Then and Now: 20 Years of UBIT Student Experience Surveys

Students sitting in NSC with phones

Article by Dan Heuskin / Photo by Blake Cooper

Published May 8, 2017

UBIT first surveyed students about how they use technology in 1997. A lot has changed since then.



Daniel Heuskin (UB Student, Class of 2017) is originally from Long Island, NY. He is studying English at UB with aspirations to become a teacher or writer. In his free time, he enjoys playing bass guitar, doing nature photography, writing songs and reading.

Back in ’97, the very first question on UBIT’s survey was “Do you own a personal computer?” Almost a quarter of students—23%--responded “no.” The 2016 survey doesn’t even bother to ask this question, which tells us a lot about how profoundly things have changed over the past two decades.

Diverse Devices

These days, personal computers are so common that the main focus of the 2016 survey is not whether students own one, but rather how many and what kinds of devices they own.

In 1997, no one thought about phones as computing devices. No one had ever heard of 3G, streaming video or social media. Now UB students use a variety of mobile devices, like smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches, all connected by UB’s networks.

Today, UB students favor laptops over every other digital device, including desktop computers, for completing assignments, taking notes and browsing the web. And smartphones are the go-to device for social media, according to UB students.

Computers on Campus: Then & Now

In 1997, 17% of UB students with a personal computer owned a laptop, while 93% owned a desktop computer. Over the course of two decades, these figures have effectively flipped: UBIT’s 2016 survey shows that 91.7% of UB students own a laptop, while 18% own a desktop.

In the 90s, only 33% of UB students reported bringing their laptops (or palmtops) to campus. Taking a quick look around campus today will show you how dramatically this situation has changed.

Only 90s Kids Will Remember

And here’s a nice throwback: 4% of UB students in 1997—about the same portion who own an Apple Watch today—owned something called a Palmtop. A Palmtop was a battery-powered PC about the size of a pocket calculator. The Palmtop was designed to fold up like a clamshell and drop into your shirt pocket.

The palmtop eventually fell out of favor, to be replaced by smartphones, tablets, and laptops—all with exponentially more computing power.

Keeping on the Cutting Edge

UBIT keeps up with the pace of technology by listening to what UB students have to say. And we share what we learn with the community—you can read the last ten years of survey results on the UBIT website.