Cal State Long Beach is giving out iPad’s to students as part of a system-wide initiative to combat the digital divide. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Long Beach State kicked off its spring semester late last month by joining a California State University system-wide initiative that aims to bridge the digital divide among students by providing hundreds iPad bundles free of charge.

The initiative’s launch at CSULB comes two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted accessibility issues among students of all ages.

The California State University Connectivity Contributing to Equity and Student Success, or CSUCCESS, offers a free iPad Air, Apple Pencil and Apple Smart Keyboard Folio to all first-year students, including freshman, transfers and graduate students. Students also can request free Wi-Fi hotspots.

The program does not have an income-based eligibility requirement but students must submit a request to the university.

“The CSUCCESS program will help ensure our first-year students have the necessary technology to be successful,” Bryon Jackson, assistant vice president of Unified Technology Support and Innovation at CSULB said in a statement. “We have taken many steps to bridge the digital divide during the pandemic and the CSUCCESS program only strengthens the Student Technology Loan program for our students in need.”

Cal State Long Beach already has distributed 68 iPads with 400 more expected to arrive sometime this week, spokesman Gregory Woods said in an email.

The Cal State system is the largest of four-year higher education in the country and the CSUCCESS program has the potential to serve tens of thousands of students. According to university data, Cal State Long Beach—the largest of the state universities by enrollment—admitted just over 4,900 freshman and nearly 5,100 transfer students for fall 2020.

The first phase of the program kicked off in the fall semester with eight schools—Bakersfield, Channel Islands, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Maritime Academy, Northridge and San Marcos. Phase two campuses joining for this spring semester also include Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Pomona, San Bernardino and Sonoma.

With the addition of the Southern California institutions, more than half of the 25 Cal State University campuses are now participating in the CSUCCESS program.

Throughout the pandemic, the CSU system spent more than $18 million to purchase more than 21,000 laptops and tablets as well as 10,000 mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for students. Systemwide, schools also loaned out millions of dollars worth of existing equipment amid the pandemic.

Long Beach State alone received $5 million from the CARES Act for the purchase of laptops, tablets and hotspots, according to Min Yao, vice president and CIO of the campus’s division of information technology. In addition to the iPads being handed out this semester, the university has loaned more than 2,000 laptops to students, Woods said.

The school maintains ownership of the devices but loans them to students for the duration of their education at the university, according to the CSULB website. Upon graduation, students are required to return their devices.

The university will not monitor student’s day-to-day activity on the iPads, CSULB said. However, the school does monitor network traffic and will alert IT staff if a student conducts illegal activity on the iPad or downloads an application not found in the official Apple Apps Store.

“At Apple, we believe that education is a powerful force for equity and opportunity, and that technology can empower all students to achieve their goals,” Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of education and enterprise marketing, said ahead of the initiative’s launch last year. “We’re thrilled that iPad Air and the incredible education apps … will be central to the experience at CSU campuses across California.”