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‘Unplugged Scholarship’ offers students $5K to give up smartphones for academic year

Students awarded $5,000 to go without ‘smart’ devices for two semesters

A Catholic university in Ohio offered recipients of a new scholarship $5,000 in tuition funds per academic year to go without their smartphones, and those who have taken part so far said they’ve felt freedom they had never experienced before.

Recipients of the new “Unplugged Scholarship” at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in the middle of its pilot year, received $2,500 for both the fall and spring semesters for giving up the use of smartphones, according to a news release.

“Without my smartphone, I feel significantly more in control of my life,” participant Columban Honan said via email. Honan is one of several students who said in interviews with The College Fix the program has been a pleasant surprise.

Student David Cappello said he felt a “shift toward freedom and release from anxiety that occurs when you have to trust and interact almost solely with your physical surroundings.

“There is also an immensely improved mindset and brain capacity that flourishes from having to act on intuition, gut instinct, and problem-solving when there is no clutch of a phone to lean back on,” he said.

The idea for the Unplugged Scholarship began with a couple of benefactors who “wanted to see a change in campus life,” Tim Delaney, Franciscan’s executive director of Alumni and Constituent Relations, said in a telephone interview with The Fix.

“You remove a smartphone from [student life], and there’s a lot more time to be curious, a lot more time to engage each other, a lot more time to look at each other as you walk to class,” Delaney said. “That’s the heart of what…drove [the benefactors] to do this.”

Delaney told The Fix that students were on the honor system to maintain compliance, and just one scholarship recipient dropped out

The scholarship was proposed by Franciscan University alumni Justin and Hope Schneir and a small group of alumni, the university news release stated. Together they’ve raised over $3 million to foster a community of academic excellence, friendship, and spiritual growth.

“Of the almost 170 students who applied for the $150,000 pilot phase of the Unplugged Scholarship, 30 students spread across all four class years each received $5,000 in tuition assistance for the 2022-23 academic year,” according to the university. “However, almost 50 additional student applicants chose to give up their smartphones and participate, even without receiving financial assistance.”

In exchange for disposing of or storing away their smart devices, scholarship students are given the choice of a variety of different “dumb phones,” which are “basically designed not to be used,” student scholarship recipient Bridget Burr told The College Fix.

The substitute phone allows for basic needs such as phone calls. Crucially, it does not permit internet or social media use. Yet several students said they’re fine with it.

“Reality still exists, and it’s waiting for you,” Bailey Samuelson told The College Fix. She added that a cross-country trip using a paper atlas was exciting and eye-opening.

Some students did report challenges from having no hand-held internet. Despite the hardships of not having the world wide web at their beck and call, the students interviewed said they felt the benefits were worth it.

“I have no regrets,” Burr told The Fix.

Asked via email if he would recommend the scholarship program, participant Caleb Haskell said yes.

“Smartphones can be used in moderation of course,” Haskell said. “However, so can cigarettes. I have not met very many people who are successful in this kind of moderation. For these people, giving up your smartphone is the surest, simplest path to freedom.”

MORE: Jordan Peterson helps Franciscan University students persevere through suffering

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Tate Miller is a student at Liberty University studying journalism. She is the founder Thatsasnap Productions, a photography business launched in 2018.