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Digital Equity

U Kentucky Hits Graduation and Retention Goals by Giving iPads to Every Student

In 2019, the University of Kentucky (UK) the Smart Campus iPad Initiative: a plan to give every incoming, degree-seeking, first-time undergraduate student an iPad Air, loaded with UK apps; a Smart Keyboard; and an Apple Pencil to support digital equity, in the hopes of increasing graduation and retention rates and reducing costs.

It worked. With the program now in its fifth year, the university has a 70% graduation rate, a 90% retention rate for students between their first and second years, and has saved 60% in IT costs. It is recognized as an Apple Distinguished School for 2021-2024 for this initiative.

University president Eli Capilouto said in a video on the Apple website that 25% of UK's students come from families with an average income of $25,000 a year. So the goal, as the state's original land grant university serving Kentuckians, was to make education affordable and accessible.

"When everyone has easy access to the technology, it levels the playing field," he said.

On its iPad Initiative FAQ page, the university explained its reasons for partnering with Apple on this initiative were to:

  • "Improve mental, physical, and financial wellness among students;
  • "Jumpstart and ease the transition from high school to college before students step on campus;
  • "Create a digital career portfolio and resumé that will serve them throughout their four years and beyond;
  • "Shrink the barriers of the digital divide inside and outside the classroom;
  • "Develop proficiencies in coding and app development; and
  • "Build communities and link students to each other."

"When a third of our students are first generation, we want to be laser focused in trying to eradicate that preparation gap so they have the best chance to go on to lead lives of meaning and purpose."

Eric Monday, executive VP of finance and administration, called it "a very smart financial decision."

He said 87% of their students with iPads "regularly use their devices for exams, coursework, studying, note taking, and research." He added that faculty want the ability to choose the technology "to provide a better outcome for their students," and this initiative fosters that.

The iPads continue to belong to the university until students graduate, at which time ownership transfers to them, the university said on its Smart Campus FAQ page. If they leave before graduation, they either must return them or purchase them at the current depreciation value.

Visit the university's iPad Initiative page to learn more.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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