Any respectable college dorm room these days shares a few common elements: a poster of a rock star, a mini-refrigerator and, not least, a personalized mouse pad.
The computer age hit colleges a decade ago, and more and more students these days are arriving on campus laden with equipment, say college administrators and merchandisers.
The trend has spawned an industry catering to the well-wired student, sending college bookstores each year in search of the most up-to-the-second computer goodies.
"More and more students are bringing their own hardware. There's been a dramatic shift in the last three years," says Paul Lynch, a manager of the Johns Hopkins University Book Center. "Anything that makes their computers faster, gives them more memory and functionality is in demand."
National surveys report at least a third of all college students own computers, and Maryland higher education officials say that percentage is fast increasing.
John McFadden, director of information services at Baltimore's Loyola College, estimates that 60 percent of his college's 3,000 students own computers. He expects the percentage to be higher for the incoming class of 2001.
To accommodate these students, colleges across the state are rewiring their dormitories so students on campus can connect to college central computers.
From their rooms, students use computers to check schedules, register for classes and communicate electronically with professors at any hour. Even schools that have big 24-hour computer labs are witnessing the trend.
"These kids use computers for learning, working, communicating and for entertainment," says Don Tapscott, the author of "Growing Up Digital," to be published this fall by McGraw Hill.
"They're not used to having to go someplace else -- like a computer lab -- to do those things," he says. "These kids are the first of a generation that uses computers much differently than the rest of us."
All this has had a big impact on retailers on and off campus.
Online service companies that provide Internet access and electronic mail access for a charge are enlarging their student services to compete with more basic college services that often are supplied free or at a lower cost.
America Online has added two new areas, "Road to College" and Graduation," to other features that target students. AOL spokeswoman Janine Dunne says the company has found success with other areas designed for undergraduates.
CompuServe, another online service provider, has tripled the number of educational and reference sites designed for students since 1994.
"It's a lot easier to just type in the key word and get information specifically related to your subject right at your desk than to go to the library and search through a mountain of books," says Teresa Owens, a CompuServe representative.
Such services indicate that extensive computer use at colleges has transcended the "hacker" ranks.
A member of this "Net Generation" -- a term that Tapscott hopes will gain currency -- was perusing the offerings at the Loyola College Book Store earlier this month.
"I have one at home, I use it to write papers, but mostly I'm into American Online. My friends and I make programs to get into different chat rooms," says Daniel Friese, an 18-year-old from Long Island.
"Yeah, all my friends have computers, everyone I know is bringing equipment to school with them," he says.
Lynch, the Hopkins Book Center manager, said his store is constantly expanding space for computer accessories to fit a growing number of software packages and computer accessories. The best sellers are the software packages "with the most bells and whistles," he says.
The packages often start at about $100 and can run a lot more. They enable students to create spreadsheets, design personal pages to post on the World Wide Web or publish mini-magazines.
The University of Maryland, College Park, Book Center does well with zip disks and drives -- accessories that increase the memory and speed of computers. Disks are priced in the $20 range and drives about $150.
Jason Koehler, a buyer at the Loyola College Book Store, points out that all these electronics need to be plugged in. He has ordered piles of extension cords, power strips and surge protectors for this year's entering freshman.
All campus stores report selling a fair number of mouse pads. Those emblazoned with Jerry Garcia's face are a favorite at Hopkins. "If we had more space, we'd sell them with all different pictures," says Hopkins' Lynch.
But not everyone on campus is convinced that computer ownership is essential.
A few feet away from Friese in the Loyola book store, a Hopkins graduate student rolled his eyes when asked if he thought the extensive equipment available was necessary for academic success.
The doubter, who asked not to be named, recalled his first days as a freshman: "All I bought was books, and I did fine."
Pub Date: 7/27/97