For the first time ever at the UA, about 500 incoming freshmen received a non-monetary scholarship this semester: a customized MacBook Pro pre-loaded with software and a few extras to boot.
The university is trying out the MacBook Scholars Program as a way to reach students who may be left out using traditional criteria for scholarship eligibility, said Paul Kohn, vice provost for enrollment management and dean of admissions.
""There are many students who we want here, but who we, if we use our normal formulaic approach looking at their GPA and their test scores … we'll end up not making them a scholarship offer,"" Kohn said.
This group of students is characterized by a discord between their GPAs and their test scores, which could disqualify them for other, more traditional scholarships, he said.
This semester, recipients in the program must be Arizona residents, have been accepted to the UA, have written an application essay and be enrolled full-time. Not owning a laptop computer is not a criterion. From this pool, a group of 10-12 reviewers assessed the application essays, looking for students who have overcome unique obstacles on their path to college, Kohn said.
Through a partnership with the UofA Bookstore, which already works with Apple, the students have each received a 13-inch MacBook Pro, an HP printer/scanner, and a full rebate for an iPod Touch. The computers are valued at $1,300, and unlike most scholarships, this one is non-renewable. The funding comes from the same money used for other scholarships, but the iPod Touch and printer were included at no extra cost to the university through the same student discount Apple offers at its stores.
Kohn said that Apple has high brand recognition among college students. The computers have been customized with a red apple logo on the reverse side of the screen, and the university's trademark ""A"" in the corner of the same side.
Kohn and others involved in the program hoped that providing students with tools, rather than just money, would be more useful in the long run and give them something tangible to keep. Even the iPod Touch could be utilized as a ""clicker"" that some professors have students use to answer questions in class, which could save students up to $60.
The UA is not the first school to give away laptops instead of scholarship money, but it is the first to customize the computers to the extent that it has, said Kasey Urquidez, director of undergraduate recruitment.
All incoming freshmen applied for the MacBook scholarship unwittingly using a 3-in-1 application that includes consideration for admission to both the UA and the Honors College and for scholarships, she said. Later, selected students received a separate letter informing them they were to receive the laptops.
""We generated a lot of buzz … Lots of people, especially people in the rural areas were excited to receive (the MacBook),"" she said.
Jada Jones, a pre-physiology freshman, said she was thrilled to receive the notebook computer, and that she would have been without a computer if it weren't for the program.
""I learned that I couldn't really get any grants or scholarships because my mom works here (at the UA),"" she said. ""This is the one scholarship I got and I'm very, very happy about it.""
Two of Jones' friends also received the MacBooks, she said.
""We had our own MacBook handshake. It was so cool,"" she said, chuckling.
Jones said that receiving a MacBook instead of money was more useful to her in the long-term, and that she was proud to show it off to her friends.
Kohn said he had been checking eBay on a daily basis to make sure students weren't selling their scholarships on the Website.
Kohn and Urquidez were encouraged by the program's success, and are looking to expand it, possibly to non-Arizona residents and transfer students, but it would remain a program aimed at newcomers to the UA, they said.
""We know that it was an effective piece,"" Urquidez said. ""We haven't decided yet exactly how large it will go. We'll probably be able to know that in the next month or so.""