Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) of Troy, N.Y., tops a list of the 25 most connected colleges and universities in the United States, according to a survey by The Princeton Review.

The second annual edition of the company’s “25 Most Connected Campuses,” issued Oct. 22, examines the technological capabilities of the nation’s higher education institutions and indicates which campuses employ the most cutting-edge tools to enhance teaching and learning.

“College campuses have always been hotbeds of technological innovation and experimentation,” the survey notes. “But today, as a generation of students raised on the internet take over the classrooms, technology is more important than ever. To be competitive and attract the best students, a school needs to offer the best infrastructure possible. It’s no longer enough to have a high-speed network on campus; you’ve got to have wireless, you’ve got to stream video of classes over the web, or you’ve got to give every new student a brand-new laptop.”

The 25 Most
Connected Campuses

1. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
2. Bryant University
3. DePauw University
4. Temple University
5. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
6. Cornell University
7. Duquesne University
8. The Catholic University of America
9. University of Pennsylvania
10. University of Georgia
11. University of Rhode Island
12. Rochester Institute of Technology
13. State University of New York at Buffalo
14. Hofstra University
15. Kansas State University
16. University of Colorado-Boulder
17. University of South Dakota
18. Fairfield University
19. University of North Dakota
20. University of Vermont
21. Boston University
22. Ursinus College
23. St. Mary’s College of Maryland
24. Bradley University
25. Suffolk University

RPI topped the list by requiring each student to own a laptop and by supplying the infrastructure necessary to take advantage of “anytime, anywhere learning.”

The school offers its students discounted laptops from IBM Corp., complete with appropriate educational software preloaded on the machines. Students reportedly can get online from anywhere on campus, with ethernet jacks and wireless access points in classrooms, lounges, and labs. Students also can download class notes or watch classes over a streaming video feed from the comfort of their own dorm rooms.

To support the technology, RPI has a full-service IBM repair shop on campus and provides loaner machines to students whenever the computers break down. All software and data can be transferred to the loaner, so that students leave the shop with the same capabilities they came in with.

“We live in a networked world, and if our students are to excel, we must provide them [with] access to sophisticated tools in a highly networked environment,” RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson said in a statement. “We challenge our students to develop the technologies of tomorrow, and to do that they must have the best that is available today.”

Survey Methodology

Here are the criteria used by editors at The Princeton Review to rank the technological sophistication of the nation’s colleges and universities:

Computers Per Student
The number of institutionally owned computers and workstations accessible by students, divided by the number of degree-seeking undergraduate students on campus.

Campus Network
Does the school have a campus-wide data network?

Wireless Network
Is there a wireless network on some portion of the campus?

Remote Access
Can students access their eMail when they are away from campus?

Provide Web Pages
Does the school provide students with space for posting web pages?

Online Courses
Does the school offer for-credit courses delivered online?

Registration
Can students register for classes online?

Online Administrative Functions
Are administrative functions other than registration–such as tuition payments and adding or dropping courses–available online? This criterion also was used as a tiebreaker in the event that two or more schools had the same score, tying them for a slot in the top 25. Editors at The Princeton Review reviewed the depth of functions available to students and gave the advantage to schools that indicated more advanced capabilities.

Ownership Requirements
Are students required to own a computer while attending school?

Computer Purchase
Does the school have a special pricing, discount, or resale agreement with hardware vendors?

Handheld Computing
Does the school have special programs or coursework available specifically for handheld devices, or does it offer IT support specifically for these devices?

Streaming Courses
Does the school stream audio or video of any of its courses online?

Dorm Access
Is network access available in dorm rooms?

Lounge Access
Is network access available in dormitory lounges?

Ethics
Is a computer ethics policy in place for the school?

Usenet
Is a USENET feed available to students?

Computers Provided
Does the school’s tuition include a computer for each student?

Multimedia Equipment
Does the school provide multimedia equipment such as digital cameras, digital video cameras, scanners, or professional-quality printers?

Emerging Curricula
Does the school offer courses in computer security, video gaming, or robotics?

Digital Streaming
Does the school stream audio or video of its campus radio or TV stations online?

Because every student has a computer, professors can require the use of certain software applications and online learning tools without worrying about who has access to the programs and who doesn’t, said Jim Kolb, RPI’s chief information officer.

The ubiquity of technology on campus–from wireless laptop computers to hands-on design and research labs–gives students and teachers an opportunity to interact and share ideas no matter where they are on campus, Kolb said: “An awful lot of good learning goes on outside the classroom, too.”

Rounding out the top five schools are Bryant University of Smithfield, R.I.; DePauw University of Greencastle, Ind.; Temple University of Philadelphia; and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. (For the complete roster of Top 25 schools, see accompanying list.)

To determine the rankings for its “Most Connected Campuses” list, The Princeton Review solicited data from 357 top colleges and universities around the country, asking them 20 questions about the technological sophistication of their campuses.

Editors at The Princeton Review assigned point values to each question based on the perceived importance of that aspect of campus life. Some of the more heavily weighted factors included the ratio of computers to students; whether a campus-wide network is in place; whether the school has a wireless network; whether students can register for classes online; and whether the school streams video or audio of courses online. (For the full criteria, see related story.)

To refine its ratings and reflect the importance of emerging technologies, The Princeton Review made several changes to last year’s survey, adding questions ranging from whether a school offers network access in its dorm lounges to whether it has a computer-ethics policy in place.

As a result of these changes, as well as new initiatives under way at the surveyed campuses, the rankings have changed radically since last year. Only four schools in last year’s top 25–Bryant University, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of South Dakota, and Hofstra University–appear on this year’s list.

Links:

The Princeton Review
http://www.princetonreview.com

“America’s Most Connected Campuses”
http://www.forbes.com/connected

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
http://www.rpi.edu