Public college to require laptops

Framingham State College plans to require each freshman to own a wireless laptop computer next year. It is the first Massachusetts public campus to require the use of such technology.

The Framingham program is a test case for a statewide requirement endorsed by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. The larger program is a $123 million venture to provide 175,000 students at state schools with computers and software.

Legislators have not approved funding for the statewide program, citing an overall tight budget and a desire to see the outcome of the Framingham program.

Peter Chisholm, assistant to the president of Framingham State College (www.framingham.edu), said the state is "primarily doing this to provide our students with the training necessary to really enter into today's workforce."

About 40 colleges nationwide — most of them private — require laptop computers, but no statewide system of public higher education requires them for all its students.

Framingham plans to sell the computers to its students for about $2,000 each, with grants or low-interest loans available to qualified students.

The laptop provider has not been decided, but plans to seek bids are in the works. Advocates of the wireless program say it will save the state money in the long run, citing that wiring all classrooms to be Internet-ready would cost about $200,000, whereas providing the hardware to connect wireless laptop computers to the Internet would cost $40,000.

About 1,200 students have been using laptop computers, on loan from the school, in a 3-year-old test program. School officials hope that the mandatory requirement will spark ideas on how best to use the computers during class time.

Plans call for requiring all Framingham students to have a wireless laptop computer by 2005.

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