The great Apple giveaway: Colleges pass out free iPads


If there's a tried and true stereotype about college students, it's that they love free stuff. But while most college students have to settle for the free pastries and apples they give out during assemblies, three colleges are giving their students a much, much better deal. Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., and the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago are all giving their students free iPads.

With these three colleges leading the way, will others follow? Should students expect a free iPad to be handed to them on their first day of school? Since only about 0.07% of American two- and four-year colleges have started giving out iPads, there's not a large enough sample size to determine whether or not this will develop into a greater habit of higher education institutions.

Plus, according to the Wall Street Journal, colleges are not having an easy time adapting to the iPad. Network stability issues are causing trouble for George Washington University and Princeton University. Cornell University officials told the Journal they were concerned about "bandwidth overload" and connectivity issues. Clearly, there are still kinks to be worked out if the device is going to be adopted by more colleges.

So with three major American universities worrying about technical issues, why are IIT, Seton Hill and George Fox giving out the iPad? And are these things really free for students?

At IIT, they certainly are. The decision to give iPads to students came after tuition for students was set. "It is basically a gift to incoming undergraduates from the university," said Evan Venie, spokesman for IIT, in a statement. Venie said the school views the iPad as a collaboration tool. "The idea is that there are a number of required classes for all first-year undergraduates, especially the 'Introduction to the Profession' courses, and the iPads enable instructors to make these courses more interactive and collaborative for the students," Venie wrote. "As such, it's important that all of the students are working from the same hardware."

In the case of George Fox, students get a choice: iPad or MacBook. Previously, the university offered students the laptop as part of their Connected Across Campus initiative, which offered a MacBook as part of tuition costs. And although the current iPad can't do the multitasking of a laptop, students who pick the tablet will also receive a keyboard/dock combo, two years of AppleCare and an iTunes Gift Card for iWorks.

"With this, we're basically asking students, 'What computing system will work best for you?'" Greg Smith, the university's chief information officer, said in a press release. "By giving them this option, they can choose between the iPad, a mobile device known for its networking and E-textbook capabilities, or the laptop, which offers more computing horsepower."

Seton Hill has a similar project to George Fox's Connected Across Campus program. It's called the Griffin Technology Advantage For an additional $500 per semester, students will receive an iPad and MacBook. The $500 will also help pay for an on-campus Apple Certified Service Center, campus-wide wireless and tech training for the faculty.

The idea at Seton Hill is that the iPad will replace textbooks as an e-reader and serve as a note taking device and collaboration tool.

"The iPad will lighten the backpacks of Seton Hill University students," said JoAnne Boyle, president of Seton Hill Unviersity, in a statement.

But what if a student at George Fox, Seton Hill and IIT already has an iPad? At George Fox, they can simply choose the alternative -- a MacBook. It's unclear whether or not Seton Hill students can opt out of the iPad program, although the Epoch Times reported that if students only want an iPad instead of the MacBook, the "per semester" fee drops from $500 to $300.

At IIT, students can't opt out of the program if they already have an iPad.

"If a student already has an iPad when they arrive in the fall, they will have a very nice gift to give to a family member or friend," Venie wrote.

Evan Minsker's Thrifty Tech appears Tuesdays. Got a hot, cheap-tech tip, question or comment? Write to Evan via our email address,