California State universities are giving out free iPads to new students

They'll also get an Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, in a move intended to provide equitable opportunities to all students.

Diverse classmates chatting, walking after classes in university campus outdoors

Starting this fall, incoming first-year and transfer students at schools in the California State University system will be offered a free iPad Air, Apple Pencil, and Smart Keyboard. The initiative, part of the CSUCCESS program, is intended to provide equitable opportunities to all students.

The program will launch initially at eight CSU schools including Bakersfield, Channel Islands, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Maritime Academy, Northridge and San Marcos.

All are eligible — Students will need to register to participate on the CSUCCESS website, but all are eligible to receive the goods, regardless of need. The website says that with the keyboard attachment and pencil, the iPad Air is comparable to a laptop.

Some will disagree with that assessment. Working from an iPad Air can feel cumbersome, with its small 10-inch screen and lack of true windowing or mouse support. But in a classroom setting where you’d be taking notes with the Pencil and Smart Keyboard, it might be sufficient. And Apple has slowly been beefing up iPadOS on the productivity front to become a more legitimate desktop alternative. Back at WWDC, it announced that iPad users can now program iOS apps and publish them directly to the App Store from the tablet, for instance.

Joseph I. Castro, CSU’s chancellor, said in a release that the new initiative will “assure that students have immediate access to innovative, new mobile tools they need to support their learning,” adding that the iPad Air is a powerful tool that will prepare students for future careers. As long as you can navigate through Microsoft Office, the iPad Air probably is fine for most majors. Of course, some studies require more computationally intensive work, but you could always hit up the computer lab?

Sort of free — A good computer these days is pretty expensive. All in, the bundle that CSU is offering to students is valued at about $1,000. And considering that the price of college these days is astronomical — a rising amount that has far exceeded wage growth — giving away fundamental equipment is the least the university can do to help out. But the free iPad probably isn’t entirely free, since campus fees have increased steadily across the CSU system in recent years.

Apple, being such a saint, praised the program, saying it’s “thrilled” about the iPad Air rollout. We’re sure it is very thrilled. The CSU system expects 35,000 incoming students this coming fall. If the program expands to every school, that’s a whole lot of cheddar in Apple’s pocket (though it offers discounts to schools buying in bulk).