Press Release - USM HBIs to Receive $400K Each for Student Computers

August 20, 2002

USM HBIs to Receive $400K Each for Student Computers

New state efforts to assist the University System of Maryland's (USM) three historically black institutions (HBIs) in bridging the "digital divide" - the gap between those who can and cannot afford computers for use in their education - will be announced at a special ceremony on Wednesday, August 21 at 10 a.m. in the auditorium of Bowie State's newly opened Center for Learning & Technology.

Dr. Calvin Burnett, president of Coppin State College, Dr. Thelma B. Thompson, president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), and Dr. Calvin Lowe, president of Bowie State University will join USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan, USM Board of Regents Chairman Nathan A. Chapman, Jr., Regents Vice Chairman Charles R. Larson, Regents Technology Committee Chairman William T. Wood, Maryland Secretary of Higher Education Karen Johnson, and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to celebrate the awarding of $400,000 to each of the three institutions. The $1.2 million initiative will result in the purchase of nearly 900 laptop computers for use by students with significant financial need. These students now have to rely on computers owned by friends or families, or computers located in libraries and similar public spaces. Eligible students will either own a computer for the duration of their time at the institution, or check out a laptop from the library on a per-semester basis.

The Technology Committee, working with the USM information technology staff, recently determined that thousands of students across the USM cannot afford computers. This digital divide is particularly acute at the three historically black campuses, where approximately half of the students report financial constraints that prevent them from purchasing a personal computer. Last January, the full Board approved the USM Digital Divide Initiative (DDI), a phased-in plan to close the divide. The initial $1.2 million is the first time that state funds have been used by the USM to put computers in the hands of students on the basis of need.

Chapman, who has often spoken about the need for more computers for the USM institutions, said the state funding represents a "great start" for closing the digital divide.

"I graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County just as the personal computer was gaining in popularity, and in my professional life I have seen them revolutionize the workplace," he said. "Today, I can't imagine succeeding as a student without having a computer at the ready. For the sake of those who are on our campuses to learn, we must eliminate the divide."

Wood, who championed the DDI and encouraged public support for its funding, said he was gratified to see it receive attention despite the tough economic times.

"Maryland's public institutions are forging ahead because of growing public support," he said. "Funding the DDI demonstrates the depth and breadth of that support, and sends a message that quality public higher education is an investment in the future."

Chancellor Kirwan, a member of the National Commission on Mathematics and

Science Teaching for the 21st Century and former chair of the National Research Council's Commission on the Mathematical Sciences in the Year 2000, said the DDI represents a bold approach to resolving a long-standing issue.

"College professors from practically any discipline will tell you that computer access has become a major concern on campuses across the country," Kirwan said. "Not only can computers improve a student's ability to write and communicate, but they represent the keys to the kingdom in terms of research and understanding. The student who uses his or her computer effectively will come out of a classroom or laboratory better prepared to meet the challenges of the working world. In turn, those who do not have access to this vital tool are held back, in spite of their abilities. That's not fair, and through this program we're doing something about it."

"A computer is an absolute necessity in any college environment," Townsend said. "It's a basic tool for a 21st century education. If you don't have easy access to a computer, you don't have equal access to a college education. Equal access to the USM campuses is not just an admissions issue; it also means an equal opportunity to learn. The Digital Divide Initiative is another advance in Maryland's effort to make sure that college is not just accessible but affordable to every Maryland student, and it's one more way we can make sure our students are ready to meet the challenges of the 21st Century."


Francis Canavan
Phone: 301/445-2722