The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 79 percent of students surveyed think the Web has had a positive influence on their lives overall, with 60 percent saying it's improved relationships with classmates and nearly half saying e-mail allows them to tell professors an idea they would not have expressed in class. Nearly three out of four college students check their e-mail every day and use the Web for library research.
Not surprisingly, college students--long known as the most prolific downloaders of music--are much more Web-savvy than the average American. While 59 percent of Americans are online, the percentage of college students connected to the Web is much higher at 86 percent.
"Today's 18-year-old college freshmen were born the same year the PC was introduced, and they have grown up with these technologies," said Steve Jones, lead author of the study and head of the communications department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "To them, the Internet and e-mail are as commonplace as telephones and television--and equally as indispensable."
Because many colleges provide free, high-speed connections, college students are also more active in downloading media, a detail that's turned some college campuses intoof the entertainment industry, which has been busy scouring the Web landscape for copyright infringers.
According to the Pew study, about 60 percent of college students have downloaded music files, compared with just 28 percent of the general population.
Instant messaging, a phenomenon catching on like wildfire among teens, also is gaining traction with college students. According to the study, 26 percent of students use IM daily, compared with just 12 percent of the general Internet population.
While many news reports have documented the millions of studentsto download files and IM friends, Jones said he was most surprised by the study's finding that students also use the Internet as frequently for academic purposes. Jones said the Internet has radically changed the way college students interact with their professors and each other, thanks to features such as mail lists, e-mail and Web sites.
"We've heard a lot about college students downloading music, but when you look at what we've found, they use the Internet as much or more for academic purposes," he said.
Jones also said the business world could take a lesson from the study. He said upon graduation, college students probably will seek the same high-quality Internet speeds they had on campus.
"This generation is going to end up making the Internet a major part of their lives as they go into the work force," Jones said. "The folks who are trying to market broadband are missing out if they're not targeting this wired market."