College students: How to find low-cost internet and affordable laptops

A young woman sits at a breakfast island, her laptop placed in front of her. Textbooks and papers are scattered on the countertop all around her. She holds a paper in one hand, and a stapler in the other, as she watches her laptop screen, smiling.
September 06, 2022 | Claire Hegstrom

According to a recent study by the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research, 1 in 10 college students does not have reliable access to a laptop – that’s about 2 million American students. Yet over 90% of students say that laptops are either very or extremely important to be able to complete their coursework.

Of students who do have a digitally connected device for school, another 10% say that their devices are not equipped to handle the programs they’re required to run for their classes. The disparity between students who have the full technology support to pursue their degree and those who must find these resources elsewhere is known as the “digital divide.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines the digital divide as “the gap between those who have affordable access, skills, and support to effectively engage online and those who do not.” For college students, a reliable internet connection and an appropriate digital device are necessities to access online learning systems, homework portals, digital textbooks, video editing tools and much more.

Digital inequities faced by 10% of the higher ed population aren’t new. But as the pandemic forced student resource hubs like libraries, cafes, and even dorm buildings with reliable Wi-Fi to close down, a new light was shed on just how prevalent these barriers are. The issue even ignited political intervention to aid in bridging the digital gap.

Below are some resources that you, or a college student you know, may find helpful in the quest for internet connection. From cheaper laptops to reduced-price Wi-Fi, there are trusted sources for every student in need.

Finding reduced-price laptops and desktop computers

Whether you could benefit from a tablet, Chromebook, laptop or desktop computer, there are many organizations across the country that specialize in refurbishing digital devices. Many of these organizations exist to serve two important purposes: To help recycle used tech – keeping more waste out of landfills – and to place low-cost devices in homes impacted by the digital divide.

For instance, PCs for People is a nationwide digital inclusion organization that collects retired computers and laptops from government agencies, local corporations, schools and other organizations. They then data sanitize and refurbish the devices, and distribute them to families across the country at in-person events and through PCs for People’s online store. Prices for new devices start at just $75. Affordable Connectivity Program device discounts – described below – can be applied to these refurbished devices as well!

EveryoneOn, another national digital inclusion organization, has created an Offer Locator Tool, a national database of low-cost internet programs and affordable devices. By simply entering a zip code, you’re supplied with a list of affordable laptops available in your area, as well as reduced-cost internet service plans available in that region.

Both organizations described above use the same qualifying guidelines outlined by the Affordable Connectivity Program below. Students who wish to purchase devices must be currently participating in a government-based assistance program or have a qualifying household income – earning at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines.

Because documentation must be uploaded online, via email, or by fax, you’ll need temporary access to Wi-Fi and a computer to apply and provide proof of eligibility.

Low-cost internet plans for college students

Finding a budget-friendly laptop, tablet, or desktop computer is only helpful if you have internet access once you bring it home.

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a government subsidy program that offers monthly discounts on internet service and a one-time discount on an internet-connected device. This program can be especially useful to those living in rural areas where higher internet speeds are required, often leading to pricier monthly bills.

These ACP benefits are limited to one discount and one device per eligible household:

  • $30 off broadband services for non-tribal households
  • $75 off broadband services for tribal households
  • $100 stipend for broadband connected devices

If you meet any one of the following requirements, you are encouraged to apply.

  • At or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines
  • Participate in SNAP, WIC, SSI, Lifeline or Medicaid
  • Children participate in free or reduced-price lunch program at school
  • Reside on tribal lands participating in the program
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during this award year

Finding laptops, desktop computers and internet in your price range is possible! Having your own internet-connected device means the freedom to complete homework on your own schedule, from the comfort of your home, when it’s convenient for you. We hope you share these resources with your friends who could benefit from them as well!

Digital equity grants for public universities

If your university is in need of funding for digital inclusion work, digital devices or digital skills labs, the Alliant Credit Union Foundation may be able to help. The Foundation has a vision to provide reliable broadband, digital literacy resources and technology equipment for underserved communities including rural, digitally-challenged and under-resourced populations through investments with strategic, charitable partners.

Grant applications are accepted throughout the year and eligible 501(c)(3) organizations are invited to apply.


Looking for more information on digital inclusion? Read these blog posts:

Claire Hegstrom is a social impact strategist and digital equity advocate passionate about connecting communities. Focused on supporting financial wellness and independence, they approach educational conversations from a candid and inclusive space centered in growth and awareness. Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will give you the resources to help you thrive in every avenue of life.

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