Students’ relationships with the Internet have changed since I was a college freshman in 1997. For virtually all of my classmates, the school’s shared T1 line was our first taste of high-speed Internet. And while it seemed amazing then, it would undoubtedly seem awful by today’s standards.
For students currently attending college or trying to decide which to attend, the experience may well be reversed; many of them likely have faster Internet access at home than they will on campus. Few, if any, students will choose their college based on its network speed, but virtually all will want to know what they or their parents are paying for, and how school networks stack up against the broadband speeds they’re used to.
Putting Colleges to the Test
Valore Books and TestMy.net recently conducted a study of this country’s college Internet speeds, and the results are surprising. You’d probably expect to see prestigious engineering schools like MIT and Cal Tech at the top of the list, but you won’t. You’d also expect to see the schools with the wealthiest endowments have the fastest network speeds but, again, they don’t.
To find the winners, survey methodology added download and upload speeds together. This means schools with high download but low upload speeds, and vice versa, both appear within the top 25. Of course, so do schools with good, if not spectacular numbers in each category. The study compared the speeds of each state’s flagship public university, along with the 10 U.S. colleges and universities with the largest endowments.
The Internet’s All-American
The surprise campus speed champion is Texas’ Lamar State College-Port Arthur. Home to just 2,514 students, the school only offers two-year degrees, but provides upload speeds of 154.8 Mbps and download speeds of 47.8 Mbps. And that speed is a bargain, as a full semester’s expense runs just $3,292.05. Texans in search of four-year degrees can always opt for Texas A&M or Rice University, both of which made the list’s top 10. The rest of the top 25 seems to hold no patterns, with presences from both small and large schools, public and private, and all across the country.
Big Money Doesn’t Mean Big Speed
So how did those well-funded schools do in this survey? Harvard, which has the nation’s highest endowment of $32.3 billion, could only muster speeds of 23.1 Mbps up and 9.2 Mbps down. And for that connection speed, students and their families can expect to pay $58,607 for the 2014-2015 academic year. At least they’ll also get a pretty solid education thrown in. MIT, which has an $11 billion endowment and the kind of engineering know-how to do better, was even worse: 20.7 Mbps up, and 8.8 Mbps down. Overall, there seems to be no correlation at all between endowment and network speed.
In all fairness, even Princeton, which scored the worst of any college mentioned in the study, provides speeds that are more than sufficient for most academic research, which is what we hope all students spend at least some of their time doing. And that brings up a fair question: is an above-average network speed anything more than a luxury for students?
How Much Does It Matter?
Network speeds are one measure, though certainly not the only one, of a school’s commitment to technology. Engineering students in particular should expect their schools to be leading the nation’s networking technology, not lagging behind it. And for students in certain disciplines like film, art, and computer science, research into data-heavy online content is likely more requirement than luxury.
Four years after graduation, the name of your alma mater will probably be more important than where it appeared on this list. But for the two to four years you spend earning your degree (more for grad students), living with a slow connection will be a real source of frustration.
Do you know how the prospective schools on your wish list compare? Does that information play any more than a minor role in deciding where to attend, and do you view a school with below-average Internet speeds in a negative manner?
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