According to the National Retail Federation, total back-to-school and college spending is poised to surpass $72.5 billion this year. Topping the shopping lists of cash-strapped college students are a variety of consumer electronics, especially mobile devices. Despite the high price tag of tablets and smartphones, today’s tech-savvy students see these expenditures as necessary investments which will impact their academic productivity and performance.

At CourseSmart, we recently commissioned our third annual independent survey of education and technology through Wakefield Research. The study looked at students’ perspective on four distinct areas: mobile device usage, technology in the classroom, the rising cost of college and the evolution of textbooks from print to digital. The common thread throughout the survey is the ability for technology to reduce costs for students, while increasing access, convenience and flexibility:

Diverse Devices, Digital Dependence

As new technologies emerge, dependence on mobile devices will continue to grow rapidly, especially among college students. Of the students surveyed, 99 percent students reported having at least one digital device. While laptops were the most common (93 percent), many students now own smart phones (78 percent) and tablets (35 percent). This is a significant increase from our 2011 survey when only 47 percent of students said they owned a smartphone and 7 percent reported owning a tablet. The Wakefield study determined that 68 percent of students now use three or more devices every day and 47 percent claimed to check their devices every 10 minutes (up from 38 percent of students in 2011).

The survey results also show that device usage is not stopping at the classroom door. Of the students surveyed, 59 percent say they are more likely to bring a laptop or tablet to class while only 41 percent prefer to bring a textbook. A study conducted in April 2013 by Harris Interactive and published by Pearson concluded that 43 percent of students expressed a strong desire to use mobile devices more often in a classroom setting. Given these statistics, institutions can expect this appetite for devices to continue to grow as a greater number of students come to class armed with this technology.

Studying Smarter, Saving Time

According to the Wakefield survey results, 90 percent of students surveyed admitted they don’t always have time to complete the required reading before class. Of these students, 53 percent reported they would be more likely to complete that reading if the material was available digitally and could be viewed on mobile devices. In 2011, only 46 percent of students expressed that same desire, showing that students are becoming increasingly more comfortable with consuming materials on mobile devices. The Wakefield study determined 64 percent of students claim that technology saves them two or more hours every day.

Mobile devices are also transforming students’ abilities to complete reading assignments faster and with greater ease. Although often frowned upon by faculty, college students frequently admit to “cramming” before an exam as a means of absorbing last minute information and saving time. The Wakefield survey revealed that 88 percent of students say they have used a mobile device for last minute studying before a test, up from 79 percent of students surveyed in 2012. According to Pearson, college students strongly believe that mobile devices and tablets can not only save time, but also enhance their ability to absorb information inside the classroom. The Pearson study concluded that nearly 68 percent of students claimed tablets help them study more efficiently and 62 percent said as a result, they performed better in class.

The Cost Conundrum: Choices and Compromises

The rapidly increasing cost of higher education is one of the most widely discussed topics in the country, especially among current and perspective college students and their families. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the total student debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2012 and according to Bloomberg, college tuition and fees have increased 1,120 percent since records began in 1978.

Given those startling numbers, it’s no surprise the cost of receiving a degree impacts students’ decisions and behaviors when selecting a college or university to attend. For 78 percent of the students surveyed by Wakefield, student debt was a critical factor in selecting a college or university to attend. Further, 72 percent recalled discussing financial options for their college education and 49 percent said they chose not to attend an institution after being selected because the cost was too high. When students were asked about their desires to pursue a graduate degree, 44 percent said student loan debt would impact their decision to attend graduate school.

Although cost remains a top concern, students know that a quality education will increase their employment prospects so they accept the fact that they may graduate with student loan debt. A strong majority (72 percent) said they would rather have a full time job than be debt-free. This statistic validates previous research from Student Monitor’s report, Lifestyle & Media Fall 2011/2012, which noted that nearly 68 percent of students expect to graduate with undergraduate student loans.

Textbooks Move from Print to Pixels

We have witnessed a number of industries transition to the digital distribution of content and higher education course materials are going digital as well. Simba predicts the overall market for digital course materials will reach $1.6 billion by 2014 and expects digital textbooks to grow five times faster than print.

Given the strong market growth, it’s not surprising that students reported increased usage of eTextbooks. The Wakefield survey concluded that 79 percent of students said they have used an eTextbook in a class (up from 63 percent in 2011). Of the students surveyed, 52 percent reported their professors frequently recommend eTextbooks (up from only 42 percent in 2012). More than half (55 percent) of the students surveyed predicted that eTexbook usage will outweigh print in future years and less than 10 percent expect print textbooks to remain dominant.

The ubiquity and necessity of mobile technology on campus is impacting students and faculty alike, as they experience firsthand, the benefits of incorporating digital devices into the higher education ecosystem. Higher education institutions must continue to embrace mobile devices and digital learning as there is significant opportunity for this technology to decrease costs and provide students with resources that will enable them to achieve greater academic success.

Methodological Notes
The CourseSmart Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research among 500 Americans currently enrolled in college, ages 18-23, between May 22nd and May 31st, 2013, using an email invitation and an online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population between the ages of 18 and 23.

Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 4.4 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

Source: The Huffington Post