Skidmore New Student Computer Familiarity Survey
Fall 1998
Joe Stankovich
Ann Henderson
Office of the Registrar and
Institutional Research
October 22, 1998

Methods and Demographics

The 1998 Computer Familiarity Survey was administered during the orientation program. Upon completing the QR (quantitative reasoning) exam, students were given this brief survey. Since all students were required to take the QR exam at this first testing, our potential response group was the entire incoming class (Class of 2002). HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) students did not complete the exam at fall orientation because they completed the QR exam during the summer. When we realized we had missed this cohort, the students were asked to complete the survey in mid October. The survey, last administered in 1996, was revised to reflect current changes in technology. In addition, a few questions regarding library use were added.

Of the 596 students in the Class of 2002, we received 581 responses resulting in a 97.5% response rate. The response group is representative of the class in terms of gender (61% Female) but less likely to include students of color (class = 11%, response group = 8%). All demographics were self-reported and many students chose not to report their ethnicity on the survey or in institutional records.


In this year's incoming class, 88% of students indicated they brought a personal computer with them to Skidmore or that they intended to purchase one soon. Ninety-four percent said they had access to a computer in their household as they were growing up. These proportions did not differ greatly by gender. However, non-white students were less likely to have brought a computer with them or to have indicated they plan on purchasing one in the immediate future (56% v. 91%). They were also less likely to report access to a household computer while growing up (69% v. 96%).

A Windows (PC) desktop computer (47%) was the most frequently reported system of choice (ownership or planned ownership). This was followed by a Windows (PC) laptop/notebook (30%), Apple/Mac desktop (12%), and Apple/Mac laptop/notebook (7%). Only 4% of students brought some other type of computer. Similarly, 78% of students said they felt comfortable using a Windows PC while 57% reported they were comfortable with an Apple/Mac.

Not surprisingly, 88% of students agreed that an understanding of computers and computer applications would be important for college success. Eighty-six percent said an understanding of computers would be important for future success in the workplace. This finding did not significantly differ by gender or ethnicity.

To gain a better understanding of the average new student's computer abilities, students were asked to rate their proficiency in a number of prevalent applications or computer uses. Rating themselves on a five-point scale (1=Never Used to 5=Expert) students reported being quite adept in using word processing applications, communicating via E-mail, and browsing the Internet. Students were less skillful in programming, web page authoring and design, and statistics or math software (over for Table I).


Students tended to report using their computer for educational purposes (median = 5 hours) more frequently than for entertainment (2 hours) or communication (2 hours). Males tended to report spending more time with a computer for entertainment (see Table II).


Interestingly, students of color tended to report greater use of a computer despite being less likely to have had access to one as a child or to currently own one. Since the number of multicultural students is small (n=43), a few outliers reporting "19 or more hours" per activity most likely inflated the means. As a result, medians are reported. It is also possible that this finding is skewed by the inclusion of HEOP students in the analysis. These students, who are typically students of color, were on campus most of the summer and they completed the survey at a much later date than the rest of the class. While the intent of the survey is to understand computer usage before coming to Skidmore, HEOP students were already here for quite a while and potentially included in these numbers their computer use at Skidmore (see Table III).


Comparison Data (1994 and 1996)

The computer literacy survey was also administered in 1994 among graduating seniors and in 1996 among first-year students. Comparing these data, several trends should be noted. This year, 88% of students reported they owned a computer or planned to purchase one soon. This can be compared to a figure of 76% only two years ago (1996). Further, the percent of students owning a computer was only 60% in 1994. This 1994 figure is not entirely comparable to subsequent years since it excluded prospective computer purchases and was based on senior class responses.

Computer preference appears to be moving in favor of a Windows-based PC over the past four years (see Table IV). Students also appear to be more comfortable with Windows then in 1994 and1996. Comfort with an Apple/Mac computer has leveled off somewhat compared to the Windows PC (over for Table V).



In 1996, the three most frequent computer uses were word processing, E-mail, and Internet browsing. The 1998 group also said they were the most proficient in these three areas (refer to Table I) suggesting little change in computer uses over this period of time.

Library Use

A series of questions was developed to assess library knowledge and use prior to enrollment. Of specific interest was students' use of online resources available at many libraries.

Sixty-six percent of students indicated they had used the web to locate course-related information. Most students had also written a paper in high school that required the uses of a library or online resource. Seventy-eight percent reported writing four or more papers (see Table IV).

Table VI: Papers Written using a Library or Online Resource
1 to 3
4 to 6
7 to 9
10 or more

Further, eighty percent of students indicated use of an online library resource for any purpose. Of these students, the most popular environment to access online resources was a high school library (85%) followed by a public library (45%), other environment (22%), and a college library (21%). Forty percent of students reported they had used a college library for any type of research prior to matriculating. Of these students, only 24% indicated the college library provided an orientation program as an introduction to available resources.

Seventy-one percent of students said they used a computerized database to find a newspaper or magazine article and 79% of these students indicated the full text they were searching for was available online. The databases used by students included "Other" (46%), INFOTRAC (37%), Reader's Guide (17%), and EBSCOHOST (5%).


A large majority of students indicated they brought a computer to Skidmore or that they intended to purchase one soon. Students of color were less likely to have a computer or have access to one as a child. As in 1996, many students are using a Windows PC primarily for word processing, E-mail, and Internet browsing before coming to Skidmore. Students tended to report using computers for educational purposes over entertainment or communication. This class also recognizes the importance of computer familiarity in both the workplace and post-secondary education.

Compared to previous years, students are becoming increasingly familiar with computers and are more likely to own one or plan on purchasing one in the immediate future. Computer preference is also moving in favor of a Windows PC over the past few years.

Many students have also reported using an online library resource, but few had previously done so at a college library. Less than half of all students reported using a college library for any reason before Skidmore.

In conclusion, the findings are generally expected given the traditional Skidmore student. 

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