University of Virginia to Close Computer Labs

Chris Faigle sent along an article from our local NBC station that UVA plans to close most of its public computing labs by the summer of 2011.  It’s a fiscal decision in a rough economy, with a stated rationale that with 99% of students bringing their own laptops to school, there isn’t a need for public computers.

This reasoning seems contrary to the pervasive use of public machines I see here at Richmond.  It also runs contrary to data from the MISO Survey, a quantitative measure of faculty, student use and satisfaction with higher education IT and Library resources and services (disclaimer: I am a member of the MISO Survey team).

This past year was the first year that institutions took the survey for a second time, giving us our first longitudinal look at students, faculty, and staff.  Within a 3-year period, students reported a 9% increase in laptop ownership (from 84.4% to 93.6%).  In that same period, use of public computing labs on campus rose at a statistically significant rate (Time 1 mean 3.59 on a 1-4 scale, n=2617, STD 1.25; Time 2 mean 3.66, n=1949, STD=1.21).

It would be interesting to research the reason for an increase in public computing at the same time as a rise in laptop ownership.  Is it specialty software?  The social aspects of public labs?  Insufficient power support for laptops on campuses?

I agree with the cost concerns around public computing.  At Richmond, we’re concluding a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure proof-of-concept project, with the hope that we will be able to make software available to students on their own computers (similar to NCSU’s VCL) or at least via a thin client solution.  There will always be a need for fat clients in some spaces, but these alternatives will make our environment easier to manage and our resources more ubiquitous.  But UVA’s move seems unsupported by the data, and I will be curious to see what the long-term impact is for their students.

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3 Responses to University of Virginia to Close Computer Labs

  1. Daryl Weade says:

    I’m with you, as this seems a bold move. Still, for the cost of all the machines, monitors, software and OS licenses, peripherals and such, they might be able to purchase the same software and make it available to students, to install on their own laptops, for free. Freeing up that money, they can install desks and study areas more reminiscent of that in Boatwright’s basement.

    And, freeing up the support personnel, they can begin to offer more direct support for student computers, even if not purchased through UVA’s sales unit. If their numbers reflect UR’s, expecting that last 7-10% of students to buy laptops, when I’m getting constant emails of laptops for sale at less than $500, isn’t that much of a stretch.

    Also, this could free up space and budget for expanding specialty labs like UVA’s Digital Media Lab and UR’s TLC.

  2. Kevin says:


    According to NBC 12, UVA says they haven’t calculated the cost savings. That’s a bit surprising considering it is a major part of their justification. Someone else also pointed out that the colleges at UVA have their own public computing spaces that are not managed by ITC. So it’s possible that these spaces will be in more demand. I’d hate to be the software license manager for UVA, distributing and reclaiming software licenses as students came and left.

    I’m all for reducing the number of public computers if the arguments are there. I’d love to see a laptop initiative or requirement, but such a move should be done through a consensus with the community rather than a unilateral IT move. I think it’s important to understand why public computing use is up even as laptop ownership is up. The MISO Survey team will be meeting this week to revise the survey instrument, and this is something I’d like to see if we can research.

  3. Andy says:

    What I find interesting is how busy the library computers are, and it’s only increased over the past few years. I also see more students bringing their laptops into the building, so there’s evidence that both are trending upward. I know Mark is testing a new terminal setup for possible deployment. This may be a better solution than just eliminating public labs!

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