Ball State study finds most college students have cell phones, but parents pay bill

Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

April 16, 2007

College students may be hundreds of miles from home and feel independent, but many rely on mom and dad to pay cell phone bills, says a new Ball State University study. 

A survey of 488 college students by a Ball State anthropology class found that 64 percent of respondents had their cell phones through a family plan, signaling that this age group is still tied to their relatives despite distance between college and home.

While the study indicates that new forms of technology are keeping families connected, the data points out that college is a major transition for most students, said James Nyce, an anthropology professor who coordinated the 12-student class.

"We look at college students as being independent and living on their own, but they still are tied to their families — socially as well as economically," he said. "College students are making a transition into being adults. College is a halfway point."

Many families provide their teen and preteen children with cell phones, paying one bill through what is called a family plan. This trend starts years before students enroll for classes at a university, who see little reason to buy their own cell phones during their college years, Nyce said. 

Family plans are appealing because they are marketed as the most economical, perceived as the best value, provide parental control, maintains the family unit and allow family members to contact each other quickly during an emergency.

Nyce said the study's findings are a startling opposite as compared to Europe. American service providers heavily market family plans with a recent Harris Interactive Survey reporting that 41 percent of all Americans are on family plans. However, European communications firms sell cell phones on an individual basis.

"I was very surprised at our findings because I've lived and worked in Europe for more than 20 years," he said. "In Europe, you are basically considered an adult when you purchase a cell phone. In America we are still tied to our families, which I think says we believe that families are very important to us. We want to be connected to each other long after we leave the family home."

Students in Nyce's class tracked their college peers throughout spring semester through a hand-held personal digital assistant (PDA) provided by Ball State's Office of Information Technology. The data will be used by Nyce into how wireless devices aid research.

University Marketing and Communications
Arts and Communications Building, AC 224
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306

Hours: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. EST Monday - Friday. For after-hours calls, dial the number below and you will be directed to an on-call staff person.
Phone: 765-285-1560
Fax: 765-285-5442
View E-mail Address