Providing students in need with access to technology solutions
Temple’s Office of the Dean of Students and Office of Information Technology are partnering to ensure that students’ technology needs are being met.
With Temple’s transition to remote instruction beginning last spring and continuing in part through the fall 2020 semester, ensuring that all students have access to the technology they need is one of the university’s top priorities.
That’s why Temple’s Office of the Dean of Students and Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) have come together to streamline their support of students so that all students have access to the technology they need and no student falls through the cracks.
In partnership with the Office of Institutional Advancement, the Dean of Students’ office works strategically with departments across the university to help make sure that a Temple education is both affordable and accessible. To that end, the office oversees the distribution of short-term financial assistance to students through the Student Affairs Emergency Fund (SAEF), a fund that is fully supported by donations from alumni and friends of the university.
The purpose of the Student Affairs Emergency Fund is to help students who are facing unusual or unforeseen circumstances meet their urgent financial needs. Students may be referred to the Dean of Students’ office by professors or advisors or they can also apply for aid directly online.
When coronavirus rates started rising across the country last March and Temple made the move to a remote instructional model, many students found themselves in need of help paying for the basics, such as rent and groceries. So, the Dean of Students office stepped in to help, providing more than 330 students with approximately $300,000 in financial support from the SAEF.
“We were able to help with rent money and, honestly, with whatever bill they were presenting to us,” explained Rachael Stark, senior associate dean of students. “We were trying to give them the amount they needed, so that the students could really get by.”
“Then, when the CARES Act funding came in, we were able to give all of our PELL Grant recipients upwards of nearly $1,000,” she added. “I think Temple as a whole did a really good job of giving back to students in need.”
And, it turned out that what many students needed was access to computers and Wi-Fi.
Long before COVID-19, ITS had been in the business of loaning laptops on a short-term basis to students whose computers were on the fritz and making refurbished desktops available to students, faculty and staff at low cost. In fact, for years when students have faced technology issues of all kinds, they have been reaching out to the ITS’ Help Desk for support.
As the global health crisis gained traction in Philadelphia and rumors circulated of a transition to online-only instruction, Jonathan Latko, director of the Computer Recycling Center, knew the need for his office’s services could skyrocket.
The ITS team started ramping up the university’s already robust laptop loaner program as well as their preparation of refurbished desktop computers for distribution.
“Things were accelerating pretty quickly,” explained Latko, describing the situation in March. “In that timeframe we helped coordinate with other Temple teams to say, ‘All right, if students are going to leave, what will they need?’ And we started collecting available laptops and became a distribution point for students to get those machines if they didn’t have one.”
ITS was able to loan or otherwise provide approximately 175 computers to students before they left campus. In addition, 101 desktops and 40 laptops were donated to North Philadelphia residents through the Lenfest Workforce Initiative, as part of the university’s effort to support the community during the pandemic.
Then as the fall semester approached and students began requesting help for technology needs from the SAEF, Stark and Latko realized that by combining efforts and pooling resources they could provide more students with more help.
“Instead of the Student Emergency Fund just giving $200 dollars to a student to put toward the purchase of a laptop, which of course costs much more than that, we are actually able to leverage our partnerships and resources to provide students in need with an entire technology bundle for an equivalent amount, or less,” said Latko.
Now, students who apply for help through the SAEF are asked to submit a comprehensive technology needs assessment and are then referred to ITS. Depending on the results of the assessment, they can receive a webcam and an audiovisual bundle that includes a microphone and a headset, in addition to a laptop or desktop computer. Internet service through Comcast’s internet essentials program is also provided for students who qualify.
For the fall semester as of Sept. 30, the Dean of Students office spent $7,300 on technology assistance through the SAEF fund, with 77 students receiving some form of technology: 39 received loaner laptops, 28 received a technology bundle, which included a refurbished desktop, and 10 received the internet essentials package.
“Once a student is rated as eligible for the low-cost internet through Comcast, then it’s $10 a month, and we pay that for them for the first six months out of our fund,” said Stark.
Partnering with ITS on technology solutions was a natural fit for the Dean of Students office which often takes a holistic approach to helping students.
For years, one of the office’s main charges has been helping students meet basic needs, such as food security and housing, and they have had success being proactive in this area. In 2017, they joined an ongoing collaboration of organizations to support college students transitioning from foster care who are at risk for homelessness. And, two years ago the office opened Cherry Pantry, where once a week students (with a valid TUid) can choose food items they’d like to take home at no cost to them.
So, for example, if a student says, ‘I need help with groceries,’ Stark explained, the office would provide that emergency financial support and additionally let the student know about Cherry Pantry.
“By the same token, if a student is saying, ‘You know, all my classes have moved online and I don’t have access to the internet’ or ‘My computer broke and I can't afford to fix it’, that’s where we would say, ‘Oh, OK. We also have this Tech Assistance application. Let’s go that route,” said Stark. “We want to ensure that they have access to all of the technology they need and helping them identify what those needs are is part of our job.”
“We make sure that their experience is on par with everyone else here at Temple,” said Stark. “It’s just all about access.”