By Hailey Melander —
It’s a ubiquitous sight across the University of Wisconsin–Stout campus—students are constantly using their laptops in class, at the library, in lounges. It’s to be expected that, at a polytechnic university, students and instructors will regularly depend on and utilize technology. What may not be immediately obvious, however, is that these laptops don’t reflect the personal budgets and system preferences of students. They don’t get to choose their laptops—instead, the computers come in two flavors, determined by program major: Apple or HP.
There’s a reason for the uniformity: UW–Stout’s eStout Program. “We were looking for a way to put technology in students’ hands,” said Doug Wahl, chief information officer of Stout, referring to the program start in the late 1990s. Inspired by similar programs at the University of Minnesota–Crookston, Northern Michigan and Winona State, eStout began slowly.
“[It has been] a good way to put Stout at the forefront,” said Wahl.
Student feedback was positive, and it evolved into a mandatory rental program that provides students with laptops that are no more than two years old. The laptop platform (Apple or HP) depends on major, and each laptop is loaded with a large selection of professional software.
“Most of the software is licensed to Stout, and it’s concurrent,” said Sasha King, eStout Program Coordinator. Concurrent licensing is a license that is only in use when a student is accessing the software. King mentioned that the online eStout FAQ provides an excellent description of concurrent licensing.
“It helps keep costs down for students,” Wahl said, explaining that individual licensing would greatly increase the cost of the program for all students.
As it stands now, eStout strives to keep the program economical and as efficient as possible. Because the laptop rental fee is included in every student’s tuition and fees, students can use financial aid to pay for the fee. Traditionally they would need to purchase a laptop with cash or credit.
“Students sometimes say they can get a laptop cheaper at Best Buy,” King said. “But [through the eStout Program] they are getting a premium, business-class product. If you compare, these laptops are significantly tougher.”
In addition to pure durability, eStout laptops impact a student’s entire experience with technology at Stout.
“Instructors count on a uniform experience,” said King. All traditional undergraduate students taking at least 1 credit are eligible for the eStout Program, and this ensures that students are all provided with the technology they need by the first day of classes.
In earlier years, students were responsible for sourcing their own technology.
“Some students acquired software by pirating,” Wahl said, explaining another aspect of the program’s goals. “We wanted to encourage an ethical student body.”
In turn, that student body has provided feedback that has significantly impacted the program.
“A criticism of the [original eStout] program was from graduates: ‘When we graduate we don’t have anything to take with us,’” said Wahl, explaining the reason for the formation of an additional benefit, piloted in 2006: the Laptop Transfer Program. Through the program, graduating students who have taken 32 qualifying credits in the eStout Program can receive a laptop to keep at no additional cost.
Some have been concerned about how the recent budget cuts on the UW system might affect the laptop program, but because students pay for the laptops, King said, there should be no direct impact to the program.
The program will continue to evolve based on student feedback, but the mission remains the same.
“We want the program to be as economical for students as possible without hurting their education,” Wahl said.
Wahl encourages students with any questions, comments or suggestions about the eStout Program to contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hailey Melander is a senior at the University of Wisconsin–Stout. She’s majoring in Professional Communication and Emerging Media with a concentration in Applied Journalism. She lives in Wilson.