man stands next to woman holding a new iPad in a box outside on a college campus.

Student Surveys Show CSUCCESS iPads Enhance Educational Experience

Hazel Kelly

First-time CSU students share feedback on tech distribution program and work to boost digital literacy.

man stands next to woman holding a new iPad in a box outside on a college campus.

​CSU Channel Islands President Richard Yao stands with a student who received a new CSUCCESS iPad technology bundle. Courtesy of CSU Channel Islands​


​​By the start of spring, approximately 29,000 first-time freshmen and new transfer students across the CSU will have received a new iPad technology bundle to keep until they graduate. This unprecedented distribution effort acros​s 14 CSU campuses represents just the first two phases of the CSUCCESS (California State University Connectivity Contributing to Equity and Student Success) initiative, which launched in fall 2021.

With more than half of the CSU's campuses participating, students are catching on that this long-term technology loan program has no strings attached. Eligible students at participating campuses need only register to receive a device bundle, which includes a new iPad Air, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio, plus an optional Wi-Fi hotspot package. No financial need questions are asked.

​“We believe that every CSU student should have a quality device," says Michael Berman, CSU chief information officer. “Wherever you came from, whatever your income, whatever group you might identify with, we want to make sure that you have the same access to technology as anyone else."​

While some students who receive an iPad may already have a personal computer or campus loaner laptop, some may not have their own dedicated, high-quality device prior to receiving their CSUCCESS bundle. For example, in a fall 2021 survey of CSU Channel Islands students, about half—49%—of students reported that they did not have a reliable device for coursework before they received the iPad bundle.

“CSUCCESS is really leveling the playing field so that all students—regardless of income or background—have equal opportunity to succeed in college, and in life," says J. Jacob Jenkins, Ph.D., associate professor of organizational communication at CSUCI and campus coordinator for the CSU's Affordable Learning Solutions.

​Investing in Students

Berman explains that students may not be used to the idea that they are given something as they begin their time at the  university. “It shows that we are invested in our students' academic success," he says.

And when students get the message that they are a worthwhile investment, that their institution cares, it may increase their sense of belonging, says Helen Heinrich, Ed.D., interim associate vice president of Academic Technology at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). “Technology can be a very powerful tool in accomplishing those goals, and CSUCCESS is one of the big components of that."

Now that students have had some time using their new iPads, campuses are learning more about how students are benefitting from the devices. CSUN conducted a survey of 5,253 students who received a CSUCCESS device in fall 2021. Of the total respondents, 32.9% were interested in the portability of the iPad, and 24.9% thought the iPad would improve their organization and focus on school. 16.1% cited relief from financial stress related to repairs or replacing current devices. Access to apps or software (9.3%), improved motivation (10.4%), a feeling of investment from the school (5.8%), and access to two screens for online classes (6.3%) were also reported, says Ranjit Philip, interim vice president for Information Technology & CIO.

person in college bookstore arranges stacks of new technology bundles available for students

In the CSUCI survey, one student wrote that the iPad bundle “really helped me by not having to carry my heavy computer to school and had everything I needed with me to prepare for class. This made a huge difference."

Many students also touted the note-taking ability of the iPad: “Taking notes on iPad has been a game changer, it really helped me step up my notes and allowed me to insert images straight from power points, books, or the internet," wrote one CSUCI student in the survey.

Paul Riley, a CSUCI undergraduate who serves as a student representative on his campus CSUCCESS committee says the iPad has been extremely helpful for him this year. “The apps are easy to use and the inclusion of Microsoft Office enabled me to use the tablet as my primary source for completing assignments," Riley says. “I have just started to use the Notability app for my notetaking which will allow me to eliminate the use of notebooks and will make organization of my notes effortless."

Improving Digital Literacy

student with long hair and cap sits at outdoor table typing on a tablet with keyboard

Getting the tools for success in students' hands is a great start to closing the digital divide, but there is more work to be done. “We know that digital equity is so much more than just access to a device or internet. It is also about students​ ​having the skills to use those devices to their fullest capacity," says Dr. Heinrich.

While many students may be considered Gen Z “digital natives," it doesn't mean they automatically have the digital literacy skills needed for academic work. “Learning instructional technology is very different than using social media or gaming," Heinrich adds. This is where training workshops and peer-to-peer communication strategies come in.

This year, Heinrich and her colleagues were awarded a CSUN Diversity & Equity Innovation Grant for their program proposal “Disseminating The Keys to Digital Equity: The CSUN Digital Grapevine." She explains that the pilot program leans on student leaders, or digital ambassadors, to create technology-related content and share with their social media followers thus becoming digital equity influencers.

CSUN student Zonique Foyle recently began serving as the lead Digital Equity Student Ambassador. Through peer-to-peer social media and in-person campus events, Foyle and his fellow student ambassadors are working to increase students' understanding of technologies and resources available on campus, which includes CSUCCESS, among others.

Foyle explains that students who have new devices may not know how to use them to their fullest potential. For example, when using Zoom on a tablet versus a personal computer, the buttons may appear in different locations, so students need to be alert on the use of their microphones. Learning management systems like Canvas can also be confusing at first, especially to incoming students. “We want students to learn that they are in control of their device," he says.

While the program only got started in January 2022, Foyle has already noticed that some types of communications engage students more than others. “We live in a TikTok generation. Kids are more engaged when they see things, rather than read things. I'm like that too. You learn from yourself and apply it to the platform." Foyle explains that his student ambassador team recently posted a TikTok-style video on Instagram and it received more than 3,000 views, as compared to a static image they posted previously with only minor engagement.

screen shot of a social media post about CSUCCESS iPad program at CSUN At CSU Bakersfield, Associate Students Inc. President Stephanie Magaña was involved in distributing CSUCCESS iPads to eligible students in the fall, as well as working with her campus IT team to coordinate a free iPad workshop for all students. During the October virtual workshop, an Apple student representative introduced attendees to iPad essentials and tools to enhance their learning.

As one of the CSUCCESS Phase One campuses, Magaña explains that she wanted to make sure the program was successful at CSUB. "We wanted to ensure our students were well prepared and learned how to navigate through their iPad easily and efficiently," she says. “There are so many resources available other than just Zoom that we wanted our students to be aware of."

In a post-workshop survey, students shared feedback on the parts they found most helpful, including focus mode to turn off notifications, multi-tasking tips, turning notes into text, and a demonstration on how to pull information from websites and add it to your notes and format them look a certain way.

“The students really enjoyed it. A lot of them were really engaged and asking questions at the end," says Magaña, who also works part-time for the CSUB IT department and is a senior majoring in computer engineering. “I do think tech is the future. I wouldn't want our students being left behind. If there's anything we can do to increase student efficiency, then we should, whether that means adding another device or providing additional resources. We should be constantly trying to improve our students' education and give them access to more technology."


CSUCCESS is an important component in the CSU's efforts to recover from the pandemic and improve student success while eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps as part of Graduation Initiative 2025. Visit the CSUCCESS website for additional information.