University of Arizona Libraries Rhonda G. Tubbs Tech Toolshed

The AZ HSI Consortium is pleased to announce University of Arizona Libraries Rhonda G. Tubbs Tech Toolshed as an AZ HSI Evidence Based Practice. After careful review from colleagues across the state of AZ, University of Arizona Libraries Rhonda G. Tubbs Tech Toolshed was shown to be an effective program in moving the needle towards greater college access, persistence, retention, transfer, and degree attainment for Latinx students in Arizona.

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Please read below to learn more about the University of Arizona Libraries Rhonda G. Tubbs Tech Toolshed.

Overview of Institution

University of Arizona Libraries serve the entire campus population, which has a total Hispanic enrollment of 25.3%, including 26.9% of undergraduates and 19.7% of graduates.  For the broader campus community, the Fall 2022 enrollment data highlights that there are 51,134 students at UArizona, which consists of 39,606 students on the main campus; 8,132 students in Arizona Online; 1,644 students in Arizona International; 766 students in Phoenix; 652 in distance education; 214 students in Southern Arizona; and 120 students in Global Direct.  

Traditionally, libraries have served as a central hub for information and resource dissemination across the campus community, including digital literacy and technology resources. One of our new roles is to bring together units that have not traditionally worked together to provide increased access to technology and spaces for students. This approach intentionally prioritizes students most in need, while acknowledging the historic inequities that our community members face. 

Overview of Program

According to Pew Research Center, the percent of Americans without access to essential technologies "have not significantly changed" from 2019 through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, reliance on internet and technology became increasingly critical educational resources while inequities in accessing these resources were exacerbated. This was especially true for marginalized communities which have been historically disadvantaged. Students who work in remote regions or multigenerational households where the environment is not conducive to learning were most disadvantaged. From the Arizona Libraries Digital Inclusion, “in 2019, the Federal Communications Commission reported that 21.3 million Americans lack access to broadband availability. 1.3 million are in Arizona.” In April 2021, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society reported nearly 1 in 7 Arizonans live in an area without adequate broadband, and in August 2022 at ASU’s Congressional Conference, it was noted that “approximately 1 million Arizonans still do not have access to the Internet.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, in 2019 the median household income in Tucson was $43,425 and the poverty rate in the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was 16.8%. This ranked Tucson 11th among 12 western MSAs.

Located on the U.S. Mexico border, 80% of UA Distance Education students identify as Hispanic/Latinx and 74% are first-generation. UA typically uses Pell Grant eligibility to identify low-income, and in fall 2021, 40% of the total population was eligible or received a Pell Grant at some point during their undergraduate academic career.

A “Basic Needs” survey of UA students in spring 2021 by the Office of Assessment and Research, found that 70% of students reported that not having access to a reliable internet connection was a barrier to their success over the course of the year. A fall 2020 survey of students regarding the impacts of COVID-19, found that 1 in 3 students faced limited internet access and 2 in 10 reported that a lack of access to technology or software reduced their ability to perform well in classes delivered online. Supplemental reports for Hispanic/Latinx and Native American students indicated even higher rates of internet challenges. One third of the incoming freshman identified as first in their families to attend college, and 45% identified as an ethnicity other than white.

The Federal Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount for households with an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines of up to $30 per month toward internet service ($75 for those on qualifying Tribal lands), this may not cover the full costs for some nor provide the bandwidth needed for online coursework.  

For years, UA Libraries have provided technology to students, however, COVID-19 demands intensified inventory deficits while also not being able to determine which students should be prioritized. Fortunately, there are many units on campus that had access to additional resources and are positioned to develop in-depth student relationships. Specifically, the library formed partnerships with the HSI and Native American Initiatives; the Thrive Center; and the Arizona Science, Engineering, and Math Scholars (ASEMS).

Is the program grant funded? 

Yes. While most of the funding for equipment lending do not come from grants, we received a portion of the campus HSI Relief Funds in August 2021 to fund the purchase of an additional 620 PC laptops.  We are also in the process of exploring additional grant opportunities to expand our program.

Areas program seeks to make an impact and how

For both Retention and Completion, the survey distributed by the library in Fall 2022 illustrates the impact of equipment lending on UArizona students.

Just focusing in on the 150 Hispanic/Latinx students who responded to the survey, 75 of which were also first-gen students, the top three reasons they borrow technology is to 1) Complete their daily coursework (92 students; 61.3%); 2) Finish a specific project or assignment (90 students; 60%); 3) Temporarily replace their own technology (67 students; 44.7%).
In terms of the primary barriers Hispanic/Latinx students face, they are 1) Not owning all the tech required for coursework (62 students; 41.3%); 2) Limited/no internet access (35 students; 23.3%); 3) limited access to power (18 students; 12%).

Further, compelling evidence comes from the stories we heard from students in the open-ended question on our survey.  In their own words, UArizona Hispanic students describe how they could not have completed their courses and, in some cases, may not have been able to stay at the university without access to technology.  Here are a few examples from our survey:

  • “Due to financial issues my family was unable to afford a laptop for me to complete MATH100. When I thought I had no option, I was elated to hear how many laptops the library had available for students. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my coursework.” – Hispanic, First-Gen, Undergraduate Freshman Student; Neuroscience & Cognitive Science
  • “I live on a ranch where the internet is spotty. I have to commute an hour a day to go to school. With the hotspot, I was able to quickly download software necessary for classes, projects, and assignments. I also borrowed a graphing calculator since I can’t afford it.” – Undergraduate Student – Hispanic, First-Gen, Undergraduate Senior Student; College of Engineering, mechanical engineering major
  • “I was homeless for over a year (first 3 semesters). I did not always have access to Wi-Fi. I borrowed technology multiple times to help me complete and even attend class. As a non-traditional student, I also have to work and provide for my family. Having access to the Wi-Fi and laptop allowed me to continue engaging in my courses and studying.” – Hispanic, First-Gen, Undergraduate Junior Student; College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, microbiology major
  • “I am a mother of five, one being too young for school and with the price of daycare it is more cost efficient for me to stay home with him. Instead of letting times pass me by while being a stay-at-home mom, I decided to use this as chance to finish my education. Thankfully for the school's computer lease program this has been possible. It allows me to do work on my time while still being the mother my kids need.”  – Hispanic, First-Gen, Undergraduate Junior Student; College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, information and eSociety major
How does this program center servingness?

At its core, providing students with the equipment they need to graduate expands and enhances their capacity and quality of work and positions them for academic success. Further, the breadth of technology offered through the libraries provides opportunities to different populations and areas of study that may otherwise not have access. Increasingly, future employers expect students to have experience with a wide range of technology. Without this program, many would not be able to afford the basic equipment or software needed for their education, much less have the opportunity to experiment with higher end equipment like professional cameras, VR headsets, and drawing tablets.

While academic outcomes, course completion, graduation, and employment outcomes are critically important there are other nonacademic outcomes associated with this program. This access also help individuals develop as leaders and provides individuals with a foundational knowledge needed for future civic engagement.

Check out University of Arizona Libraries Rhonda G. Tubbs Tech Toolshed Presentation from the AZ HSI Evidence Based Practice Webinar: