Internet Access, Usage, and Policies in Colleges and Universities
First Monday

Internet Access, Usage, and Policies in Colleges and Universities

The Internet revolution arrived faster, and with more complications, than many academic institutions expected. The rapid development of search engines and the expanded use of the Web by all types of organizations increased the demand for Internet-related services on college campuses. To assess the impact of these changes, a questionnaire was mailed to selected computer center directors listed in the 1998 Higher Education Directory (U.S.).

The questionnaire asked respondents various institutional demographic questions and how Internet access is provided to students, faculty, administrators, and staff. The paper presents survey results in text and graphical format. The paper includes graphs that display the rates of increases (or decrease) regarding access and usage of e-mail, the World Wide Web, telnet and other Internet features. Comparisons, where appropriate, are made between public and private institutions.

Respondents also provided information on access issues, access policy development, and policy deployment. URLs are given for several academic Internet use policies. Specific concerns and issues dealing with access are listed. The authors provide recommendations for policy formulation and dissemination.


The Survey
Policy Issues
What is Limited?
Enforcing, Defining, and Developing Access Limitations
Usage Rates
Access Rates
Computer Center Director Concerns and Issues
Conclusion and Summary


Columbus State University (CSU) is a unit of the University System of Georgia. It is located in Columbus Georgia and situated on the western border of the state. Columbus is the financial, educational, and healthcare center for the region. In CSU's forty plus years of existence, it has grown from a two-year institution located in an old hosiery mill to an academic institution on a campus that includes a Challenger Space Science Center, and a nationally recognized program for training computer professionals. CSU currently enrolls approximately 6,000 students and grants baccalaureate, masters, and other advanced degrees. Students are primarily non-residential and often the first-generation of their family that attend college. Many work either full or part-time.

Like many other institutions, the Internet revolution arrived at CSU faster than anticipated. Spurred by the development of graphical user interfaces and access to worldwide information resources, demand for Internet access always seemed to outpace resources and policies. At first, CSU provided open or unrestricted access to the Internet and Web (or World Wide Web; WWW) through its computer labs. Consequences of that policy, though unforeseen at the time, were gatherings of individuals who had no legitimate connection to the University other than the parking place they had found. Their disruptive behavior prompted a rapid move to more explicit policies and limitations on access to physical computing facilities.

Access to the Internet and WWW at CSU is provided to all students via labs in various academic areas, the Library, and Computer Center. Students are not charged for computer access to services such as e-mail, library services, application packages, and the WWW. Students can access some of the campus services such as the Library from remote systems but they must contract with an ISP of their choosing; the University does not provide dial-in services for students.

As various policies and procedures have evolved, some of the novelty of the Internet and Web has worn off, but the demand for access has not diminished. The rapid development of search engines and the expanded use of the Web by organizations and other academic institutions seems to have increased the demand for services on campuses. As these issues are confronted, we often wondered what other campuses were doing and if our experiences were similar. It was, therefore, appropriate to survey academic institutions and to catalog their experiences. The results provided in this paper should help others develop and refine usage and access policies and develop plans for resource allocation.

The Survey

The survey consisted of 22 major questions; many of the questions had sub-parts. The questionnaire evolved over a number of months as it was refined by administering portions of the instrument to our classes. One of the last versions was administered to the computer staff at CSU. The results of that survey administration were discussed in detail with the staff to assure that the questions were clear. Based on that focus group, the questionnaire was finalized and mailed.

The population from which we drew our sample consisted of computer center directors listed in the 1998 Higher Education Directory. This volume lists administrative officials, addresses, and other pertinent information on all educational institutions in the United States. The questionnaire was sent to all (919) computer center directors in the states listed in Table 1. Postage-paid envelopes were included and no attempt was made to identify respondents. Some respondents voluntarily included their name and address to obtain survey results.

Table 1: Questionnaire Distribution
U.S. StateNumber
North Carolina107
South Carolina58

The results shown below are presented in numerical and graphical format. Anyone who wishes additional information should contact either of the authors.



One-hundred-thirty-seven usable responses were returned (15% response rate). In the analysis below, numbers will not always add to 137 since some questions permitted multiple responses or a question was not answered. Where appropriate, the number of responses is provided.

Institution Type

An almost equal number of public and private institutions responded (n=137) to the survey (Figure 1).

Institution Type
Figure 1: Institution Type

One private institution ("other") checked "for-profit." Institutions granting bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees are almost equally represented. One responding institution awards the Ed.S. (Education Specialist Degree; categorized as other) as its highest degree. Associate-degree granting institutions are the largest segment (Figure 2; n=135).

Highest Degree Granted
Figure 2: Highest Degree Granted

Figure 3 displays the number of degree types granted by public and private institutions.

Degrees Offered and Institution Type
Figure 3: Degrees Offered and Institution Type

Public institutions granting associate degrees are the largest component of the sample.

Although the total number of students enrolled in these colleges and universities totals 494,412, institution size varies from 20,000 full-time students to as few as 30 (Figure 4; n=109).

Number of Students Enrolled
Figure 4: Number of Students Enrolled

The median number of enrolled students in the responding sample was 1,260. Figure 4 also shows the number of public and private institutions by size classification. One-hundred-three respondents had less than 5,000 students.

Internet Access

Five institutions in the sample did not provide Internet access for students; 128 provide Internet access in some form. Of the five institutions that did not provide Internet access, four are private. Internet access methods are shown in Figure 5.

Internet Access
Figure 5: Internet Access

Since some institutions provided several avenues of access, the values in Figure 5 reflect more than one entry point.

Figure 5 identifies the access points to the World Wide Web, e-mail, and telnet. These points include the campus library, supervised labs, certain departments, unsupervised labs, classrooms, dormitories, and dial-in to campus. Supported access in specialized areas is also an available option. Respondents identified multimedia, LANet, LAN, HTML student pages, and library system software as "other" Internet components.

Policy Issues


Sixty-one institutions make a conscious effort to avoid monitoring, recording, supervising, or limiting student access to the Internet, while 68 limit access. Of those institutions that monitor or restrict access, monitoring is conducted primarily by college or university staff members followed by software. Some institutions employ a combination of monitoring methods using both personnel and software (Figure 6).

Monitoring Methods
Figure 6: Monitoring Methods

Sixty-one institutions have a policy concerning campus Internet use and disseminate this policy in more than one format. Information is presented verbally or published through the boot up sequence, student handbook, posted in labs, default desktop, and/or listed on the default home page for the institution or Web (Figure 7).

Policy Dissemination
Figure 7: Policy Dissemination

"Other" methods of dissemination include: the signing of an agreement by the student when the account is created; a brochure; handout given when the student applies for an account; published in the college catalogue; and stressed during orientation. The methods of policy distribution for public and private institutions are shown in Figure 8.

Policy Dissemination: Public versus Private
Figure 8: Policy Dissemination: Public versus Private

No significant difference was detected between public and private institutions. Some Web examples can be found at the locations shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Policies on the Web
Belmont Abby College (Belmont, NC)
Chowan College (Murfreesboro, NC)
Columbus State University (Columbus, GA)
Linn-Binton Community College (Albany, OR)
Milligan College (Milligan, TN)
Oregon Health Sciences University (Portland, OR)
Portland Oregon Community College (Portland, OR)
South Georgia College (Douglas, GA)
Umpqua Community College (Roseburg, OR)
University of North Carolina Greensboro (Greensboro, NC)
University of Southwestern Louisiana (Lafayette, LA)
Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
Virginia Western Community College (Roanoke, VA)

Policy Violation Penalties

Of the total responding to the question regarding penalties for violating school policies, 34 indicated that some type of penalty is levied when a rule violation occurs.

Penalties include: a simple, verbal warning for the first violation, followed by loss of computer/lab privileges for a period of time, e.g., two weeks, 12 weeks, or for the remainder of term. Some institutions weigh cases according to their severity and number of repeated violations. Repeated violations can result in dismissal from class or expulsion from the institution.

Serious violations may be presented to an institutional review panel. Violators may also face standard institutional disciplinary action or be required to appear before the Student Affairs Officer or Dean for appropriate action. Some students are subject to institutional judicial proceedings. If the violation involves illegal activities, civil action may be taken by the institution against the student to recover losses.

What is Limited?

When access to the Internet is limited (68 institutions), access to pornographic sites was limited in 13 public and 16 private institutions. Institutions not restricting access, including access to pornographic sites, support the concept of "unrestricted access" because they believe students will make appropriate choices, or because they "have not figured out how to define"; a pornographic site (Figure 9).

Access Limitations
Figure 9: Access Limitations

Other statements include beliefs that limiting access to these sites is the responsibility of the Internet Service Provider, and access is restricted, while connected to the Web, by the professor who has full view of the student's screen.

Public and private institutions appear to share the same values when providing reasons for not limiting access to the Internet (Figure 10).

Explanations for Access Limitations
Figure 10: Explanations for Access Limitations

The most common reason is "Students will make appropriate choices." The next most common rationale is a policy of "Unrestricted access."

Enforcing, Defining, and Developing Access Limitations

Colleges and universities mainly use staff and faculty to enforce policies and procedures. In addition, some institutions also rely upon the Dean of the institution, the Director of Information Services, student assistants and student self-enforcement. Those responding to this question could select more than one enforcement method.

Rules, policies and procedures are developed in numerous ways (Table 3). In addition to the utilization of an institutional committee, a single individual, such as the director of information technology/computer center or academic administrator, establishes policy. In instances where policies are determined by committee, size ranges from four to 16 members and includes faculty, administrators, staff, and, in some cases, students. Samples of committee composition are presented in Table 3.

Table 3: Composition of Academic Internet Policy Committees
Institution A4210
Institution B2840
Institution C2261
Institution D7342

Both software and hardware (i.e., routers) are used to disallow some WWW sites; 15 institutions use hardware while 11 use some form of software. Software products include: Cyber Cop, Cyber Patrol, Surf Watch, Net Nanny, Websense, Border Ware, and MS Proxy Server, Cyber Sitter, and local firewall.

Twenty-six institutions log access to their network by user ID, station, date, and/or time. Only 18 log access to the Internet recording user information and URL accessed. Personnel responsible for analyzing this information include the Network Supervisor, computer center staff, department chairs, librarians, instructors (conducting lab or class), library committee, Campus Dean, or School Director. Some institutions do not analyze access logs unless a problem arises. Access logs serve as history files and facts are presented only when reporting "inappropriate behavior" to the individual's supervisor or disciplinary/review committee.

Admittance to a chat area is disallowed at 18 institutions and is limited at 28 of those returning surveys. Limitations are imposed by:

  • written or verbal rules of behavior
  • class
  • area (open labs only)
  • discipline
  • time constraint
  • firewall
  • academic needs of other students

Usage Rates

Evaluations of Internet usage and access levels, for the past 12 months, reveal increases in both areas. The data indicates few decreases or instances where activity "remained about the same." Table 4 shows the range of percents regarding increases or decreases in usage. The fourth column of the table gives the number of institutions reporting activity levels "remaining about the same."

Units of measure for usage include the following: 39 institutions report an increase in the number of hours, 50 report an increase in the number of sessions, 28 report an increase in the number of classes, while 51 estimate the increase of usage based upon past experience and professional judgement. Additional comments include increases in the number of terminals installed or engaged, the addition of a T-1 line, and the perception of increased traffic and student activity.

Table 4: Usage E-mail, WWW, telnet and other Internet services and tools

Usage Type



N "remained about the same"

Range %


Range %



10 - 300






10 - 300






5 - 100


10 - 75




0 - 100





Access Rates

When asked how institutions measure the increase in access, 54 institutions report an increase in the number of terminals, 16 report number of sessions, 21 report number of new accounts, 25 indicate number of students accessing the Internet, and 37 estimate increased access based on past experience. Eleven institutions indicate an increase in network and server capacity, network traffic, and new equipment.

Table 5: Rates of Access to E-mail, WWW, telnet and other Internet services and tools

Access Type



N "remained about the same"

Range %


Range %



10 - 300






10 - 300






10 - 100











Computer Center Director Concerns and Issues

The authors asked several open-ended questions, such as "Do you have specific concerns about Internet or Web access or usage on your campus?" Some of the responses are shown in Table 6. The responses can be categorized as ones of security, access rights, and increasing demands for bandwidth. The rapid growth shown in Tables 4 and 5 places a real burden on institutions and computer center personnel in particular.

Table 6: Concerns and Issues
Use of bandwidth for non-academic purposes; capacity issues; streaming audio and video
Pornographic and hate sites; what is pornography?
Interference with legitimate research and academic use
Sexual harassment
Legal issues related to fair use, harassment, etc.
Downloading of inappropriate or harmful materials
Faculty training
Response time
Dorm and off-campus access
Chat rooms
Children using parent's password or access by non-students
Competition with ISPs
e-mail for transient students

Conclusion and Summary

The survey responses represent a broad range of institutions. Public and private institutions are almost equally represented in the 137-institution sample and the institutions grant the full complement of degrees. The sample also represents a large number of students. There does not seem to be any statistical difference between institutional types. The primary concerns of responding institutions can be classified as access control and uncontrolled growth.

Readers should not be surprised that Internet usage has been growing; they should be surprised that some institutions do not have access to the Internet and that usage declined for others. One cannot tell from the data whether the decline was due to enrollment shrinkage, a movement to external ISPs, or other factors.

Overall, there is a general increase in both access and usage of e-mail, the World Wide Web (WWW), and telnet. Responding institutions report increases as high as 300% for e-mail and WWW and as much as 100% for telnet. Increases include number of terminals/sessions, new accounts, and number of students accessing the Internet. With the expected increase in e-mail and WWW, a few institutions report a decrease in telnet usage.

As expected, the main points of access to the Internet for e-mail, WWW, and telnet are the library and supervised labs, followed by access from specific departments. Access to e-mail via dial-in is slightly higher than access from the dormitory.

Access is monitored or limited at approximately half of the institutions. Some institutions have explicitly decided against developing a usage policy while others have are in the process of creating a policy. We believe that when a formal policy does not exist, an informal policy takes its place. When an institution relies on informal and unwritten policies, or the belief that students "will make the right choice," violations of that code are hard to enforce and may leave the institution liable for harassment charges. We urge those institutions without a written code to develop clear codes of conduct.

When an institution monitors access, staff employees are most often assigned that task. Although staff employees are often given this role, staff (and students) often do not participate in the development of institutional access and monitoring policies. Committee composition is not consistent among responding institutions, but often relies heavily upon faculty input. We recommend that policy formulation include faculty, staff, administration, and students.

We believe that inclusion of all stakeholders will provide clearer definitions of acceptable use policy. This inclusiveness should make it easier for institutions to develop and implement more explicit policies since problems can arise when individuals monitoring access have different interpretations than those establishing policy.

Established policies are disseminated most often through postings in labs, classrooms, or printed in the student handbook. Some college and universities require students to sign an agreement before an account is created. Policy violators are first given verbal warnings, followed by denial of access for two weeks, a semester, or permanently. Serious violations follow a campus judicial process or appear before an institutional administrator for disciplinary action. Some institutions mentioned that they would pursue civil penalties if needed for extreme violations. The authors recommend that explicit penalties be listed for specific infractions and under what (minimum) conditions civil actions would be taken. Appeal procedures should also be clearly stated. The policy should also clearly state if access to sites is recorded, the types of sites that are forbidden, and that the use of "anonymising" software is prohibited.

Access to pornographic sites was often mentioned as a problem. One issue is establishing a definition of pornography. The Virtual Reference Desk has a link to the law site ( that provides a definition that can be used as a starting point. In addition, a number of campuses are posting policies on the Web and these sites can be searched for examples. The use of chat was also mentioned as an issue, but is better defined and controllable; this is an activity rather than an impression. Those desiring to control chat must be careful to define the context since some institutions use WebCT, which includes a general chat area, that can be used for instructional support.

The last major issue facing a majority of the responding institutions is growth. Not just growth, but rapid and almost uncontrollable or unsupportable growth. Many of the respondents were clearly concerned about the impact of the increased use on existing computing and personnel resources. The rapid growth indicated by some institutions (as high as 300%) clearly has not been accompanied by concomitant funding.

The survey results seem to verify a concept known as the "thruway effect." The thruway effect occurs when a city builds a new road to alleviate traffic. If the new road is built well, traffic not only increases on the thruway, but it also increases on the older roads. As the infrastructure of computing improves, it only seems to make the situation worse. The problem is clearly exacerbated as new technologies place more demands on older and older equipment that cannot be easily or economically replaced. While some institutions require students to purchase their own computers, this cost transfer cannot solve long-term infrastructure and campus support problems. For example, who wants to face the fifth-year senior who comes to class with a 386 or 486 computer?

The authors believe that one reason for the crisis is the lack of faculty, administrators, and funding agencies to appreciate fully the impact of technology adoption on the teaching profession. Only when the issue of technology adoption becomes a common agenda item will it be possible to address this issue. Funding concerns coupled with issues of appropriate usage will therefore continue to be important policy topics as colleges and universities attempt to define the role the Internet has in instruction and instructional delivery.

About the authors

Robert A. Fleck, Jr. is Distinguished Professor of Computer Information Systems Management and Program Coordinator of Computer Information Systems Management and Finance in the Abbott Turner College of Business at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. Dr. Fleck earned his Ph.D. and MBA at the University of Illinois and has taught or held administrative positions at the University of South Carolina, Clarion State University, and the University of Houston-Victoria. He has authored or co-authored three textbooks in information systems and over one hundred papers.

Tena McQueen has degrees from the University of Louisville and Auburn University and has taught in higher education since 1968. She currently teaches computer applications classes at Columbus State University.

Contents Index

Copyright © 1999, First Monday

Internet Access, Usage, and Policies in Colleges and Universities by Robert A. Fleck, Jr. and Tena McQueen
First Monday, volume 4, number 11 (November 1999),

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2019. ISSN 1396-0466.