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College Students Are Less Likely to Own and Use a Tablet Than the Average 10-Year-Old

13976398100_bbaec61cab_b[1]While researching yesterday’s post about mobile device use by kids for schoolwork, I came across a related survey report which showed that college students were in some ways lagging behind younger age groups when it came to mobile device adoption and use.

It’s been some time since I last came across a survey which asked these types of questions; aside from the Pew Research Center everyone seems to have stopped asking about device adoption in late 2012 or early 2013.

The 47 page report (PDF) is based on a survey group of 1,228 college students between the ages of 18 and 30. The survey was conducted by Harris Poll in February and March, and was sponsored by Pearson.

Here are the highlights.

Device Ownership

  • 89% of college students own a laptop, down from 91% in 2013
  • 83% own a smartphone, up from 72% in 2013
  • 45% own a tablet, up from40% in 2013

I was not too surprised to read about the high rate of laptop or smartphone adoption, but I was surprised by the comparatively low rate of tablet adoption. It’s been almost 5 years since the iPad launched, and yet less than half of college students own one.

What’s even more surprising is that yesterday’s survey report showed that elementary and middle school students were more likely to own a tablet than college students (51% vs 45%).

I would have expected those figures to be reversed, but in fact the survey found that college students adopt a wait and see attitude with new technology.

  • Over half (54%) said they usually wait until they see others try new technology, and then they try it themselves,
  • 11% tend to wait a long time with new tech, and
  • only 35% described themselves as early adopters.

7747691718_483d888b71_b[1]That wait and see attitude would seem to be in conflict with a later section of the survey which showed that the students were highly optimistic that tablets would change how college students learned. Over 80% thought that, and 66% thought that tablets would replace textbooks, and help students study more effectively.

The combination of optimism and the wait and see policy suggests that students are avoiding the new tech not because of distrust or dislike but because of financial reasons. College is expensive and students are notoriously cash-strapped, leading them to be parsimonious with new purchases – especially expensive ones.

Among those who do own a tablet, most (45%) own a 10″ or larger tablet, while 38% own a smaller tablet and 25% own a medium-sized tablet. And 29% of tablet owners also own a matching keyboard.

Gadgets & Coursework

Of the entire survey group, 89% reported using a laptop for schoolwork at least two or three times a week (basically  everyone who owned one). A far smaller number used their smartphone (53%, compared to an 83% ownership rate). And even fewer used their tablet for schoolwork on a regular basis (33%, compared to an 45% ownership rate).

The usage rates suggest that college students may be adopting the tech but they are adapting it for use with school at a lower rate than their younger counterparts.

It’s going to be interesting to see if that changes as the younger groups age into the college bracket, and possibly bring their device habits with them.

You can find the report here (PDF).

images by U.S. Naval War

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fjtorres September 11, 2014 um 10:04 pm

It shouldn’t be so surprising.
Tablets are still primarily content consumption devices and lag behind laptops in actual productivity value.
Given the workloads of typical college students, especially in the STEM disciplines, laptops are much better choices, especially at current prices.
Just go check out how much laptop computer you can buy for the $400-600 of a typical iPad. 15-17in screens, 2-4 GB RAM, 500+ GB drives…

Nate Hoffelder September 11, 2014 um 11:14 pm

That would explain the usage stats, yes, but not the ownership stats.

fjtorres September 12, 2014 um 7:20 am

Don’t the two kinda go together?
With current tuition and textbook expenses, many (most?) students are watching their budgets tightly and tablets are going to be pretty low on their list of discretionary spending behind TV, Phone, and maybe a gaming box (if they don’t already own one).
In the current economic environment, six years into the "great recession", college age kids have learned parsimony and value shopping. Odds are their consumption patterns will more closely resemble the Great Generation than the Boomers or even the Gen X-ers.
Premium brands may be in for painful adjustments once those people hit the work force.

DavidW September 12, 2014 um 10:29 am

Where I work the students all have laptops and nearly all have smartphones. The laptops are needed for serious work, you can’t as easily write an essay or do lab analysis on a tablet. The phones are more portable than tablets. There really is no need for tablets in an academic environment, and very few students own and use one. I don’t see that changing, it’s not a generation gap, it’s just common sense.

Greg Strandberg September 12, 2014 um 11:40 am

College students overwhelmingly live in poverty, most 10-year-old’s don’t. Or am I the only one living in America?

Nate Hoffelder September 12, 2014 um 12:47 pm

Except college students have some money; that’s how they bought their smartphones. Ten-year-olds have no money.

And I for one was poor when I was that young, which might be influencing my opinion.

fjtorres September 12, 2014 um 1:03 pm

Child poverty in the US is 20%.
Student poverty is ~52%.

Students do have some
money to spend but they need to spend it on essentials.
Kids, on the other hand, are eligible for all sorts of government programs that give them free tablets. Like the mess in LA…

Kit September 12, 2014 um 1:59 pm

At least at the university I work at, there’s also the option to borrow technology from the library. The libraries on campus lend out tablets, laptops, GPS units, cameras and camcorders, scientific calculators and so on. Students are often required by their college to have a laptop or computer and they’re often told exactly what to get, but for any other tech they might need they can often borrow it on campus, either from the library or their college.

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