equivalent of a teacher playing favorites. Education is a privilege­ – but one that all students should be allowed to strive for, whether they study by the light of a personal com­puter or not.

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Unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the Campus Times Editorial Board.

Yasuyuki Nagasawa (above) and Lisa Scott are the two artists whose ideas of painting a mural last spring were snubbed due to controversy on where to paint it. The wall behind Nagasawa was the original site for the mural. / photo by Veero Der-Karabetian
Yasuyuki Nagasawa
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