College Students Say, “I Want My Wi-Fi”

MTV is fine, but for the Google Generation, the more fervent refrain is, “I want my Wi-Fi.” In a poll conducted earlier this year, the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) learned that nine out of ten college students consider Wi-Fi to be as essential to their academic lives as classrooms and computers.


Wi-Fi, says the WFA, is an integral part of today’s college experience—and they’re not just saying that because it’s their job to promote WLANs. In a survey conducted in September by the Wi-Fi Alliance and Wakefield Research, nine out of ten college students in the United States said Wi-Fi access is as essential to their educations as classrooms and computers. Convictions are so strong, in fact, that nearly three in five said they wouldn’t even consider going to a college that doesn’t have free Wi-Fi.


“Wi-Fi has become a universal expectation among college students, and their attitudes towards technology are a good indicator of broad changes underway in how we as a society learn, work, and communicate,” said Edgar Figueroa, executive director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, in a press release October 6. “Young adults expect access to information with unprecedented immediacy. Whether they are chasing a detail that will help them look smart in the middle of a class discussion, or are looking up a new friend on the Internet within minutes of meeting them—Wi-Fi enables the flexibility and freedom to access information from just about anywhere.”


As the cost of a college education in this country soars—and parents see their investments shrink—prospective students told the WFA that technology has increasingly become a major deciding factor when selecting to which schools they will apply. 79 percent said that without Wi-Fi access, college would be a lot harder and sixty percent agreed that widely available Wi-Fi on campus is an indication that a school cares about its students.  Nearly three in five said they wouldn’t go to a college that didn’t offer free Wi-Fi


“Wi-Fi is expected as part of today’s campus experience both from an educational perspective, as well as from a social perspective. Students expect Wi-Fi, so that they can learn any time and anywhere on campus, as well as always be available for friends and family,” said Stan Schatt, vice president and research director at ABI Research. “We expect to see Wi-Fi penetration in U.S. universities at 99% by 2013.”


Accordingly, ABI projects that Wi-Fi equipment revenue in the global higher education market will leap from $137 million in 2007 to $837 million by 2013.


Back in the old days—the 1990s—students wanting to get on the Internet had to reserve a station at the computer lab, or go to the library, or use dial-up in their rooms, where available. Undergrads now have near constant access—even off campus. The survey showed they are logging in at coffee shops and restaurants (55 percent), in parks (47 percent), and even in their cars (24 percent). In fact, many students surveyed said that the availability of Wi-Fi influences their choice of coffee shop (52 percent), bookstore (42 percent), and restaurant (33 percent).


The survey also found that the students’ level of commitment—or addiction—was so great that, if forced to choose, 48 percent would give up beer before giving up Wi-Fi and 72 percent would wear their school rival’s team colors for a day rather than go without wireless Internet access.


As far as academics are concerned, 44 percent of students polled used Wi-Fi to get a head start on an assignment before a class was finished, but more than half have checked Facebook or MySpace, and sent or received e-mail when they were supposed to be paying attention in class. And nearly half sent instant messages to friends during class. Despite the distractions, this generation of multi-taskers says Wi-Fi helps them get better grades. 73% said that Wi-Fi increases their academic performance, and 90% say Wi-Fi access is as essential to education as classrooms and computers


The survey, conducted by Wakefield Research in conjunction with the WFA surveyed 501 U.S. college students. The sampling variation in this survey is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.


To keep up with the latest deployment on school campuses, read our column, Big WLAN on Campus.


Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She typed her first college papers in the Smith College computer lab using XyWrite, a DOS-based word processor, and was among the first in her class to use the Internet for a wacky new thing called “e-mail.” She first used the term “Google Generation” in print in 2006.

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