Round-the-clock computer labs and 24/7 tech support landed the University of Utah a spot as the third most teched-out campus in the country, according to PC Magazine's latest survey.

The U. is No. 3 among the Top 20 Wired Colleges in the United States, following first-place University of Illinois and No. 2 Kansas State University, which offer students such things as free laptops and remote diagnostics tools to their campus community.

"Students come to campus as digital natives, already familiar with IT and Web equipment, and we do what we can to make their educational experience more efficient," said Steve Hess, chief information officer at the U. He said campuswide and anywhere Internet access, peer-2-peer file sharing, availability of online courses and library content, antivirus and online storage, as well as discounts for various hardware and software set the U. apart from other schools.

With more students carrying personal laptop computers and smartphones, schools like the U. are having to keep up with them to stay digitally relevant, according to PC Magazine.

Hess said the U. continues to work on a strategic plan to keep up with ongoing technical projects. Although the U. didn't even place in PC Mag's last survey, the school has made advances in its support offerings to better serve students, faculty and staff when they need it most — which has started to be all the time.

"We work to provide things they're accustomed to," Hess said.

Only eight of the schools who were in the top 20 in 2006 landed there again, while a majority of the most digitally advanced dropped in the rankings, or were passed up by other, more aggressive schools trying to tackle the age of emerging technology.

"The college tech landscape has changed significantly since our last go-round with this survey in 2006," said Lance Ulanoff, editor of PC Magazine.

Ulanoff said the Top 20 Wired Colleges honors schools with the most comprehensive technology offerings, determined by questions fielded during the Princeton Review's search for Best 368 Colleges.

The survey focused on academics, student resources, infrastructure, wireless networks and technical support and included questions on everything from advanced computer science programs and online lectures to computer labs and online security.

Tech-savvy courses like Web design are taught at all the top 20 campuses, while game development, 3D animation and robotics are finding a place among some of the strictest curricula. Some schools, according to the magazine's article and survey results, even offer courses on hacking and PC security.

Each of the top 20 schools also maintains that it offers training to faculty in order to offer top-notch Web pages for each course offering and other online instruction.

Resources such as a permanent e-mail address and various antivirus options, as well as access to the campus network even off-campus, earned the schools high scores in the survey.

Utah may have been docked for having some computers on campus that have been there longer than four years, but Hess said that most common-area PCs are on a three-year renewal cycle, and that some are occasionally missed due to oversight only. Wi-Fi networks on all of the named campuses actually encourage students to use their own equipment, putting replacement programs at a lower priority.

A complete list of the top 20 most teched-out colleges is online at pcmag.com.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com