GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Clemson University recommends that its 13,000 undergraduates who need to get now-required laptops buy one from IBM. In exchange, the school will get one free computer for every 100 IBMs students purchase.
The new requirement could cost students more than $2,000 at a university where tuition has increased 107 percent the past five years.
Clemson University spokeswoman Cathy Sams said administrators looked for the best deal for students before settling on IBM. She said the school's research showed making laptops required could have a positive impact on learning.
The requirement shouldn't affect those who own laptops. But students like Cary Welker aren't sure where the additional money will come from.
"You're not overwhelmed by tuition, but then you get all the extra costs," said Welker. "It makes it harder."
Leaders in the South Carolina House and Senate weren't aware of Clemson's requirement or its IBM deal.
Sen. Warren Giese, R-Columbia, chairs the Senate Education Committee and says he's researching the agreement.
The university will get a free IBM Thinkpad for every 100 bought by students, said the director of the university's computing department, Phil Lyles.
He said Clemson recommends its students buy the Thinkpads, which range from $1,359 to $2,045.
IBM has donated $2.1 million to the university during the past decade. Sams said the contributions had nothing to do with the laptop recommendations.
Davidson College, a private school in North Carolina, thought about requiring laptops, but decided against it about two years ago. John Casey, executive director of information technology, said a faculty group questioned how much more students could learn just because they had a laptop.
"The answer is not very much," Casey said.
An advantage to requiring laptops is some students can wrap the cost into financial aid, Sams said. Also, she says the machines have all software students will need. And if a laptop is broken, it can be repaired on campus.
"Our goal was to get the best price we could for students," she said. "If they can find a better price or they already have a computer that meets the specifications, that's fine."
The College of Health, Education and Human Development is the only one of Clemson's five colleges that won't require laptops this year. That college will start its requirement next year.
IBM spokesman Bob Page says the company provides laptops to universities worldwide, including the University of North Carolina and Wake Forest University.
He said IBM won't comment on the details of individual deals with schools. But the company lowers the cost of computers through contractual terms and by providing choices about the types of materials used, he said.
Wake Forest chief information officer Jay Dominick says the school has a 10-year contract with IBM. He says the cost of laptops is included with tuition.
"We buy almost 3,000 laptops a year from IBM," Dominick said.
The University of North Carolina's main Chapel Hill campus required students to buy Thinkpads in 2000.
IBM is not the only computer company with an eye on colleges. Spokesman Dean Kline says Dell collaborates with several schools. One such deal lets students purchase Dell computers under schools' volume purchase agreements, he said.
"That helps the student buy a computer at a discount and take advantage of the buying power of the school," Kline said.
Hewlett-Packard negotiates with colleges and universities on prices for personal computers, servers, printers and services, spokesman Bill Carver said.
On Clemson's Web site, there are links where students can buy the Thinkpad. Those students who use laptops other than IBM are on their own when it comes to uploading software, according to the site.
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