PASCO -- It's pretty tough to go to college if you don't own a computer.
Instructors post assignments on their websites, students send drafts of group projects to each other via e-mail and most research is pulled from electronic databases.
But some students can't afford computers, which means they can get their work done only when the campus computer lab is open.
Students at Columbia Basin College, however, now have a way to erase that handicap. The Pasco college two weeks ago began offering loaner laptops that students can take home for three days at a time.
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The laptops were an instant hit.
"As soon as they were available, students signed up," said Desiree Good, head of circulation at the CBC library. "We've had lots and lots of responses."
About 50 students have signed up so far, signing out laptops about 95 times in the past two weeks, she said.
Getting a laptop is as easy as checking out a book. There is no fee to sign up, but the contract does include a clause that the student will pay $700 if the laptop doesn't make it back to the checkout counter.
The computers are available at both the Pasco and Richland campuses and can be returned at either one, regardless of where they were checked out.
They are loaded with general purpose software that allows students to type up papers, open spreadsheets and, of course, go online.
CBC bought 45 full-sized laptops and five smaller netbooks. The computers cost $38,000, which came out of the technology fees charged to students, said CBC spokesman Frank Murray.
The college had 11 older laptops to loan to students before, but they could be used on campus for only four hours at a time, said Steve Swanson, head of information technology at the CBC library.
Folks in the library, which includes a computer lab, have been asked for long-term loaners.
"We were very excited when IT approached the library to start this program," Good said.
Students are excited about the added flexibility.
Christopher Mich doesn't own a computer and has made do with going to the CBC computer lab or, on weekends, the public library. That means he's been at the mercy of their opening hours and availability.
"It puts the time crunch on you even worse," he said. "This is much more efficient."
* Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org