The Effects of Home Computers on Educational Outcomes: Evidence from a Field Experiment with Community College Students


  • Corresponding author: Robert W. Fairlie, Department of Economics, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA. Email:

  • We thank the Community Technology Foundation of California (ZeroDivide), UCACCORD and Computers for Classrooms, Inc. for funding. We thank Hardik Bhatt, Jesse Catlin, Eric Deveraux, Oliver Falck, Eszter Hargittai, Ofer Malamud, Jeff Prince, Jon Robinson, Rhonda Sharpe and participants at seminars and workshops at the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, the University of Chicago, UCLA, Case Western Reserve University, University College Dublin, University of Rome, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, San Francisco Federal Reserve, UCSC and APPAM meetings for comments and suggestions. We also thank Mike Rasmussen, Karen Micalizio, Katalin Miko, Bev McManus, Linda Cobbler, Zeke Rogers and others at Butte College for helping with administering the programme and providing administrative data, and Samantha Grunberg, Miranda Schirmer, Luba Petersen, Caitlin White, Anita McSwane-Williams, Matt Jennings and Emilie Juncker for research assistance. Finally, special thanks go to Pat Furr for providing computers for the study and for her extensive help in administering the giveaway programme.


There is no clear theoretical prediction regarding whether home computers are an important input in the educational production function. To investigate the hypothesis, we conduct a field experiment involving the random provision of free computers to low-income community college students for home use. Although estimates for a few measures are imprecise and cannot rule out zero effects, we find some evidence that the treatment group achieved better educational outcomes than the control group. The estimated effects, however, are not large and are smaller than non-experimental estimates. There is also some evidence that benefits from home computers increase with distance to campus.