Illinois declared top high-tech university

By Peter Kim

In its “Top Wired Colleges” survey, PC Magazine ranked the University as the most high-tech college in the country last week.

The placement was awarded based on a survey that rated the quality of each college’s academics, student resources, network infrastructure and tech support.

Conducted in collaboration with the Princeton Review, the survey was an online questionnaire that was sent to 368 colleges across the nation. PC Magazine grouped the responses into categories, assigned each a weighted point value and churned out the winners.

Up from sixth place in the 2006 ranking, the University beat former first-place Villanova University, located in Villanova, Pa.

“It’s very important to understand that being (the most high-tech) is not really about what services we have that others don’t have,” said Sally Jackson, chief information officer for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, in an e-mail. “It’s about the whole environment.”

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PC Magazine applauded the University for its technologically forward course catalog. Classes for robotics, hacking and bioinformatics are just a few examples.

“I’m really impressed with the kinds of classes available here,” said Tom Murray, sophomore in Engineering. “I feel like I’ll be more prepared for industry by taking more technologically up-to-date classes.”

Although the University pulls ahead academically, it stays relatively on par with other schools in all other technological areas. For example, most other colleges offer online storage systems similar to the University’s NetFiles program, and almost all of them hand out free anti-virus software to students.

Jackson believes the University won the award in part for its large-scale research centers, such as the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Located on campus for more than 20 years, NCSA produced Mosaic, the first Web browser to popularize the Internet.

“We have unmatched computational resources of all kinds, available to students and faculty in all disciplines,” Jackson said. “Even in fields considered nontechnical, this allows forms of study never before possible.”

However, PC Magazine did note that the University is lacking in some areas – with only 1 percent of outdoor Wi-Fi coverage over its 5,000-acre campus.

Also, while the University lends out laptops, many other colleges give them to students for free. According to PC Magazine, Villanova University mails incoming students brand-new laptops before they even reach campus and then upgrades them to new laptops once they hit sophomore year.

“I was really surprised to hear that U of I was the number one most high tech school,” said Ben Trevor, junior in LAS.

“I don’t even get good Wi-Fi on some parts of the Quad,” he added.

While outdoor Wi-Fi coverage is limited, wireless coverage in all University residence halls and libraries is 100 percent, and classrooms is 85 percent, said Mona Heath, deputy chief information officer for CITES, in an e-mail.

“I think our number one ranking is very well justified,” Jackson said. “We offer an incredible package: the intellectual environment for invention and innovation, surrounded by the material and social resources needed to push the limits of possibility.”