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Tech Gear Rental Program Expands from Cal State Monterey Bay

A digital device rental program at California State University Monterey Bay has just reported student savings of nearly $120,000 in technology purchase fees. The Technology Rental (or TechRent) store at CSU Monterey Bay was started with funds with a $300,000 two-year grant issued by the United States Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE). Now the program is expanding to two additional local schools as a stipulation of that grant.

The stated purpose of the TechRent research project is to demonstrate "strategies to effectively integrate diverse technologies across the curriculum, providing accessible course materials for all students no matter what their physical or learning disability--and by extension, accessible to all learning modalities." More practically, however, the program, which is physically located in a campus library behind a Peet's Coffee & Tea stand, supplies equipment to staff and students at a low cost.

Starting this fall students at community college Monterey Peninsula College and the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a graduate school, will be served by TechRent as well. The store operates virtually. Students can place orders for rental products online and arrange to pick them up or have them delivered.

Current rentals are available for Apple iPads, high-definition and pocket video camcorders, 10.1 megapixel high-resolution cameras, projectors, clickers, specialized calculators, notebook computers, and other devices. The iPad rents for $25 for one week, $50 for a month, and $120 for a semester. A TI business calculator is $15 for a month's use. A MacBook loaded with Adobe Creative Suite 5 and Microsoft Office is $125 for the semester or $5 for a day.

The campus community can also purchase the gear on a rent-to-own plan, which applies all rental fees to the purchase price.

According to Arlene Krebs, director of the university's Wireless Education and Technology Center and principal researcher for the project, in the first four days of the fall 2011 semester the store had rented 87 clickers, 11 Macbooks, four iPads, and one digital camera. She added that the store has had about 900 rentals since it initially opened in January 2010, generating income of about $17,000. In all that time, she noted, there hasn't been a single piece of equipment not returned.

The grant has also assisted faculty members in developing accessible course materials to help students with physical or learning disabilities.

"Now, because of our experience and the store's success at CSU [Monterey Bay], we are ready to take the next steps--expanding the store to our local partners so that their students may benefit from high tech at low rental fees," said Krebs. "Solving operational and logistical issues, loaning equipment to faculty and staff for their assessment, and providing cost-saving tools for students are key components of the project. The ultimate goal is to create a model for other campuses to adopt."

Startup work involved coordinating with campus departments that included student affairs, academic affairs, and administration and finance. The store had to address retail-related issues too, such as credit card processing and getting an employee bonded to allow the store to accept cash and credit cards.

The TechRent team also worked with the university's academic affairs division to develop a library-like lending model, which ties fees for late or unreturned items to a student's academic records. By policy, anything unreturned for three days beyond the due date is reported to the university's police department, and a hold is placed on student records. However, that hasn't been a problem.

"We have high expectations that this pilot at [the other campuses] will generate the same kinds of interest and enthusiasm as it has at CSU [Monterey Bay], and that the campuses will benefit from the store's contributions to campus life," Krebs said.

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